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Metro Atlanta’s horrendous traffic is well-documented. For law firms, maintaining productivity in the midst of all the headaches and lost time to gridlock can be an elusive quest. A local lawyer offers his solution: telecommuting. “We’ve pretty much mastered the art of telecommuting,” says Decatur lawyer Richard S. Alembik. “As long as we can instant message each other, I don’t care where [employees] are.” The firm, which specializes in commercial and real estate litigation, made the decision to go high-tech some years ago — a decision that has reaped personal and financial rewards. Attorneys and paralegals can work remotely by receiving forwarded phone calls, accessing e-mails and client databases, videoconferencing, instant messaging and even viewing the firm’s reception area via video camera. Alembik notes that one of the firm’s paralegals lives about 40 miles from the office. Spates of bad weather kept the paralegal from the office — but not from her work. “There was no need for her to come in. I wanted her to avoid any unnecessary exposure to traffic,” Alembik says. Moreover, telecommuting offers employees the opportunity to work in environments that best suit them. Telecommuting is “great if employees want to be on their own for a few days at a time,” Alembik says — especially when the employee is working on an independent project requiring a great deal of concentration. “I don’t want someone to be distracted,” Alembik says. The firm’s telecommuting policy is made on an ad hoc basis, but Alembik acknowledges that “it might not be a bad idea” to include an official policy in the employee handbook. Although telecommuting may seem ripe for abuse, Alembik says that it hasn’t been an issue for his firm. “Even if an employee is in the office, you can’t look over his shoulder the whole time,” he says. The same is true with those working remotely. If the work product is sound and the billing records add up, then abuse is not a concern, he says. THE COST OF TECHNOLOGY The ability to work from anywhere doesn’t necessarily come cheap, however. Alembik estimates that $15,000 to $20,000 would be enough to establish “a pretty sweet system” for a small firm, in addition to the services of an information technology professional. If that kind of investment seems pricey, don’t be discouraged. Atlanta attorney James S. Altman has taken advantage of remote networking technology “for almost nothing,” he says. A former computer consultant and self-described “wirehead,” Altman uses open-source freeware such as UltraVNC to access his firm’s server. From such remote locales as his cabin in the North Georgia mountains, he taps in through his Palm Treo 650 cellphone. He cautions that those using telecommuting-enabling technology must remain diligent with respect to security. “You need a firewall, or you’re laying yourself open to being attacked” by hackers, Altman says. Altman also says that up-to-date anti-virus and anti-spyware software are a necessity. Stephen M. LaBar Jr., owner of Computer Specialist, a Duluth-based technology consulting firm, concurs with Altman’s assessment and offers his mantra: “security, security and more security.” LaBar recommends the use of a hardware firewall to protect a server. A hardware firewall costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $800-$900 (plus the licensing fees), he says. Alembik’s investment in technology resulted in the purchase of remotely accessible servers. As long as a computer has a network connection (a high-speed one, preferably), it can access the servers’ virtual office. “Every document that comes into the office is opened and immediately scanned” and placed on the servers, offering a digitized copy of the firm’s paper files, Alembik says. The firm’s technology “has more than paid for itself,” Alembik says. He estimates that the technology has allowed him to hire one less employee, adding that the pool of potential hires is not as limited because of the ability to telecommute. “I get better people working for me,” he says. And the firm’s lawyers and paralegals enjoy the flexibility of telecommuting. “It’s great,” says paralegal Russ Lenox. “Even if I am sick and need to be at home, I don’t have to worry about work backing up.” Alembik also takes advantage of the ability to work from home, especially with a new daughter. “I want to see her grow up,” he says.

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