Law Office Computing
Building the Virtual Office
OK! You swallowed the whale and bought a new Pentium II with 400mhz chip and 12 gig hard drive. You can now be a big time gamer and netizen, but you wouldn't be reading this if you didn't think that monster machine could have an impact on your real work. For the purposes of this column, I am going to assume your want to use your rocket ship as a standalone platform for law office computing. Networks are a "whole 'nother matter," as my mama used to say.
With a modest investment in hardware and software you will be able to use your new computer as the centerpiece of your work environment. You will want to be able to create, scan and fax documents. You will want to be able to build presentations for trial or for clients. You will want to be able to create a database that will allow you quick and easy access to information stored on your computer system and elsewhere in your life. You will want to have an accounting program and a spreadsheet that allow you to analyze alternative financial scenarios. And, most important, you will want a program that allows you to keep a calendar, a task-manager, and your e-mail all in one spot. All of those things will be yours and more if you install Microsoft Office 97 and upgrade to Windows 98. You will then have a very stable suite of tools running on your machine. Forget your politics. Hating Bill Gates and refusing to buy Microsoft software is, pardon my French, just plain dumb. Your refusal to buy Microsoft will have no serious effect on the Redmond Gorilla so just relax and enjoy! Spend your energy on more effective things like creating more free time to be with your family, go fishing or whatever jiggles your jungle.
Now there may be some things that you don't like about the Microsoft wordprocessor or you may prefer FileMaker Pro to ACCESS as your database. You might have a favorite presentation program that you don't want to give up, but just because you have the Office 97 suite that contains a word processor, a database, a spreadsheet, a presentation program, and a desktop information management system called Outlook 98, doesn't mean that you can't have these other pieces of software. I like Word 97 a lot, but I don't like it nearly as much as my old standby WordPerfect when it comes to creating documents on the desktop. I have both and I use both. The same thing goes for Internet access. I find Internet Explorer 4.0 to be a wonderful way to go onto the Internet to search for information. But there are some features of Netscape Navigator that I like better and indeed, there are some web sites and some other software programs that work better with Netscape. There's no harm in having both and you can use both. Whatever may be the truth in regard to the alleged stranglehold that Microsoft has on the major PC manufacturers, there is absolutely nothing to prevent you from using alternative programs if they fit your needs. All I am saying here is that Windows 98 and Office 97 Professional Edition have everything that you must have in order to run a virtual office.
You will, of course, need a printer. You may prefer to have a standalone fax machine but I think you need to have a scanner of some kind that is directly connected to your computer. Brother, HP and Xerox make some terrific multipurpose machines that will allow you to scan, fax and print from a single machine. I use the new HP LaserJet 3100 multipurpose machine and I think it is totally wonderful. Because it is a LaserJet, it prints, copies, scans and faxes at about six pages per minute. It has a great 30 page sheet feeder for all functions and a great envelope feeder slot. I think it is the best of the bunch and if you are doing a relatively low volume of work, it is brings many new and important functions to your desktop. But if you need to scan and manage lots of documents or if you get and send a lot of faxes and print a lot of pages, it probably makes sense to buy standalone units for each of these things if you decide to do them in house. Once again, I am extremely partial to Hewlett-Packard products when it comes to printing and scanning. They provide you with an almost unlimited set of options and are very price competitive. If you buy standalone units, I suggest that you get a sheet-fed scanner that will handle multiple sheets since it is seldom that an important legal document comes to you as a single page. If you do large scale printing, I suggest that you get a laser printer instead of an inkjet. Laser printers are faster and they are cheaper per page by a considerable margin. If you need to do color in your printing however, then an inkjet printer is a practical necessity because the alternatives are too expensive for ordinary use.
There are many high-quality standalone faxes available for a modest price. Make sure you get one that has a 50- or 100-sheet plain paper capacity and a good sized memory for when you run out. If you get lots of faxes you may, again, want to consider buying a laser-based fax instead of an inkjet simply because of operating cost alone. In addition, the laser toner cartridges last for thousands of sheets while the inkjet cartridges last only for a few hundred. It can be very disconcerting to have an inkjet cartridge run out during the course of a long and probably important fax.
The Icing on The Cake
If you have purchased a scanner, you can use the Kodak Imaging scanning software that is built into Windows 95 under the imaging button in Windows Accessories. The built in product does not have OCR and strong annotation capabilities, however, the way its sister product, Wang Imaging Professional 2.0, does. Wang Imaging Professional 2.0 provides you with a complete solution to scanning your documents. It can be downloaded for under $100 from the Eastman site at http://www.eastmansoftware.com. There you can also buy a couple of CDs that will be sent to you along with a very easy-to-use set of instructions.
You can use Windows Explorer as the primary a way of organizing and managing your documents. The Eastman Imaging Professional 2.0 software makes that a simple and well-organized process. There is, however, an even easier and very inexpensive product from DocuMagix called PaperMaster 98 which will be on the market soon. Keep looking at http://www.documagix.com for the announcement. PaperMaster 98 paints a virtual file cabinet on your computer screen that allows you to store any document on your computer in its native format in the file cabinet. You simply open a drawer, open a folder and drop the file into it. It is very easy and very intuitive and very, very inexpensive in terms of its functionality.
There you have it. Microsoft Office 97 Professional, Wang Image Professional 2.0, and DocuMagix 98! Your virtual office lives and you don't have to mortgage the ranch to get it!