Many professions have enjoyed the freedom of remote work for years. That hasn’t always been true for law firm owners tied to in-office client meetings, courtroom appearances, and in-person teams to manage. But, the game has changed.
It’s no secret that 2020 caused a monumental shift in the legal profession. Since then, video conferencing, virtual court dates, remote work, and cloud-based file management have become the norm. Some law firm owners are choosing to shake off the confines of geography. They’re not just working remotely, they’re jet setting to far-flung places and working abroad. (Obviously, these jet-setting lawyers are checking the relevant rules of professional conduct. No one wants to accidentally run afoul of any unauthorized practice of law rules.)
Remote Law in Practice
Only one of Aaron Thomas’s clients commented on his changed Zoom background. She assumed he had moved into another room. But Aaron, a Lawyerist Lab Legacy member, wasn’t only in another room—he was in another country, almost on another continent, thousands of miles away.
Aaron, with his wife and two-year-old daughter, were in Costa Rica.
It wasn’t their first time abroad. In 2014, the pair took a sabbatical year with Aaron freelance writing while they traveled around South and Central America. After that experience, they promised to embark on a similar trip every seven years.
Life happens, though. In 2015, Aaron opened his Atlanta-based family law firm. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the world shutdown. He then welcomed his first daughter, and soon, it was eight years later. But that itch to live abroad had not subsided.
Planning to Work Abroad
Aaron is a firm believer in work fitting into your life, not life fitting into your work. Even before the pandemic, he encouraged a flexible working environment for his team. “If you can trust your people to work from their houses,” he said. “You can trust them to work from wherever they are sitting with their laptop.”
He had already laid the framework for a remote firm with online processes, systems, and procedures in place. If he could run his firm, meet with clients, and attend court from his home, why couldn’t he do the same somewhere else?
So, after some encouragement from his mastermind group, Aaron and his family decided to do a test run. They would spend six weeks living and working in Costa Rica. Aaron’s wife’s Spanish language fluency, the perfect weather, and its central standard time zone made it an easy choice.
Once decided, Aaron had to figure out how to make it a seamless transition. His primary concerns were having a solid internet connection and having easy access to the airport in case he was called for an in-person court appearance, and childcare. Turns out, it was easier than he could have imagined.
“I attended court from Costa Rica. I met with clients. I did consultations. I managed my staff—the whole nine—all from Costa Rica with a two-year-old in tow,” he said.
After weighing his primary concerns, Aaron and his family opted to live in San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital city. They found a modern apartment with high-speed internet and excellent child care within walking distance. It was a quick drive to the airport if Aaron needed to hop on a flight at the last minute.
Practicing Law in Another Country
His plan went off without a hitch. Aaron kept normal weekday business hours, although he took more walks than usual. Clients and the courts never even knew he was abroad, just as he had hoped.
During his six weeks abroad, Aaron’s internet only went down once during a virtual hearing. Something that could just as easily happen at home in Atlanta. He had planned ahead though, quickly rejoining after turning his phone into a hotspot using a Costa Rican sim card.
During the evenings they explored (and ate their way through) their San Jose neighborhood known as the Paseo Gastronomico. On the weekends, they adventured. “The beach was two hours away. The rainforest was two hours away,” Aaron said.
They splurged on a luxury retreat, staying in a casita in the rainforest. They explored Costa Rican nature. They ate, they enjoyed, they lived. All while keeping his business running smoothly, his team engaged, and his clients happy. The only thing Aaron missed during his six weeks away? His wide-screen monitor.
Advice for Jet-Setting Attorneys
If Aaron has any advice for law firm owners who dream of going abroad, it would be: try it. “Try for a month. If a month is too crazy, try it for two weeks,” he said. “If that’s too crazy, try for one week. Go somewhere for one week, work remotely, and see if you can pull it off. It’s more doable than people expect.”
Go somewhere for one week, work remotely, and see if you can pull it off. It’s more doable than people expect.
There are two things Aaron recommends for those interested in working abroad. First, plan for the worst-case scenario (i.e., being called into court) and identify the solution (i.e., living close to the airport). Second, would be to get a business credit card with a travel points program.
There is one thing he’d do differently for his next stint abroad. After working with his laptop and using his iPad as a second screen, “I would buy some extension cords and a cheap, larger monitor as soon as I got there,” he said.
With his Costa Rica test a resounding success, Aaron and his family didn’t stay still. In May they took a trip to the Galapagos and have plans for a trip to Barcelona in 2023.
Remote Practice in the Future
As for living abroad again, Aaron already has plans in the works for the coming year. Since returning from Costa Rica, Aaron has moved on from his family law practice, starting a new venture, prenups.com. He now has even more flexibility and opportunity to work toward his goal of being location independent.
Aaron was able to do this because he had a plan, established systems in place, and a team he could trust. Learn how to build the systems, team, and healthy law firm you want with our Complete Law Firm Guides.
Last updated December 12th, 2022