New solos spend a lot of time thinking about technology, probably because picking out a laptop and setting up a website aren’t taught in law school. To make it easier, we’ve put together a “shopping list” for new solos so you can focus on getting and serving clients, not poring through document scanner reviews.
This probably won’t be everything you need, but it definitely contains the basics: everything you need to get a new law firm up and running.
Since this list is a bit out of date, you might want to check out our Law Technology Buyer’s Guide, which has up-to-date recommendations.
- Computer: 13″ Macbook Air (or Lenovo ThinkPad)
- Scanner: Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500M
- Printer: HP LaserJet P2055dn
- Backup drive: Time Capsule 2TB (or WD Elements 2TB)
13″ Macbook Air
So you aren’t tied to your basement office as you get up and running, you’ll want a laptop. And for most lawyers, there’s no reason to go with a big, heavy laptop, when the Macbook Air will slip into a small bag and still has more than enough speed and power.
Why a Mac? Because they are better, in general, than their Windows PC counterparts. You can spend less on a PC, but you will end up with a less-powerful computer that you will have to replace sooner, and that may very well fall apart before you are ready to replace it. Just get a Mac, and don’t look back. You’ll be glad you did.
If you must get a PC, get a Lenovo ThinkPad T420. ThinkPads are rock-solid laptops with high-end specs. They last forever, and there is a certain charm to their steadfast rejection of style.
Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500M
You do not want a multifunction printer/copier/scanner/toaster. Instead, just get a good document scanner and printer. We’ve been recommending the Fujitsu ScanSnaps for years because they are a huge value (especially since they come with Adobe Acrobat) and dead simple to operate. The ScanSnap 1500M (or ScanSnap S1500 for PC) is the desk-sized unit, but if you want something more portable, the S1300 and S1100 are also options.
HP LaserJet P2055dn printer
On the printer side of things, you need a good, fast laser printer. I’m partial to the HP LaserJet P2055dn, because it’s what I use, and it is a workhorse that I expect to be using for another 10 years. But really, any good quality laser printer will do. Just make sure you get one that meets your needs. You don’t want to be waiting around for things to print the night before a trial or real estate closing.
Time Capsule 2TB (or WD Elements 2TB)
You’ll want two backup methods: one local, one remote. For the local backup, an external hard drive is just the thing, and Apple’s Time Capsule 2TB is a strong argument for going with Mac, and one of the best backup options you’ll find. The Time Capsule works with Time Machine on your Mac to automatically—and wirelessly—back up your files.
If you’re particularly cost-conscious, however, get the WD Elements 2TB. This basic drive will work fine with Time Machine, although it will have to be plugged into your computer. Just keep in mind that you’ll also need a separate router (wired or wireless), which will make up much of the difference in cost.
- Microsoft Office (also for PC)
- Google Apps Premium
- Clio or Rocket Matter
- Quickbooks (also for PC)
- Dropbox or Mozy
You already know you need Microsoft Office, so just get it. The up-to-date version, that is. If you’re following our advice so far, you’ll need the Mac version. If not, get the PC version. Sure, there are alternatives. You could use things like LibreOffice, iWork, or even Google Docs. But in the end, Office is the industry standard in the U.S., and we recommend it for that reason.
Google Apps Premium
The best email, calendar, and contact management is from Google. You can use it one of two ways. I prefer the web interface for all Google’s products, because then I have the same experience no matter where I am. But if you upgrade to Google Apps Premium for $50 per year, you can use the Google Apps Sync for Outlook, and you’ll never know you are using Google. Except when you need to get to your email from your phone. Or from an internet cafe in Istanbul. It’s way better than the basic email provided by your ISP.
Clio or Rocket Matter
I won’t try to take sides between what I think are the two best practice management software options currently on the market; just pick one. As I’ve said before, probably the best way to pick is to choose the user interface you like best. Otherwise, the features are comparable.
Both will take care of your timekeeping, billing, contact management, firm calendar (both will also sync contacts and calendar with your Google Apps account), and do basic trust accounting. And more. If you just start out using one or the other, you’ll be happier for it.
Like Microsoft Office, Quickbooks is basically the industry standard small-business accounting software. Your accountant probably uses it, but definitely knows how to work with it. You can’t go wrong with Quickbooks, which is why you might as well get it. I resisted paying for Quickbooks for a while (even though it’s not that expensive), but gave in after the free software I was using cost me more money than I would have spent if I simply got Quickbooks in the first place.
Dropbox or Mozy
For your remote backup, you’ll want something automatic and unobtrusive. Dropbox and Mozy fit the bill nicely, each with a slightly different feature set. Dropbox is still our preference, despite some noisy complainants. Dropbox syncs your files effortlessly across all your computers and devices, and also gives you access to your files through a browser. It’s hard to beat the convenience, and we’re satisfied with the security.
If you want a service that is arguably more secure, try Mozy. Mozy is just backup, and it allows you to hold onto your encryption key, which means you will be the only one who can access your encrypted files. This is about as secure as you can ask for, although it means you lose access to your backed-up files if you lose your encryption key. But if all you need is backup, we think it’s hard to beat Mozy.
That’s it for the basics on our shopping list. If you have questions, ask in the comments or take them to the Lawyerist LAB. If you visit the LAB, I’ll be happy to defend my choices or suggest alternatives, if you have specific needs.