New Law Firm Basic Technology Shopping List

Choosing a laptop and document scanner isn’t covered in law school, but you can’t start a law firm without some basic hardware and software. To make it easier for you to get what you need without a lot of research, here is our standard list of basic recommendations.

Obviously, this does not cover everything you need, but it definitely contains the basics—everything you need to get a new law firm up and running, and nothing extra.

Basic Hardware

ThinkPad X1 Carbon, 13″ MacBook Pro, or maybe the Surface Pro

If you are only going to have one computer, it should be a laptop small enough to slip easily into a regular bag, but powerful enough to handle everything you need to do on it.

PC or Mac? It doesn’t really matter.

If you prefer Windows, you can’t do better than the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon. ThinkPads are rock-solid and last forever. The 14″ screen is the perfect size, and the keyboard is fantastic.

However, the Microsoft Surface Pro may just be the most compelling computer on the market right now. It’s small enough to work as a tablet, but runs Windows—the real deal. If you aren’t wedded to the laptop form factor, at least try out a Surface Pro before you make up your mind to get a laptop.

If you prefer Mac, the 13″ Apple MacBook Pro is the one to get. The MacBook Pros are thin, light, and powerful. Although to be honest there’s nothing great about Apple computers right now. With the MacBook Pro you get a pretty pointless Touch Bar and a keyboard that feels like banging on an aluminum slab. But it’ll do until Apple figures out its product lineup and update cycles. (If you are thinking about switching to Mac, I would wait for another product cycle to see if things improve.)

ScanSnap iX1500

First of all, you do not want a multifunction printer/copier/scanner/toaster. There are a lot of good reasons why not, but they are outside the scope of this list. The point is this: just get a good document scanner and laser printer.

We’ve been recommending Fujitsu ScanSnaps for years because they are great scanners with unsurpassed ease of use that mow through stacks of documents like a hot knife through butter. The ScanSnap iX1500 will also scan wirelessly to your computer, mobile device, or to the cloud. You should have one.

If that doesn’t persuade you, read our review of the iX500.

HP LaserJet Pro M15w

A printer is not the most exciting thing on your shopping list, but you do need a fast, reliable one. It needs to be fast so you don’t have to wait around when you need to print out a stack of documents the night before a trial or right before a real estate closing. And it needs to be reliable because you don’t want to replace it very often. And get a laser printer because inkjets just aren’t worth it.

Our current top pick is the HP LaserJet Pro M15w. It’s not exciting, but it is a solid laser printer and a great value. It prints duplex (on both sides of the page) and works wirelessly, which means one less wire you need to plug in every time you set down your laptop.

WD Elements 2TB or Time Capsule 2TB

You’ll want two backup methods: one local, one remote. For the local backup, an external hard drive is the way to go.

If you use Windows or just want the most inexpensive option, get a WD Elements 2TB. This basic drive will work fine with Windows Backup, Time Machine, or any other backup software if you plug it into your computer. It may work plugged into a wireless router, but it depends on your setup.

If you use a Mac, get the Time Capsule 2TB, which works with Time Machine to back up your files wirelessly. It also functions as a wireless router, so it’s more cost-effective than it may seem at first glance.

Basic Software

Microsoft Office

You can get by without Microsoft Office, but that doesn’t mean it is a good idea. Just get it. The home and business versions let you install Office on up to two computers. Now that you can use Office for iOS and Android for free, there is really no reason to subscribe to Office 365, particularly since the business plans aren’t a great value by comparison. (The versions of Word, etc., are the same.)

Google Apps for Work

The best email, calendar, and contact management is from Google, and it is now called Google Apps for Work (f/k/a Google Apps for Business). You can use it in 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 you can also use the Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook and you will never know you are using Google Apps.

It’s way better than the email provided by your ISP.

Law Practice Management Software

I won’t try to take sides on what I think are the best practice management software options currently on the market. Instead, read our user guides to pick the right one for you and give them a try. In fact, probably the best way to decide for yourself is to follow our 5-step process and then use some on at least one case, and pick the one with the user experience you like best.

Xero or Quickbooks Online

I have used QuickBooks for Windows, QuickBooks for Mac, QuickBooks Online, and Xero for my law firm accounting and for Lawyerist. If I were starting a new practice, despite some complaints, I would use Xero. I much prefer it to any incarnation of QuickBooks.

That said, 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 really go wrong with Quickbooks Online, except that it really isn’t very good. Xero, on the other hand, is very close to good, and within spitting distance of great.

Cloud Backup

For remote backup, you’ll want something automatic and unobtrusive. CrashPlan is rock-solid, very secure, and offers unlimited storage for your backups. You can even set up your own backup server (I use an old Windows PC) to keep an extra copy under your own control.

Originally published 2011-10-06. Last updated 2017-04-25. Republished 2019-11-12.


  1. Avatar Randall R. says:

    Please put this on a t-shirt “Why a Mac? Because they are better, in general, than their Windows PC counterparts.”

    • Sam Glover Sam G. says:

      You’d love to see that, wouldn’t you?

      • Someone has obviously hacked into Lawyerist. Sam recommending a MacBook Air and Microsoft Office? I need a drink.

        • Sam Glover Sam G. says:

          I wrote those words and I stand by them. But if you want to hear all about why Linux is superior (especially when running on a Mac) and free software is the way of the future, just let me know.

          • Avatar Clay says:

            I tried the Linux on a Mac experiment the other day. I probably needed to spend more time with it or get a better distro, but I now believe this saying: putting Linux on a Mac is like putting a Chevy 4 banger in a Lamborghini.

