In the age of the Internet, email, smart phones, and teleconferences, working remotely is becoming increasingly possible – and common – for attorneys. A quick Google search on the topic will reveal everything from job postings by Lumen Legal to articles and tips from Montage Legal Group and the ABA on the topic. For military spouse attorneys, remote work can be an attractive opportunity for a number of reasons. It may present a way to continue working for a current employer even as you move around the country or the world. Or it may provide a way to find legal work while living in an area with a limited legal market. While the concept may be enticing, the logistics can be daunting. So, we put together some best practices and tips from some of our MSJDN members most experienced with working remotely.
MSJDN member and Membership Committee Chair Lindsey Savage currently practices business law for a Seattle, Washington based firm and has worked remotely at various points in her career. She offers some wise words of advice for other attorneys navigating remote work arrangements. First, Lindsey says, “set up a separate, dedicated workspace.” She adds that if you have children, you should be sure that you have arranged childcare – “do not attempt to work ‘during naptime!’” Lindsey also advises that you confirm the technology is in place to allow you access to the employer’s infrastructure, and confirm at the outset how and when you will receive assignments, when deadlines are, and how much time is allotted for you to spend on projects.
Lindsey emphasizes that: “Setting expectations is crucial.” She establishes a minimum (and maximum, if needed) number of hours she plans to work and bill, and she advises setting “specific hours that you will be ‘on the clock’ and available for phone calls, appointments, and real time responding to emails, so that you don’t have to stress about a time difference or be glued to your smart phone.” This advice can be especially critical for those facing a significant time difference, including those stationed OCONUS or in Alaska or Hawaii. She adds that lawyers working remotely should “stick to those times, treating it just as if these are your hours physically present in the office, to establish a good precedent and set the tone for the relationship.” Lindsey also notes that it is important to know what kind of support – including administrative tasks that cannot be billed to a client – you will have from the employer. If the answer is “none,” that should be factored into your compensation package. Be sure to determine at the outset of the relationship whether you are being hired as a 1099 independent contractor or as an employee, as this is important for tax purposes, and make sure you have any supplies that you need from the employer. “Finally, communicate!” Check in with your employer regularly, call in to staff meetings, and remind staff and supervisors that you are just a phone call or an email away!
Another MSJDN member presently living in a South Asian country where her husband is stationed offered some additional valuable advice for military spouse attorneys who may find themselves living overseas but not on a typical U.S. military base. In her case, while her visa originally did not allow her to work, when an opportunity arose, she found that there were procedures in place to allow her to request permission to telework on her visa. Her advice is to: “First, locate and contact the person in the H.R. department at the U.S. Embassy that deals with spousal employment issues. They will know the regulations specific to your country of assignment and the procedures for requesting permission.”
Finally, and importantly, don’t forget to address any licensing issues. In the case of remote work, you may find yourself practicing the law of one state (where you are licensed) in another state (where you may or may not be licensed). It is always a good idea to call the state bar’s ethics line in the state where you will be living and working (even if you are not admitted there) to be sure that you are able to practice the law of another jurisdiction while living in that state without running afoul of any ethics rules. These rules vary by state, and it is always better to play it safe! You have worked hard for your law license(s), and this can help you avoid putting them in jeopardy through the unintentional unauthorized practice of law.
Going to be living and working (remotely or otherwise) overseas? Join us on February 25th at 2pm Eastern for a webinar on PCSing and working abroad. Learn how to make it work for your career and your family from military spouse attorneys and MSJDN members Christine Connolly and Maureen Lavery.