Why Cheap Printers Will Break Your Heart In the Long Run

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When it comes to printers for your law practice, basically you just need to get whatever — preferably a laser printer, and preferably not a multifunction. But basically you just need a printer.

Printers are pretty basic technology, after all. Nobody is really innovating in the “printer space” (if that’s a thing).

But printers are also critical technology for law practice. Whether you are a litigator or a transactional lawyer, and regardless whether you have a paperless office, you probably print out a fair number of important documents.

Imagine this scenario: you are going to try a case and you need to have four copies of every exhibit (one for the judge, one for the jury, one for opposing counsel, and one for you). Many of those exhibits are pretty big PDFs, too. Are you really going to print out hundreds or thousands of pages of exhibits, in quadruplicate, on a cheapo laser printer?

I tried that once and I don’t recommend it. I was up until 4 a.m. the night before trial, just printing things. My $120 Lexmark laser printer was struggling to keep up with the volume, and some of the larger PDF documents overwhelmed its onboard memory, slowing printing to a few pages a minute. I don’t know what I was thinking, and as soon as that trial ended I went out and spent about $400 on a workgroup-class laser printer.

I got a good printer, but I still found myself missing some features. Based on what worked for me and what didn’t, and some of the reviews we have done, here is what I think you should look for in a printer for your law practice:

  • Black-and-white laser (color is nice if you want to print letterhead, but needlessly complicated if you don’t).
  • 35 pages-per-minute or faster (nice when you’re just printing a few pages; essential when you have a big print job).
  • Wireless networking (essential if you work from a laptop).
  • 3,000-page monthly print volume or greater (arbitrary, but helps when separating out workgroup printers from regular ones).

The HP LaserJet Pro 400 M401DW that Randall reviewed last year ticks all the boxes. It’s what I would buy if I needed a new printer right now. The Brother HL5470DWT is a cheaper option without the fancy Internet-printing options but with an extra paper tray for letterhead or envelopes. I’ve met lots of happy Brother customers; I’ve just always been impressed with the durability of HP printers. Both should get the job done and last you a very long time.

Printers aren’t as exciting as smartphones and tablets, but they are far more important to a law practice. You will never be sorry if you spend money on a good one.

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  • Michael Crosson

    The Brother multi-function lasers are excellent for small offices and much affordable than your suggestions (2740DL is $199 at Amazon). It is very handy to be make quick copies and occasional scans. Cranks out 32 pages a minute (versus 40 for the 5470) and I am sure the duty load is much more than 3000 (it was about 10,000 years ago – their $100 printer is 12,000). Memory is 64mb which is half of your suggested Brother model, but quite generous and would not choke on most PDF files. Fancy printers used to have 1MB. Has wireless networking and duplex features. I’ve had several earlier incarnations of these and they last for years with reasonable costs for toner and the drum. No heartbreak here.