Being A Location Independent Counsel: An Informational Interview and My Own Realization Of What I Am Currently Doing!

Map of the United States in Car Plates at Footworke in Cottonwood, Arizona

Come December 14, 2016, we would be celebrating our year mark exploring the United States (California, Washington, Utah, Nevada, Florida, Colorado, and Arizona) and South America (Brazil and Peru) together as a couple with short stint for me in the Philippines. It was our longest trip ever since our wedding day. Although we have been to Vietnam, Cambodia and Taiwan in 2014, and Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand in 2015, both years' travel took only a month during the first year and a couple of months on the second year. To a lot of people they consider me very lucky that I could take "vacation" that long, which clearly shows the lack of understanding about being a location independent counsel, which is actually "work" while traveling anywhere in the world! This post is possibly the closest I could get in explaining the concept, thanks to the pretty and brainy, Louell Jeanne Carman Lorzano, who is graduating as Summa Cum Laude at Brigham Young University - Hawaii with a degree in Political Science minor in Public Management (clap* clap*) for this informational interview.  She told me that this is their last paper to turn in before graduation and she has chosen me to be the professional interviewee since she is interested in what I do as her mentor. Hmm, MENTOR is such a big word! So anyway, I thought I would share to you my answers both to the questions she asked, and those questions other asked of me! 
BYU-Hawaii Graduating Class Photo courtesy of  Louell Jeanne

What is your Career/Job Title? 

I call myself a Location Independent Counsel, for want of better term! I am a licensed lawyer in the Philippines since May 1999 and the founding attorney of Mary Ann L. Ojeda Law Office, a traditional law firm housed in one room of our residence and registered in Valenzuela City (Philippines), headquartered in Makati City (Philippines) in a studio-type condo manned by a paralegal and one assisting counsel, and is being operated as a virtual law firm throughout the Philippines, in the United States of America (USA) and anywhere in the world where I and my husband cum paralegal are traveling.

What is it that you do on your job?  Help me understand a little more about what you actually do.  

At present, I am a retained local counsel for the Office of General Counsel (OGC) of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter – Day Saints for the Philippines area, handling all major real estate transactions, family law issues, visa issues and immigration matters. I am also a corporate secretary and Director for three corporations – one engaged in employee placements in Japan, jerseys and sports apparel manufacturing in Orem, Utah and a real estate holding company with Swedish investors in El Nido, Philippines. I am also a corporate secretary and Trustee of three 501c3 companies in the US where Philippines is the beneficiary of their services so I have incorporated a foundation for each of them in the Philippines, and a litigation attorney in the Philippines with areas of practice in family law, civil law and commercial law.

What is a typical day like?

It honestly depends on where I am living at the time. Since I am currently here in Orange County, California (USA) with my husband, I wake up at 8 in the morning (11 in the evening in the Philippines) and check my emails to have an idea of what’s the day work would be. Then we hit the road to see some sights, explore new places, meet some friends and do something interesting, while my clients in the Philippines are still asleep! From 3 in the afternoon until 12 midnight (6am – 3pm in the Philippines) is my regular work schedule where I am either drafting a court pleading and corporate documents, coaching my paralegal, teleconferencing with my clients, emailing legal advice, or working with my assisting counsel on cases and other matters. I make sure I get eight (8) hours of sleep no matter what and attend Church on Sundays! Friday night is our movie dates (yes, Red is a sucker for movies!) and Saturday is my official shopping day whether Red likes it or not!

The Bible Quote at the Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove, CA

What attracted you to this type of work?

I got interested to being a lawyer in general way back in college when I did an immersion program and stayed with a farmer’s family in Batangas. The family’s challenge then was legal in nature and an Education major like me could not be of much help. So, I told myself, I am going to be a lawyer and help the farmers in Batangas, which I was able to do after my graduation.

As to being a Location Independent counsel, it is the flexibility of doing the two things I love - lawyering and traveling!. Maintaining a virtual law firm, as an emerging business model, helps me simultaneously do just that. With the technology, I am able to deliver legal services to clients (who pays the bill) while exploring new places and checking off bucket lists with hubby!   

What training/education is needed to do what you do?  

You need to take up a law degree, either a Bachelors or a J.D program after obtaining your college degree. Once you pass the bar examinations, choosing your practice areas is a self - imposed limitation!  

What kind of formal education and college majors are most useful for preparation in this type of work?

Any pre-law course is definitely useful in getting a law degree and ultimately becoming a lawyer. Personally though, I chose to finish a Bachelor’s of Science in Education, major in English because it gives me a "degree" already while in law school (I am a licensed Elementary and High School teacher), and my competence in English help me succeed in law school since the discourses and bar examinations are all in English.

What is your most significant accomplishment this past year?

Being able to close major real estate purchases while “honeymoon-ing” in Brazil, Peru, Bolivia in South America and the states of California, Colorado, Washington, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon and Florida in the United States. I was able to see as much of the Philippines too and other Asian countries while earning a good income and keeping our overhead expenses to a minimum. There were important litigation that were successfully concluded while I was gone physically from the Philippines by working with my team (i.e. assisting counsel and paralegal) who do the physical representation while I do all the pleadings while exploring the world!. 

How does this profession fit with family life?

It fits perfectly with family life since Red and I have been able to travel together since our marriage and able to combine work and pleasure that strengthen our relationships! Once there is a baby in tow, we can choose to stay put in one location, where I stay home with the kids while managing the law office while Red can apply for a regular day job if he wants to!

In Copacabana Beach imitating the Rio De Janeiro Olympics poster 

What keeps you interested in the work?

The thought that my husband and I can pretty much settle anywhere in the world with internet.  In this digital age we live in, it is becoming increasingly easy and profitable to have this small- sized law firm extends to multi-lawyer, multi-jurisdiction law firm offering full-service representation and online delivery of legal services.

What does it take to become successful here?

To become a successful location independent counsel, you need to establish yourself first as an expert in your chosen field and be that “go-to-person”. That requires not only prior skills and experience but also being dependable and disciplined. When you commit to a deadline be sure to deliver on the appointed time and communicate with clients promptly and clearly. Since everything is online, much of the success depends on how well I use the internet/social media and cloud-based technology to operate the firm and deliver legal services.

What are the professional networks or organizations associated with this career?

As an LDS lawyer, the most important network for me is the J.Reuben Clark Law Society with more than 75 chapters all over the world. I am the founding officer of the JRCLS Philippines Chapter and have met a lot of lawyers with the same values and have helped a lot of people through maintaining a network with the lawyers I met during annual conferences around the US, Asia Pacific Conference in Australia and New Zealand and Leadership Conference in Utah. Locally, I am a member of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) and with networks among my classmates, professors and students who are now lawyers.

What advice do you have for a person who is interested in doing this kind of work?

You are on the right track already by doing so well in your undergraduate studies. Just keep at it and dream, dream BIG if you must – and have the guts to live your dream by being disciplined and firmly grounded. 


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