Law Office Computing
We get mail:
Dear Law Office Computing:
I am leaving a firm after ten years and will be opening my own practice.
I am a techno junkie and would spend every penny I have on equipment in the
vain hopes that the machines will do my work or that the quality of my work
will increase substantially.
Given a budget of $10,000 how can I get the most bang for the buck? I
already have a Pentium 133, a Pentium 200, and a Pentium II 233 laptop. I
have a secretary and a paralegal as well as a bookkeeper who works at home.
I need home access to files.
Should I get a scanner? Should I continue with NT and buy a server or
revert to Win 95? Office 2000 or continue with Corel? RW CD? Color
printers? Mechanical fax or computer?
Ideally my secretary would scan in the mail, the computer would OCR it, she
would e-mail it to me, I would review it and save it to the appropriate
file. We would scan in exhibits and put them on CDs which I could bring to
depositions. A database program would help tag the files for discovery. It
would help us to touch the mail one time and deal with it.
Please share your thoughts with me.
Very truly yours,
You ask hard questions, but I will do my best to give you easy answers. I think your technology needs can be met for a great deal less than the $10,000 you have budgeted.
Let's start with the basics. You are building a true virtual office where multiple functional locations are connected together over the Internet. While this is unusual in the law business it is SOP in the biz business. Windows 98, Second Edition, is an ideal platform for the construction of such a virtual office. Indeed, you need Windows 98 because it supports large hard drives and USB peripheral connections, both of which you need for reasons I will explain. Win98 SE has strong basic networking capabilities built into it and is very comfortable with Internet connections. You'll obviously have spent most of your time and created most of your documents in the WordPerfect world. You can upgrade to WordPerfect 2000 for very little money or you can wait a few months to see what the WordPerfect 2000 Legal Edition looks like. Iíll have something up here as soon as I get the software from Corel. That said, Microsoft Office 2000 is required. Most of the outside world is turning to Microsoft Office 2000 and in order to be fully in touch with that world you need the software it uses. Corel understands that reality and they have made their new software capable of an easy coexistence in a Microsoft Office world. Thus, all of the documents you have created in the past will be accessible to you and documents that you create in the future will be easily accessible to others. That is important because we are very rapidly moving into a time in which most if not all of the documents we use will be created, stored, and managed in electronic form over the Internet. Microsoft Office software is designed from the ground up for the Internet and is the only software suite at the moment that is totally functional there. To get a glimpse of the future, point your browser to http://www.justice link.com and read Judge Monty Ahalt's columns about the future of electronic courts and clerks offices.
At the end of the 20th century, however, we have not yet arrived in the world described by Monty Ahalt. Indeed, we are still awash in paper and the computer revolution has only exacerbated that problem. All of us must find ways of dealing with the paper crisis and at the moment the only sensible thing to do is to convert existing paper to electronic form. If you have more than four or five bankerís boxes of paper documents to be converted at one time it makes sense to go to a service bureau to have those documents scanned, coded and stored on CDs. On the other hand if you are dealing with small numbers of documents you need to develop the capability in your office of scanning and managing that paper. There are several pieces to that problem. The first is the computer that receives and manages the scanned documents. The second is the software that performs the scanning and management functions. And the third is the scanner itself.
Let's start with the computer. You need a huge hard drive in order to store the types of files you will be using. I would start with a 12 GB drive or larger. You can always add another drive in the future. You also need as much RAM as you can afford. 128 K is a minimum and 256 K is desirable. Finally the processing chip should be a modern one. I am very partial to the Pentium III chip because mine works so incredibly well. Intel has just dropped the price on the Pentium III and given your generous budget I suggest you spend a few hundred dollars more and go first class. You can buy a brand-new Dell computer with three years of onsite service, Microsoft Office 2000 software, a 12 GB hard drive and 256 GB of RAM for under $2500. You can lease the same machine for under $75 a month. Finally if your budget can stand it, I would buy the 21 inch Dell monitor for an additional few hundred dollars. Managing electronic documents on a small monitor is a job for young eyes only.
Well there is your first piece. You now have Command Central established. Your other computers can be used at the staff work stations but now you need a connection to the Internet that will bring them all together in common enterprise. First, I would spend a few hundred more to get all of your staff on 17 inch monitors. I have a buddy back in Indiana who has about 20 employees. Every year at Thanksgiving he goes down to the IGA store and buys the discounted turkeys at 25-30 cents a pound. He puts them in the back of his truck and delivers them to his office where every employee gets a free turkey for the holiday. His employees love it and for a cost of around $200 bucks he is the MAN. You can do the same with monitors, though the cost will be a bit more. Your employees will love you and they will be more productive and happier than you can imagine. Size does matter when it comes to monitors.
I would spend my next dollars on direct internet connections. Fortunately, Arizona is a head of the curve here. You have two choices and both of them are good. Depending upon your location and the location of your staff you can choose either DSL service or cable modem service. You need those high-speed Internet connections because the documents you will be moving back and forth over the Internet get big and the time required to accomplish those transfers with the slow modem connection is prohibitive. Besides high-speed connections are no longer expensive and should cost you no more than $50 a month per connection. These connections are on line 24 hours day so you will have instant access to your staff and the ability to move seamlessly from your office to the Internet without having to dial up to a server someplace else. The Internet will become your network and you will begin to work in a different way. Your production and research will become easier, faster and cheaper. The quality of your work product will rise. And, if you donít allow it to take over your life, computing in this world is a pleasure.
And now Grasshopper I must go. But I will ponder your other questions and answer them soon. Feel free to write with other questions to email@example.com.
Law Office Computing