by Michael Djavaherian

Recent years have seen the rise of a phenomenon that some have called the digital nomad. Digital nomads are people ” who actually pick up their office and move it to a location of their choosing and work from there. And that office tends to change over time.”

As noted in this news report, a survey found that about 11 million Americans became digital nomads in 2020. To many, that meant leaving a city and office behind and finding refuge at a vacation home, with a parent or relative, or renting a home, usually in a place far away from the locked-down, dreary urban existence. Working remotely suddenly became ubiquitous, and companies large and small found that they could stay in business even as employees worked outside the office. The latest generation of collaboration tools, combined with advances in bandwidth, computer processing speeds and mobile devices, created an environment that made physical location no longer an essential part of the ability to do one’s job.

The most extreme digital nomads ditched ties to any specific location, instead preferring to wander the world, staying in hotels and short-term rentals, moving from place to place. These are people who travel the world, experiencing amazing sights, meeting new people and enjoying an adventurous, glamorous lifestyle, all while managing to make a living using the tools that modern technology provides.

One person mentioned in the news report, Joanna Yung, takes digital nomad life to a whole new level. Leaving Toronto behind in late 2019, she has travelled to Singapore, Vietnam, South Africa, Uzbekistan and many other countries, while being employed as a social media manager for a digital marketing agency. If the idea of trekking across the globe while continuing to make a living as a lawyer sounds appealing, that’s because it is. The question is, can it be done?

XIRA has previously addressed the topic of interstate practice of federal law, sponsoring a webinar on that topic. XIRA has also addressed the subject of lawyers practicing law while living outside the state in which they are licensed, in light of a recent ABA opinion on that subject. In both of those situations, lawyers are permitted to practice across state lines, but there are a number of caveats and requirements that they should be aware of when they do.

The Itinerant Digital Nomad Lawyer (a name I just made up, trademark pending), i.e., one who is constantly on the move with no permanent or semi-permanent address, can actually find the issues easier to navigate in many respects. First, let’s distinguish between one who wanders the United States and one who wanders the rest of the earth.

In the first instance, while travelling the US in your rented RV and stopping every day to read and respond to emails, draft a few documents, make some phone calls and otherwise work for a while before heading on to the next National Park or historic site, you will be subject to the same rules and limitations as if you were actually living in the place where your RV is parked, or where your hotel is located, or whatever. Meaning, you need to be aware of the rules of the specific state where you are when you are working, even if you are only there for one day. For the most part, there won’t be an issue if you are practicing law of the state where you are licensed with clients from that state, and you don’t have your firm’s name plastered on the side of the RV, and you don’t open your RV to office hours for clients from a state that you are just visiting. Most of us can manage to travel and work without violating those rules.

Those wandering the rest of the globe don’t have to deal with legal issues involving the bar association of another state. As long as you don’t purport to know the law of Fiji or France, feel free to travel to those places and deal with your clients as you would if you were at home. There are some issues you may run into when working outside the US, but unauthorized practice of law would not be one of them.

For example, some countries do not allow tourists to work while visiting their country. I don’t know how this works in practice, since any time a lawyer gets a client phone call while travelling in a foreign land he or she is technically working. I would suggest making sure not to set up an office, but if you are travelling, you aren’t going to do that anyway. If a country is strict about it, you may need to be discreet while working.

There are also practical considerations. You will want to plan your trips to make sure you will have sufficient bandwidth available to conduct your business. For those who utilize video conferencing through services such as XIRA, you will want to have at least 10mbps, preferably more. If all you need are phone calls and document transfers, you won’t even need that much. You’ll need to make sure your cell phone has a plan that will work in that country, or be prepared to buy a sim card that works with your phone. You’ll want to make sure your laptop and other equipment is adequate for your purposes, and that you have adapters for all of it. You’ll always have to think about time zone issues when setting office hours. There are many other logistical issues to think through before you take off on that walkabout.

The bottom line: Yes, even lawyers can be digital nomads if you choose. Whether you decide to move to Florida or Tahiti, whether you stay put in one place or move frequently, a lawyer with the right tools can do it legally and profitably. When you make that decision, be aware that XIRA is the only platform that provides all of the tools you need to make it work, and provides them with the free GAVEL service. You meet online with clients through XIRA. You obtain new clients through XIRA, and meet with them online. You obtain client documents via XIRA’s shared storage. You send documents to your clients through that storage. You enter your time, bill your clients, are paid by them, and transfer the funds from them, all through XIRA. Even when you are in Katmandu, we are here for you.