By Nerino Petro at 14 April, 2012, 11:08 am
This article first appeared here in the ABA GP|Solo magazine December 2011 issue.
So you have technology in your office that is at least five years old (if not older) and saved $5,000? Is it best to replace everything or replace some items and upgrade or keep others? The answer is, it depends. The following is an attempt to give our lawyer the most up-to-date, not-quite-bleeding-edge technology, based on the equipment and practice scenario detailed in the next paragraph. How the budget is spent can vary in many different ways; what I have written is just one way to spend this $5,000. My main goal is bringing this office, and its technology, into the second decade of this century while gaining mobility and data protection.
Our lawyer for this article is a sole practitioner in a practice with an emphasis on litigation. The technology in the practice is old and outdated for the most part, including a five-year-old computer running Windows XP. There is either a laser printer and a fax machine or a single multifunction device that serves as a scanner, printer, and fax. Office 2003 is the primary software for the office. Time tracking is in Excel, as are IOLTA ledgers and balances. A copy of Quicken handles the check writing and accounting. Backup is to flash drives or occasionally CD-ROMs, but just files, not the operating systems and programs. Technology use in trial is limited to an old laptop and a rented LCD projector on occasion.
Our solo would like to become more mobile and have the ability to access client and case file information from anywhere. Increased efficiency, including reducing the loss of billable time for administrative functions, is a goal of this upgrade; our lawyer wants the benefits that integrating case information with time, billing, and accounting functionality can bring. Ideally, the practice management system will allow for customization as well as integration with other products, now or in the future.
Fully integrated time, billing, accounting, and practice management software that will work with Outlook is desired, and ideally it will be customizable now or in the future to better suit the practice. As a sole practitioner, our lawyer seeks to eliminate double-entry and the time spent on office administrative functions. Finally, our lawyer wants additional storage and backup at the office (to protect against a hard-drive failure) with Internet access to this information and backups taken off-site regularly.
Much of the time when our lawyer is in court and meeting with others, a full-size laptop isn’t necessary, and our lawyer would like something smaller and less complex than a notebook computer to use, perhaps even in smaller litigation matters so the lawyer can focus on the case, not the technology.
With this scenario firmly in mind, let the shopping begin.
Our lawyer wants to become more mobile and be out of the office regularly. Thus, a notebook computer that is usable both in the office and out of it is probably the best solution. In the office, a notebook computer paired with a docking station adds a full-sized keyboard, mouse, Internet access, scanner, and external monitor with a single connection. When it is time to leave the office, all of these items remain behind by simply undocking the notebook from the docking station without having to disconnect each device. With recent technology advances, including smaller hard drives that have storage capacity equal to a desktop computer, notebook computers are a realistic replacement for, rather than an adjunct to, desktop computers. However, the computer also cannot be so heavy that it is a pain to carry it (and its power supply) easily when out of the office.
Our lawyer wants to get as much “bang for the buck” as possible with the $5,000 budget. Our lawyer recognizes that both Windows- and Mac-based solutions have their strengths and weaknesses but isn’t sure that the budget can afford a Mac and still upgrade everything else. Remember, our lawyer wants practice management, time, billing, and accounting software that is well supported, can be customized for the practice, and can integrate with other products.
For our purposes, this means that the notebook needs a 14” to 15” screen, a big hard drive, lots of memory, and good battery life; for securing confidential and privileged information, biometric security hardware/software would be a very nice additional feature. I have created a chart with a side-by-side comparison between a Windows-based notebook (the HP dv6t Quad Edition) and an Apple MacBook Pro. Note that the prices on the chart were taken from the respective manufacturers’ websites, but prices change constantly, and by the time this article goes to print, prices may have changed.
As much as a MacBook Pro notebook computer has going for it, the reality is that you can get equivalent or better hardware in a Windows-based machine such as the HP dv6t series (or a similar notebook from a different company) for considerably less than would be spent on a MacBook Pro. Because our goal is to completely upgrade the technology for this office, our lawyer is going to go with the Windows-based system. With this decision made, let us move on to peripheral devices such as scanners, printers, and backups.
