New lawyers often choose all-in-one solutions (I did), whether hardware or software, when starting a law firm. While an all-in-one printer/copier/scanner/fax or practice management software can be a good option, they can also hamper productivity by trying to do too many things, and none of them well.
Law firms should carefully consider whether to use an all-in-one solution or select the best tool for each task.
All-in-one printer/copier/scanner/fax machines
Most new lawyers I meet start out planning to purchase an all-in-one printer/scanner/etc., because it seems like the easiest, most-obvious choice. It isn’t.
You need a printer and a scanner. You don’t need a copier or a fax machine. If you have a good document scanner and printer, you probably won’t ever miss a copier. And although you still need to be able to fax, a fax service is more efficient, environmentally-friendly, and cheaper.
So there goes half the all-in-one’s value proposition. That leaves a mediocre printer and a substandard document scanner.
The only advantage left to an all-in-one is price. A decent all-in-one can still be less-expensive than a ScanSnap and a good laser printer. I started with an HP 3015, but trying to make it work as a document scanner was a giant pain. When I finally bought a ScanSnap and a laser printer, I saved a ton of time and aggravation.
Stay away from all-in-one printers. They just aren’t worth it. Practice management software, however, may be a different story.
Practice management software
While I tried all-in-one hardware and found it seriously lacking, I remain on the fence when it comes to practice management software. It does depend on which software you are talking about, though.
When we were at TechShow recently, we got to compare a lot of practice management software side-by-side. It was reassuring to see that Lexis and West are still pushing software that would be more at home on a Commodore 64 than Windows 7. (Adopting Time Matters remains one of the biggest mistakes I made in setting up my own practice.)
But the ancient software pushed by the traditional vendors is in stark contrast to the excellent options from Rocket Matter and Clio, and a few newer up-and-coming cloud solutions, too. Still, they fall short on discrete tasks even though they have the everything-in-one-place advantage.
I have used Clio and Rocket Matter in my practice, and I have used various software solutions, each of which I felt was the best tool for the task. There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches, but I think both have their optimal users.
For a solo who is picky when it comes to features and productivity, it makes sense to choose the best tool for the task. For me, this means a smorgasbord of Google Apps, Freshbooks, QuickBooks, Basecamp, and a few other tools. For a solo who just wants to plug in a solution, get Rocket Matter or Clio, use Google Apps for email, and don’t worry about it.
For two or more lawyers, I think practice management software makes more sense. It is important to be able to quickly find out what other lawyers are working on, what deadlines are coming up, etc. Mistakes are too costly—for you and for your clients—to not have a rock-solid case management solution in place.
All-in-one solutions are not one-size-fits-all
So, on the one hand, all-in-one solutions often fall short of discrete solutions. This is definitely true for hardware like printers, scanners, and fax machines. On the other hand, an all-in-one can be greater than the sum of its parts. This is true for the new generation of practice management software.
Whatever you choose, choose carefully. Don’t simply default to an all-in-one solution just because it seems easier. You will probably regret it.