Having a mobile office sounds like a great idea — at least until it’s time to take your smartphone, notebook, tablet, digital camera, batteries, cables, memory cards and everything else along on a business trip. At that point, your gadget collection — which grows larger each year as new "must have" devices are released — begins to look more like a millstone than a portable productivity resource.
Yet it doesn’t have to be that way, says Randall M. Kessler, a Marietta, Ga., attorney who flies out of town at least twice a month to deliver family law lectures to attorneys, judges, accountants, financial advisors and others. Like other lawyers who spend a great deal of time on the road, Kessler understands that careful planning can make traveling with tech as worry-free as it was in the days of payphones and portable typewriters — only much more convenient and productive.
If any tech gadget can be considered an essential carry-along, it’s the mobile phone. Few lawyers would leave home without their phone. Kessler, in fact, always brings two iPhones along on his trips — AT&T and Sprint models. "I do this in case one carrier has poor service," he explains. "In the hotel room, I can [also] use one as a Wi-Fi expander." The practice, known as "tethering," creates an instant mobile hotspot that can provide Web access to nearby computers, tablets and other devices.
Lawrence T. Gresser, managing partner at New York law firm Cohen & Gresser, also believes in carrying a pair of iPhones; one based on GSM technology (AT&T), the other CDMA (Verizon). "When you’re traveling internationally, you never know which service is going to work better," he notes. "I have them in different colors, so it’s easy to tell which is which."
Notebooks v. Tablets
While some lawyers have trouble even contemplating a business trip without their trusty notebook computer, a growing number of attorneys now prefer to carry a tablet, which tends to be easier to use in places without a table or desk.
Kessler never takes a notebook computer on his business trips, despite the need to deliver PowerPoint presentations. "I can do everything I need to on my iPad," he says. A mobile app, SlideShark, allows Kessler to display PowerPoint Presentations via his tablet. "But you need to remember to bring a VGA adapter (to connect the tablet to an external display or projector)," he adds.
Yet other attorneys feel that tablets still present too many access and performance tradeoffs to justify their relatively modest usability, space and weight advantages. Tycho H.E. Stahl, a partner at Atlanta law firm Arnall Golden Gregory, always travels with a portable computer. "I need the laptop to type lengthy emails, file my emails in subfolders, in cleaning out my in-box and to review documents," he says. "This can be done on an iPad, but is just a lot slower and more frustrating."
Mobile device chargers, USB cables, earphones and other accessories don’t consume a lot of baggage space, but can be a pain in the neck to organize. Kessler has a simple solution to this problem. He packs all of his chargers and cables into a small bag, which he then places inside his main suitcase. "This keeps them all in one place," he says.
Since using multiple chargers in outlet-starved hotel rooms can be a headache, Kessler and Stahl both take a travel-sized power strip along on their journeys. "I can just leave every charger plugged into the thing," Stahl says. "I don’t have to hunt for electrical sockets all over a hotel room."
Stahl also likes to be able to charge his devices while driving, so he’s purchased a power inverter to take along on road trips. "The thing plugs into standard cigarette lighters in cars, but has a 110V socket so I can just plug a charger into it," he says.
Coping with Checkpoints
Hand luggage containing tangled balls of wires connected to tiny black boxes won’t help its owner move swiftly or painlessly through TSA checkpoints. Such mysterious-looking items are best stowed inside checked luggage. "Security takes a special interest in my computer mouse," Stahl says. "They’ve also found my inverter to be pretty interesting [and] they also don’t typically understand why I carry the power strip extension cord along."
Kessler recommends emulating George Clooney’s smooth-as-silk approach to passing through TSA checkpoints, as shown in the movie Up in the Air. "You follow his lead and take absolutely everything out of your pockets, everything that can be removed, and put it into your hand luggage," Gresser says. "Do that before you get to the checkpoint and you’ll sail through."
Kessler advises attorneys who travel frequently to get themselves pre-screened by the TSA. "If you can get on the list, do it," he says. The TSA Pre program allows eligible frequent flyers of participating airlines to receive expedited screening during domestic travel. Approved participants can use dedicated screening lanes for benefits that include leaving on shoes, light outerwear and belts, as well as leaving laptops and compliant liquids in carry-on bags. "I call it the happy lane," Kessler says, "since the TSA workers and everyone in that line feels lucky."
International travelers, meanwhile, may wish to take advantage of Global Entry, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the U.S. Applicants must pay a $100 nonrefundable fee (covered by some types of American Express cards) and undergo a rigorous background check before enrollment, including an in-person interview at one of the program’s Global Entry enrollment centers, most of which are located at a major airport.
Kessler believes that for regular international travelers, Global Entry’s rewards far outweigh its cost and hassle. "Global Entry is amazing," he says.
Gresser’s final word of advice is to avoid taking easily lost paper documents along on trips. "Where possible, take apps, not paper," he suggests. "I download as many documents as possible onto an app called GoodReader on my iPad."
Stahl, meanwhile, stresses the importance of creating a regular packing routine. "Develop a system so that you pack and unpack instinctively when you travel to avoid forgetting or losing items," he says.
Kessler’s final recommendation is using an app like PhoneTag to stay connected 24/7. "When someone leaves me a voice mail on my cellphone, it transcribes it and emails it to me with an audio file," he says. "So if I’m on a plane or in a meeting, even though I can’t answer my phone, I can still get the message and reply via email or text." •