Law Practice Technology Essentials for new law office

By Roberta Gubbins

Legal News

Lawyers who find office space, buy furniture, get business cards printed, purchase mal-practice insurance and set up bank accounts are not yet ready to practice law. They must now explore the world of technology looking at both hardware requirements and software options. What are their options and what is needed to get their practice up and running?

Diane Ebersole and JoAnn Hathaway, Practice EZ Advisors from the State Bar of Michigan Practice Management Resource Center came to the Cooley Center on Wednesday, January 25th to help answer those questions.

Ebersole began her discussion with a list of hardware needs including a computer, a printer able to fax, copy, and scan; access to the Internet, secure e-mail and a telephone.

Computers have a life expectancy of three years therefore "you need to plan to buy a new computer," Ebersole said. "If you continue to use the old computer, start planning now on how you are going to replace it."

Computer recommendations include:

* 32 bit computer with 4GB of RAM adequate for a law practice

* Data back up system

* A minimum processor speed at 2.2GHz

* Protection from viruses, malware, hackers, phishing and spam

* Windows 7 for PC, OS Xv 10.7.2 for Mac operating system

* Support--warranty and find a support professional

If purchasing, "please, please don't buy the machine of the week at Best Buy, plan your purchase. Buy the machine that meets your business needs."

For operating systems, whether a MAC or a PC, she urged the group to think about the type of law they plan to practice. "For example," she said, "if you're an engineer and you're going to create a boutique law firm that specializes in some facet of engineering or graphic design, you may do best with a Mac."

"If you are going to run your law firm with a MAC," she said, "be aware that the PC world will expect you to accommodate them. Applications that can help are CrossOver Pro Version, Wine, or VWWare Fusion."

She stressed the need for an external hard drive that has backup software included and can resist fire, flood, tornado or other disasters is best. A thumb drive is easy to use but can be lost and is easy to hack although IronKey, "much like the old Mission Impossible messages" will self-destruct if given the wrong password for several tries.

"If you are looking for a company to backup," she said, "you want a mature company that has a user friendly interface, runs independently of whether you are having a good or a bad day and you need to check that it is happening and you need to do test restores."

In reviewing phones she noted that Blackberry has the best security anywhere "but I am not sure they will last while the iPhone is a security risk." She recommended android phones as best for security.

JoAnn Hathaway explained the two types of software:

* Proprietary--you own it, install it, configure it and support it

* Cloud-based or software as a service (SaaS)--vendor developed and owned with access over the internet

The advantages to SaaS are tech support, can be accessed anywhere, is multi-location friendly and backup is provided. Disadvantages include cost--prices increase as services and users are added and if there is no Internet, there is no access.

"Since 87% of lawyers use Microsoft Word or Word Perfect," she recommended its use. Other software needed for the law firm is Adobe Acrobat X Pro for creating forms, a Personal Information Manager (PIM) that functions as a manager of personal information including a calendar and a billing and accounting program that tracks time billed by lawyers and staff, generates bills and allows for posting of client and vendor payments.

"A huge issue in law firms is finding documents," she said, necessitating document management software. Some marketplace players in the field are Worldox, NetDocuments, DocuShare or Autonomy iManage Worksite "which allows you to quickly and accurately generate customized documents in a word processing application." Examples include TurboTax or estate planning software.

Other software applications available to the lawyer include voice recognition software; productivity software that helps users produce more results and generate a better work product; document assembly software and practice management software such as Time Matters 11.

She reminded the audience that discounts for State Bar of Michigan members are available.

For more information, please contact the State Bar of Michigan Practice Management Resource Center.

Published: Mon, Feb 6, 2012