In a Paperless Office, A Bigger Monitor is Better

In a paperless practice, screen size is critical. Don’t skimp on the screen real estate. You have two choices: jumbo monitors or multi-monitor setups. I’ve opted for the jumbo monitor. Here’s why:

Multi-monitors are great for segregating programs to different screens. They look very cool. But if you are reading this, you are an attorney, not a day-trader. You will spend the majority of your time at your computer doing two things: reading and writing. Most of what you do falls in one of those two categories. And for those purposes, jumbo monitors excel.

But Aren’t Jumbo Monitors Expensive?

By jumbo monitor, I mean 27″ or larger. There was a time where these monitors were prohibitively expensive. Not so now. Numerous jumbo monitors can be had in the sub $300 range. Are they going to be the equivalent in pixel glory of the Apple 27″ Thunderbolt Display? Probably not. But they will do the job.

Aren’t Multiple Monitors Better?

Like I said, you are going to be spending most of your time reading and writing? You are a lawyer, it’s what you do. Whether you are reviewing contracts or medical records, researching, drafting pleadings or legal documents, you are mostly reading and writing. That is significant because most material you will read or write will be formatted (at least originally) to the standard 8.5″ x 11″.  Sure, you can scale down, but that is harder on the eyes. A typical dual monitor set up will consist of 2 20″ or 22″ monitors. That’s a lot of screen real estate. But despite that fact, you still can’t display a full size document without having to scroll.

As a trial lawyer, I spend a vast amount of time reviewing medical records. A large monitor allows me to have a full page medical record up on the screen side by side with a pleading or memo in Word. The same goes for depositions or any other written material.  In fact, I can usually increase the size to 125% of the original or more without having to scroll to see the entire page. This is an efficient way to view, edit and work with any kind of document. With smaller monitors you either have to reduce the size or you are constantly scrolling. That is not efficient.

Although the typical multiple monitor set up gives you a lots of screen real estate, the landscape orientation does not allow for full sized viewing of documents.  Some types of documents, like spread sheets, lend themselves to this set up. If you find yourself constantly working with spreadsheets, you may prefer the multi-monitor setup.

Multiple Desktops Offer Many of the Benefits of Multiple Monitors

Apple OSX offers  multiple desktop functionality on a single monitor with Mission Control. It allows you to assign applications to specific desktops, as if you had multiple monitors. You simply swipe to access the other desktops. You can set up 3, 4 or even more desktops. By assigning a keyboard shortcut you can view all the desktops at once and move windows and documents between desktops. There are certainly options for doing this within Windows.

Bigger is Better

My bottom line is this: In a paperless office you need to be able to do your primary work as efficiently and comfortably as possible. I believe a jumbo monitor set up is the best way to achieve that. You maximize your functionality in performing your primary tasks–creating and reviewing documents.

Of course, if a single jumbo monitor is great, you could always try two …



  1. I agree 100%. I recently installed two Apple Thunderbolts on my desk and have no regrets.

  2. Avatar etienne says:

    I am running a Dell 29 inch monitor at my office and I love it. I am going to be replacing my 24 inch home office monitor with the same one in the near future. I was using two monitors before and prefer using one now. Drafting is way easier with the single jumbo monitor which I can put multiple docs up on the screen at once.

  3. Avatar Martin says:

    Single 15″ Dell anyone?? Like the man says, its really only reading and writing…

  4. Avatar Steven McIntire Allen says:

    I have two 27″ monitors: one vertical and one horizontal. The only reason I did not buy an Apple monitor was because the screen cannot be turned lengthwise, which is closer to the shape of A4 paper. Once you try this setup, you will be spoiled for anything else. You have been warned.

  5. Avatar Michael Leizerman says:

    It would drive me crazy to have one monitor. Todd does have a good point about a large monitor. I have a 30″ monitor for reading. Next to it, I have three portrait-oriented 20″ monitors (I also have a 55″ Aquos monitor across the room for working with experts, but not exactly relevant to talking about workflow here, although I can say I prefer the 30″ to the 55″ when I’m the only one in the room due to the better resolution.) Portrait makes more sense to me because it matches the shape of a web page or 8.5 x 11″ document. A typical use of this setup is having a PDF produced in discovery open on one monitor, a brief I’m working on in another, a brief I’m copying from on another and Westlaw on another.

    • Avatar Steven McIntire Allen says:

      Yes, this is the general progression of things. However, the trend will be gradual for most people: first one, then two, etc. The norm will continue to increase. Eventually, I wonder if or at how many the number of monitors on a desk will max out.

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