TELECOMMUTING FROM EUROPE
(AND OTHER PLACES OUTSIDE THE UNITED STATES)
By Patrick H. Stiehm, © 2012, EZ Justice, P.L.C.
I have had the wonderful experience of an extended period of travel in Europe and to a lesser extent the Middle East and North Africa, for over a year. During that time I had to maintain my law practice in the United States. The host of this blog invited me to do a guest column relating my experience. I hope those who read this article find it helpful and informative.
When traveling outside the United States and continuing to offer legal services, you need to stay connected. The first order of business is bringing proper equipment. Three critical items of hardware are a laptop and tablet computer, and a smart phone. This should not come as a surprise. The choice of an Apple or PC platform and the brand of the latter are a matter of personal preference. Each of the devices will need Wi-Fi connectivity, and each will offer you redundancy in the event of loss, breakdown, or constraints imposed by a particular location.
With your laptop, tablet and cell phone, you can communicate via e-mail or voice. Email is so ubiquitous that for purpose of this article no more need be said.
Voice connectivity, on the other hand, requires special consideration. Using a U.S. cell phone carrier’s international roaming plan is still very expensive. We have all heard stories of cell phone bills of several thousand dollars after a week or two in Europe. These charges usually cannot be invoiced back to a client as an out of pocket expense if foreign travel was your choice and not theirs.
Well in advance of international travel, I switched my primary phone service to Skype, a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) service that is free of charge among its users. I selected Skype because one of law practice areas of concentration is representing the left-behind parent in international child kidnapping cases. Often in these situations, the abandoned parent is economically disadvantaged and unable afford traditional international calling rates. But they have Internet access.
I purchased a “Skype Out” phone number in my local area code along with voice mail. By the time I began to travel, I had significant experience with receiving incoming calls to my business phone on all three of my portable devices.
I have additional VOIP applications on my smart phone. Vonage handles calls to and from the United States. Line2 permits calls and texting to both the United States and Canada. Finally for some international calling other than the United States and Canada, I use Viber, a VOIP service that – like Skype –– is free among users. Free calling and texting is a great convenience.
These Internet voice and text solutions are far less expensive than international roaming or country-specific SIM cards. The last thing you want to worry about when communicating with a client from abroad is the cost of the call.
You may need to access files on your computer in the States while you are overseas. I frequently need to access material on my office computer, located in Northern Virginia. I use GoToMyPC and LogMeIn. You only need one. A resident program on the office (“host”) computer permits me to access its hard drive over the Internet from my laptop, my cell phone, my tablet or from a computer in an Internet cafe, with the use of a password.
A consistent problem overseas is the quality of Internet access. The quality ranges from adequate to sketchy, with none as satisfactory as my home or office connection in the United States. Perceived slowness may be caused by the Wi-Fi service in a hotel or apartment building, or the local Internet itself. Often with Wi-Fi issues, you increase transmission speed by moving closer to the router. Sometimes you need a cyber café. A more satisfactory solution is a Wi-Fi signal– booster, enhancer or extender. Prices on Google range from $15 to $80.
BACKING UP TO THE CLOUD
Much has been written recently recommending that law firms use cloud back up to protect electronic files. Cloud backup is storage rental on someone else’s server.
I use Carbonite for my office computer. Carbonite installs software that runs on the computer being backed up. Typically it will back up once a day, automatically, and usually at night. It harvests, compresses, encrypts, and transfers the contents of your hard drive to remote servers of the service provider. These servers are generally scattered geographically to provide redundancy. I have a similar service for my laptop containing files I am working on day-to-day.
Accessing files via these storage services is often faster and easier than connecting to my office computer or laptop when I need a file on my cell phone or tablet. After Sandy visited the East Coast, my office computer was down for a day and a half and Carbonite proved to be a lifesaver.
A related service is Dropbox. It is particularly useful in moving files from one device to another.
That is how I am telecommuting while on extended travel in Europe. I am sure that there are other ways of doing what I did. I hope that your comments will add to the experience so that we may all benefit. If anyone would like to write me directly, please feel free to do so. My email address is: Stiehm.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy travels and happy telecommuting!
 Patrick H. Stiehm is a member of the Maryland, Minnesota and Virginia state bars. Although he successfully utilized the software mentioned in this article, it is not necessarily the best on the market. Moreover, your experience may vary according to your Internet connection speed, hardware platform, country-specific restrictions and other factors.
 Electronic transmission of privileged information may breach client confidence unless the data is encrypted and the client consents in writing. Encryption software and the ethics rules and opinions of the American Bar Association and state bars are beyond the scope of this article.
 Cloud data storage also raises major ethical concerns that cannot be addressed here. Issues include what happens if encryption is compromised, the company folds, or the data is lost. Attorneys should review their state bar ethics guidelines and disciplinary rules before electronically transmitting privileged information or storing it with third parties.
 Obviously, Dropbox has the same ethical issues already mentioned. If you utilize it, we recommend two-step verification such as Time-Based One-Time Protocol (“TOTP”). Companies offering this without charge include Google Authenticator (Apple, Android), Duo Mobile (Apple) and HDE OTP Generator (Apple).