When Roger, Melissa, and I got back to the office Monday from our incredibly exciting EB-5 Immigrant Investor seminar in Venezuela, I got a taste of the days of old. We'd left Wednesday and returned Sunday afternoon, and none of us had gotten much sleep during and since the trip. And despite the presence of a great team on top of the workload, upon our return to the office we were each bombarded with that unavoidable crush of activity which befalls each busy attorney who dares leave the office for a few days.
I thought back to my own business immigration practice, which I sold six years ago to my partner and friend, Lorenzo Lleras. Lorenzo had joined my firm right out of law school and had grown to manage the firm far better than I ever had by the time he bought me out. But even with our cracker jack team and Lorenzo at the helm, Monday-o-phobia was part and parcel of my reality for many years. I travelled a lot back then, more than immigration attorneys normally do, and our offices in Hong Kong and Manila were a full day's flight away. The trips had to be for at least a week, week and a half, and it was before communications technology had evolved. So my return to Florida, despite everyone's best efforts, invariably involved a bit of chaos.
I would get very frustrated. I would say "But I'm not an obstetrician who has to run to the hospital in the middle of the night to deliver a baby...I don't even do deportations! How can there be so many "emergencies??" Of course, in fact, the actual emergencies were rare. But when clients want to speak to "the man" (or "the woman"), no amount of delegation to even the most competent folks will ever suffice.
Seriously, when you think about it, the obstetrical analogy is hardly off-base: like the newly pregnant parents,folks come to us with the growing "embryo" of a life in the U.S. seeded in their plans. We sit here and structure their visa, advise them of their options, and send them to specialists (pre-immigration tax advisors instead of sonogram technicians) to insure the health of their "pre-natal" "baby". We prepare them for the process (our version of LaMaze) and for the visa interview (which many compare to the birthing process in terms of excruciating pain.) Finally, with the family here and visas in hand, the dream begins as they leave our office with their new business enterprise, hopefully, bundled in a blanket of wise counsel and high hopes. (I won't even get into the even more accurate but disturbing parallel of what happens when our best counsel ignored and the best laid plans "miscarry" as a result of predictable obstactles of which we warned the client; invariably heartbreaking to us.)
So, during these years, I tried in vain to be "present" in the Far East offices without having to travel, but there was just no way. I have always embraced technology, but this was WAY before Skype, way before global cell access...even before email was standard in business communications. I remember spending thousands to buy a set of then-high-tech video phones, thinking I'd be able to video conference and save a few trips. All Chinese and Filipino clients looked the same, probably as I did to them: two inch tall gray blobs and a poor voice signal, degraded by the routing of video through phone lines never designed for compressed data.
I used the phones as bookends for awhile, tried unsuccessfully to sell them without reserve on eBay, and, as I recall, they are now part of an artificial reef somewhere off Key Largo.
Today at Chez Roger, things are different. I Skype with clients. I scan business cards in with OCR software. Our state of the art client management system is available anywhere we can get online. But the essential physical presence of the attorney - that "give a damn lawyering" I wrote of several days ago -- is still the buckstop.
So by late Monday afternoon, Melissa had had five client appointments, Roger about a billion emails, and I was whooped. (I very rarely get tired.) As I was leaving the office, I went to say goodnight to Roger and he just looked at me and said something to the effect that we were paying dearly for our two-and-a-half-business-day absence. In fact, there had been no emergencies or even pseudo-emergencies, and, besides, Linda and a veteran corps of business immigration and litigation attorneys had remained in Miami to deal with anything urgent.
As I walked down to the car I realized that whether it involves broken water or broken visa situations, "emergency" is defined in the eyes of the beholder.