You can’t hug a cloud

Starting a new business at age 60!  What was I thinking?  I thought I was crazy when I decided to go to law school at 45, graduating at 49.  I started practicing elder law right away in Bellingham.    Back then my friends were all talking retirement, downsizing, snow-birding, and I was entrenched in billable hours, court hearings, and all night sessions writing briefs for court.   The bonus in all that work was that I loved my work and enjoyed fighting for my elderly clients and their families every single day.   I moved to Tacoma to open an elder law practice in 2001 and have been here for 10 years practicing Elder Law.

Now at age 60, my friends are all retired, have moved to sunnier climates, and when most people start to wind down their life, I start my own law firm.  And to make it even more interesting my new partner is 32 years old.  So this 60-year-old elder law attorney (and yes, I can be my own elder law attorney now) is learning what the “cloud” is, what “virtual” is, and how in the world can you have a phone system going through your computer.

My partner, Sean Flynn, has a Masters Degree in Business and received his law degree about 1 1/2 years ago.  So he is just starting in law, although he has a lot of experience in real estate as a result of work experience and family interests.   He is somewhat of a technology whiz kid so I was not prepared for what was in store for me.

When I approached Sean to ask if he wanted to go into practice with me, one of his first comments to me was “we can have a virtual office with all our files and documents in the cloud.”  So as I sit there listening to him, I am picturing how my clients will be able to find me in the cloud or in my virtual office to come in to see me or sign documents.  I am having a hard time visualizing that happening.

My life as an attorney and paralegal (15 years prior to being an attorney) has been brick-and-mortar:  an office with a chair, desk, file cabinets and legal assistants.  You can touch your chair and files.  You can see them in front of you.  Your clients can see them.  All is well.   To me, the cloud is all “up there” somewhere.

“You see I have clients who like to see me and hug me,” I told Sean.  “They like to sit in a chair and put their arms on a table.  They like to see documents.  They are like me, they like to see and touch.”   This sounds like an old Dick and Jane Book.  I say, “I like to touch.”  Sean says, “Virtual is the way to go.”  I say, “I like to see.”  He says, “the cloud is where it is at.”

So we compromised.  I have my office with tables and chairs and some files.  I have legal assistants and computers.  But we also have an office in Seattle that is very close to virtual since the staff for that office are located here in Tacoma, the files are all on the “cloud” and the phones are run through the computer.   Even the way my clients can pay me now is changed.  The old days of checks are almost over.  My clients can now  pay their bill virtually on my iPad or my iPhone.    The funds go directly to our bank accounts.   So this old dog has learned new tricks from this young pup of an attorney.

Science is saying that in order to fight off Alzheimer’s Disease you should learn new languages or take on new learning experiences in your 60s or 70s so you form new synapses in your brain.   If that is true, I will never get that dreaded disease since I have formed so many new synapses in the past few months learning the “cloud” that I think I have rewired my entire brain.

So much has changed in the law office in just 30 years. I know that by the time I retire, law offices may be all virtual.  More and more of my clients contact me by cell phone, voice message, email, text messages or on Facebook.   The age of sit down face to face law practice is changing day by day.  But I am holding on to my desk and chair with clenched hands.  I like face to face contact.  You get more hugs that way!

Jonete W. Rehmke is a partner at Rehmke & Flynn, PLLC, 917 Pacific Avenue, Ste 407, in Tacoma, WA  98402.  She can be reached at (253) 209-0899.