Notebook and Office Suite: $1,462.97
Although there are many contestants in the category of sheet-fed, duplex, color scanners under $500, our lawyer selects the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500. In full disclosure, I have sold and used Fujitsu (as well as other brands of) scanners in the past and currently own one ScanSnap and one Fujitsu fi-5020c scanner. The ScanSnap does a great job, is fast and extremely simple to use, and includes Adobe Acrobat software. I have seen it offered online for as low as $409.99. Rated at 18 pages per minute simplex (one-sided) scanning and 36 pages per minute duplex (double-sided) scanning, the ScanSnap has what it takes for our lawyer’s needs. Using the ScanSnap, a lawyer can scan black-and-white, grayscale, or color documents from as small as a business card to as large as a legal-size page. It will automatically straighten out pages, flip them right side up, and run optical character recognition (OCR) on the pages and save them to searchable PDF format or to MS Word or Excel format. The ScanSnap includes Adobe Acrobat 9 Standard edition software (you can upgrade to Acrobat X Professional for $199 at the Adobe website or for a few dollars less elsewhere on the web) as well as a ScanSnap version of ABBYY FineReader OCR software. Although the ScanSnap requires the use of a proprietary scanner driver, an increasing number of software packages and services now integrate directly with the ScanSnap. Many programs that do not integrate directly with the ScanSnap software, such as LexisNexis Time Matters, do integrate with Acrobat. If our lawyer elects to use a MacBook instead of a Windows-based notebook, there is a ScanSnap model available for the Mac, as well: the S1500M.
ScanSnap S1500 and Acrobat X Professional upgrade: $608.99
Our lawyer does litigation and uses images and photos at trial. Currently an outside service prints these items for the practice. A new color printer would allow our lawyer to print color documents and photos for use at trial. Generally, color laser printers are more economical and do a better job on text documents; ink-jet printers generally do a better job on photos and images. Luckily, our lawyer can get the low cost and print speed normally associated with a laser printer with the color image quality of ink jets by purchasing an Epson B-310N Business Color Inkjet Printer ($399). With a B-310N, our lawyer gets a color ink jet with print speeds up to 37 pages per minute (19 ISO ppm in black-and-white and 18 ppm ISO color), print costs as low as 6¢ per color page, and a 500-sheet primary paper tray and 150-sheet second feed tray for paper, envelopes, and card stock. Unlike consumer-level ink-jet printers, the ink cartridges in the B-310N do not move with the print head; black cartridges yield up to 3,000 pages and color cartridges yield 3,500 pages before they need to be replaced. The B-310N has both USB and Ethernet connections and a recommended duty cycle of 2,000 pages per month and a maximum duty cycle of 10,000 pages per month. Our lawyer can also add an optional duplexer at a later date for two-sided printing.
Additional Storage and Backup
A full-blown server is overkill for our lawyer; however, he or she would still like additional data storage and a way to store backups in the event of a drive failure in the notebook. By using a network-attached storage device (NAS), our lawyer gets the ability to create a RAID (a redundant array of independent/inexpensive disks); the information written to one disk gets copied to the second disk as well (this is known as RAID 1). Most NAS devices run a version of Linux on an embedded chip, controlled through an Internet browser. Because this device is going to be on 24/7/365, lowest cost is not the primary goal when selecting a NAS. Synology makes a number of different NAS devices for different levels of use. This company has a reputation of building solid, feature-rich devices, albeit not the least expensive ones. Our lawyer is going to go with a Synology DS211j, which provides file sharing across Windows, Mac, and Linux; built-in Windows backup using Synology Data Replicator software or native Mac Time Machine support; e-mail server; and USB printer sharing, Google Cloud Print, and Apple AirPrint, to name some of its capabilities. The DS211j is a diskless system, meaning it does not include any hard drives, so in addition to the DS211j, our lawyer will need to buy two hard drives. The DS211j costs $199.99. Add two Hitachi Deskstar 2 TB 3.5-inch CoolSpin RPM SATA III hard drives at $69.99 each, and the total cost is $339.97. For off-site backup, our lawyer is going to purchase two USB 1TB external hard drives ($59.99 each), rotated on a weekly basis and taken off-site. Although the Windows backup software may be sufficient, our lawyer elects to purchase Acronis True Image Home software ($49.99) to backup the data from the laptop and the files kept on the NAS.
