Picture this: You’re skimming through the landscape of some far-off place, sitting in a dirty rail compartment on a hard bench with your baby son by your side and your spouse sipping hot chai tea. You’re not sure where you’re headed, and you don’t really care. This is living for you, and you get to do it with your family in tow—as you’re running a successful law practice.
This isn’t a millennial hipster dream. It’s the real-life story of Greg McLawsen, a Washington-based immigration attorney and the founder of Sound Immigration. In his 2016 Clio Cloud Conference presentation, he detailed how and why he created a legal practice that allows him to travel to remote locations for two months (or more) out of the year.
The path to building a travelling law firm
Greg didn’t think traversing steep Himalayan mountains with yaks would be a part of his career path. After growing up in the Seattle area, he went to law school and got married, and had planned to chart a career path locally.
“My wife and I kind of started the traditional trudge towards professional life,” he explained. This meant buying a fixer-upper and starting a solo legal practice. “Every hour of every day was spent building stuff for the house, or putting out fires at the firm.” It wasn’t long before Greg began to feel as if his time was being spent on things outside of his control.
But, it was a family loss that really convinced him to build his life, not just a firm.
My father was truly one of the great software engineers of his generation. He worked on the first version of Microsoft Windows. When he left Microsoft, he built his own program that allowed you to play music on a keyboard and transcribe that audio as musical notation. He was a brilliant and infinitely kind man. And in February 2011, he took his own life.
After his father’s death, Greg decided it was time to shift his focus to what was most important to him. “My wife and I sat down and we asked ourselves, ‘What do we want?'”
The answer was to be able to travel a couple of months out of the year. So Greg and his wife sold their home and many of their possessions and set up shop in Greg’s mother’s house. Next, it was time to create a business he could run from anywhere.
“We are America’s web-based immigration law firm,” Greg said. “We unite families and help them build completely new lives in the United States. We are their compasses during one of the most transformative moments of their life.”
But while Greg’s focus is on the United States, he doesn’t always need to work from home.
Sound Immigration is decentralized, paperless, and cloud-based. Attorneys work remotely from offices throughout Washington state. Meanwhile, production work, such as the standard preparation of immigration packets is done by a large legal process outsourcing team in Bangalore, India.
So far, the model has been a success. Greg and his family have been to Bhutan, Burma, China, Hawaii, India, Laos and Thailand. Over the coming 6 months they’ll be in Mexico twice, and Thailand for a couple of months.
5 tools Greg uses to practice from anywhere
Here are the applications that help Greg and his team stay connected, even from the Himalayas:
In his quest to “kill” email, Greg uses the communication tool Slack, which allows teams to create any number of channels within which they can instantly communicate. Slack helps Greg’s team talk across different time zones and archive conversations.
I loathe email with a passion. It’s my only hatred in life. So at our law firm, we do not use email communication. I do not accept it from team members and clients are asked not to use it.
Using the Agile project management method, Greg uses Trello to create a visualization of all of the firm’s work that’s currently in production. This view focuses not on the tasks themselves, but on who should be working on a given task next.
Instead of thinking about cases in a task-wise manner, you ask, ‘who is the person who has the next touch point on this case that is preventing the case from being closed out? Is it that we’re waiting on the client? Are we waiting on a third party? Are we waiting on Greg? Are we waiting on an associate?’
Zapier helps over 500 other applications talk to each other, acting as a sort of middleman between the apps that many lawyers use every day. Greg uses it to connect apps like Trello and Clio.
Think of Zapier as digital duct tape. It lets you pick your favorite individual apps, then bind them together into a cohesive tool.
4. Ruby Receptionists
Greg uses Ruby Receptionists to ensure that someone will always be there to take a call for his clients—even while he’s on the road.
So a caller contacts the firm, and I can’t take the call because I’m on a train in India. Ruby takes a note and it goes automatically into our sales platform so that they’ll start to receive automated follow up emails from us and get the touch points that are required to make them feel like they’re not just being ignored. Ruby’s just been a phenomenal business partner to have.
Using Clio as his main practice management software, Greg connects with other apps like the ones mentioned above to create a central hub that lets him run his business from anywhere.
Building a law firm, building a life
For Greg and his wife, selling their home to focus on building a lifestyle that would let them travel was “the single best decision [they] ever made in [their] lives.” As he explains:
We get so caught up in the day-to-day. We get a job, we start a law practice and it’s so easy to forget that what we’re doing is choosing how we’re going to spend our lives. What are the beautiful moments in your life?
Greg strives to find more beautiful moments in his life. With Greg’s tips on how to leverage the right tools to build a travelling practice, you just might be able to find more beautiful moments of your own.
Want to watch the full talk? See Greg’s presentation here:
Greg’s presentation was incredible, and we’ve got many more like it coming up this year. Don’t miss them—register now to join us in New Orleans this September!
Greg McLawsen is the founder and managing attorney of Sound Immigration, a Seattle-based immigration law firm. Greg also manages Immigration Support Advocates, which helps vulnerable green card holders recover financial support and transition to self-sufficiency. He is passionate about using technology and innovation to better serve clients, and he speaks regularly to attorneys about issues involving legal technology, and about immigration law.