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Tips for buying tech for your firm

The prospect of investing in technology strikes fear in the hearts of many sole practitioners and small firms.

Ross Kodner and John Simek recently offered their expertise at an ALI/ABA webinar titled “Buying Smart: Technology for Solos and Small Firms.”

Both Kodner, a Wisconsin-based legal technology and law practice management consultant, and Simek, vice president of Sensei Enterprises in Fairfax, Va., advised that lawyers do some research before making purchases.

Kodner suggested checking tech blogs and reading reviews of relevant products.

Both presenters emphasized that when investing in technology, lawyers should not skimp on the essentials, as the right products can make work easier and increase billables.

They focused on a broad variety of products and noted that more details can be found in a new book, “The 2013 Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guide,” published by the American Bar Association.

Kodner and Simek estimated that the average law office can expect to spend $2,000 to $4,000 on technology, and should at a minimum have the following hardware: a Windows or Mac laptop or tablet, a smartphone, a printer (which may also be a copier and scanner), a back-up system and an electrical protection system.

What software is needed depends on which hardware is purchased, but make sure to include Adobe Acrobat, Kodner said.

When purchasing technology, it’s important to price out options over time. Kodner told a cautionary tale about a small law firm that paid $600 a month to host its office server —that’s $7,200 a year — over the course of several years.

He was able to save the firm thousands by encouraging it to make a one-time investment of $6,000 for a server and then paying about $200 a month to have someone manage it.

It’s crucial to arrange for proper backup, both Kodner and Simek noted.

Lawyers should have at least two layers of back-up: hard drive and web-based.

“The cloud environment helps a lot,” said Simek, who recommended the BounceBack server, which he uses both at work and at home to back up his hard drives.

Which smartphone to buy is the most common question both tech gurus are asked. Forego the BlackBerry, Simek said. “Its days are over.”

Instead, get an iPhone or Android.

With regard to security concerns, Simek said make sure the phone has some kind of lock code and set it so that a period of inactivity automatically locks the device.

Printers are still important, Simek stressed, because “paper in a law practice is not going away.” He said that firms need to consider whether it makes more sense to get one giant printer for the entire office or multiple, $150 smaller printers.

Given the hours most solo and small firm lawyers work, it’s important to make sure your tech choices allow you to be physically comfortable.

A combination telephone and PC headset can help. Simek and Kodner also recommended monitor risers, an ergonomic keyboard, foot rests, keyboard drawers and a supportive chair as accessories to make working in the modern office a little bit easier.


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