Synology DS211j with 2 TB of mirrored storage, two external 1 TB hard drives, and Acronis True Image Home software: $509.94
Practice Management Software
The last piece of this upgrade is practice management, time, billing, and accounting software. Although cloud products such as Clio or Rocket Matter would be nice and would provide for access to data wherever there is an Internet connection, they do not yet match the customizability and accounting functionality of desktop-based software. Our lawyer elects to use Tabs3 for time and billing in conjunction with PracticeMaster Premier for practice management. In many states, Quicken does not meet the IOLTA trust-keeping requirements, so our lawyer decides to add the Tabs3 general ledger, accounts payable, and trust accounting modules as well. Our lawyer now has everything needed for time, billing, and trust accounting, as well as full-featured, customizable practice management.
Complete Tabs3 with all modules and PracticeMaster Premier for a single user: $1,065
Although our lawyer had to forgo the MacBook Pro, it does not mean that all Apple technology needs to be avoided; when it comes to legal-specific applications for a mobile device, the iPad owns the market. Our lawyer has a smartphone that serves as a mobile hot spot, so 3G mobile broadband is unnecessary. However, without apps, the iPad is of limited use in this litigation practice, so our lawyer will need to buy apps, as well as an adapter to use the iPad with video equipment such as an LCD projector. Because the budget is limited, the 32GB iPad with WiFi will be the model to purchase. This iPad costs $599; it also needs a screen protector (ZAGG invisibleSHIELD, $24.99), a case to protect it (budget, $70), and an adapter for connecting to video equipment (Apple iPad VGA connector, $29). An iPad without apps isn’t going to be a great help to our lawyer, so our lawyer sets aside $200 to purchase apps such as TrialPad ($89.99), iJuror ($9.99), and an office suite such as Quickoffice Pro ($14.99) for productivity and trial.
iPad, accessories, and apps: $922.99
Drumroll Please . . .
So, can our lawyer get all of this for a budget of $5,000? Let us total the purchases:
Laptop and Office Suite: $1,462.97
Scanner and Acrobat X Pro: $608.99
Backup and Remote Access: $509.94
Practice Management Software: $1,065
iPad, Accessories, and Apps: $922.99
Total (not including tax): $4,968.89
Our lawyer squeezes in at just under the $5,000. Ideally, another $1,000 would allow the lawyer to purchase an extended notebook warranty with accidental damage and LoJack for Laptops, an extra power adapter so one can be left at the office, and the annual maintenance plan on Tabs3 and PracticeMaster. There was also no money budgeted for installation assistance of any of the software, which means our lawyer will lose time initially on installing and configuring all of the new equipment and software.
If our lawyer were willing to put up with some double-entry of data, and other inconveniences, one of the cloud-based practice management products, used in conjunction with QuickBooks, would probably work. This reduces the up-front cost as payment is made monthly for the cloud product. Forgoing the iPad opens up other possibilities, including trial preparation software. This balance of equipment and software is just one example of how you can make significant improvements to your office with a $5,000 budget.
Since this article was originally written, the price of hard drives has increased due to flooding in Thailand in the early fall of 2011. Prices are starting to drop but drives are still selling for about $30 more per drive than 6 months ago. If you would like to see articles on turbocharging your office for $1,000 & $2,500 go here.