            • Sam Glover Sam G. says:

              That’s not right. Putting Linux on anything is like modifying a car. It will drive differently and have different problems, but it will also probably go faster at the expense of things like comfort or real-world driveability. Every OS involves compromises; you’re just used to the compromises of OS X, so you probably don’t think about them any more.

              Also, you cannot evaluate any OS in one day. It takes time to get used to a completely different environment. Spend a week with it, and see how you feel.

              All that said, I don’t see a lot of reasons to go from OS X to Linux. They are both ‘nix-based, but OS X has a decent amount of great software available for it, while Linux has a ton of software of wildly varying quality depending on the whims of thousands of developers.

              Linux does some things extremely well. There’s a reason most of the Internet runs on Linux, for example. It does others poorly. Install it on any five laptops, and three won’t even connect to the internet.

            • Sam Glover Sam G. says:

              Also, if you want to try Linux, start with Ubuntu. It’s by far the most polished.

              • Avatar Clay says:

                Thanks for the quick reply. The only complaint I really had was that my internet connection was significantly slower for some reason. Do you recommend the newest release or an older one? I installed Ubuntu 12.04 LTS, but might try Mint XFCE next.

                • Sam Glover Sam G. says:

                  I doubt the connection speed had anything to do with Ubuntu, but you should enable any restricted drivers, just in case. If Linux doesn’t feel faster than OS X or Windows in general, something is probably not working correctly.

  2. Avatar Tim Belcher says:

    You have to add an iPad to this list.

    • Sam Glover Sam G. says:

      No I don’t. The iPad is a totally awesome luxury. I use mine all the time, but I got by just fine without it—until like six months ago. A laptop? Not so much.

      • Avatar Mongo says:

        Actually, if you are going to be doing any title searching, a tablet computer or a smart phone with a good camera is extremely useful when coupled with doc scanning software. One can easily capture digital copies of documents in pdf form while avoiding paying per copy fees. The quality is excellent and one can organize, name, and send the files to Evernote or Dropbox on the fly. Working in an area with an ongoing oil and gas boom, the amount of time saved by not waiting in line for a copier in the recorders office pays for my ipad in short order.

  3. Avatar Bob Striker says:

    While I generally agree with your list, I don’t think that the practice management software that you’re recommending falls into the “must have” category given the price. At $600 – 720 per year, I think they fall into the “totally awesome luxury” category for most new solos. Other than billing, there’s not a lot that either Clio or Rocket Matter do that can’t easily be done in Quickbooks and Google Apps. (After all – let’s face it – the new solo’s firm calendar is the solo’s personal calendar.) And there are many less expensive billing options out there than either Clio or Rocket Matter.

    Don’t get me wrong – I thing both Clio and Rocket Matter are great products. But if a new solo had an extra $600 burning a hole in her pocket for technology, I’d probably steer her differently.

    • Sam Glover Sam G. says:

      I don’t disagree with anything in your comment, actually. I would point out, however, that most malpractice insurance carriers give a discount for using practice management software. I’m not sure that makes it a “must have,” but it does offset the cost somewhat.

      • Avatar Tom Seeley says:

        Just started using your site. Close to embarking on solo career and evaluating options. Have read in other parts of this site that recommends Freshbooks but here you recommend Clio/RocketMatter. I know the latter is more than timekeeping, but can you comment on that?

        • Sam Glover Sam G. says:

          I still think Freshbooks is hands-down the best timekeeping and billing software on the planet. However, I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to pay for both Freshbooks and a case management solution that has a perfectly acceptable timekeeping and billing function. You’ll duplicate effort as well as expenses.

          • Avatar Tom Seeley says:

            Thanks for the prompt comment

          • Avatar Amy Butler says:

            Hi Sam –

            I am the densest about all things accounting related. Is there a reason I would need Freshbooks, Quickbooks and Clio? Can I just do all my timekeeping/billing/accounting in Clio and skip the Freshbooks and or Quickbooks?

            • Sam Glover Sam G. says:

              Clio has timekeeping and billing (which duplicates most of Freshbooks’s functionality) and basic bookkeeping (which duplicates some of Quickbooks’s functionality). So yes. Kinda.

            • Avatar Solo in Denver says:

              I’m also not fond of accounting and am not familiar with any of these. I use Time59 for timekeeping and billing and have an accountant. My accountant costs about the same as one of these software packages and takes all the brain damage out of doing accounting, taxes, etc. I spend about 2 hours PER YEAR on accounting.

              • Avatar Sam Glover says:

                Time59 is great if you just need simple timekeeping and billing, but it’s hard to imagine how you could be keeping up with your trust accounting obligations if you only spend 2 hours/year on accounting and $20/month on an accountant.

    • Avatar Solo in Denver says:

      Whether you need practice management software really depends upon your practice. For example, I don’t litigate or handle any matters which require that kind of calendaring. Perhaps those products have good systems to manage a transactional practice, I don’t know. But I do know that my clients require me to use their contract management systems to track activity so having another system to update would just add more administration.

      One more thought on Mac v. Windows. For solos who act as virtual legal staff to large clients, most (certainly not all) are on Windows systems. Your Mac may not work as well, or at all, for those clients.

  4. Avatar Michelle R. says:

    I’m just starting out as a solo, and looking for ways to save on costs, so here’s what I’m doing. I purchased a WD elements hard drive 2TB from staples for $55 (currently on sale for $79, I used $25 off $75 coupon, free shipping). And to make the WD hard drive into a wireless backup (like time capsule), I’m looking into purchasing a Pogoplug from Best Buy for $49. Hope this helps others looking into making their own affordable version of a time capsule!

    • Sam Glover Sam G. says:

      Just FYI, as far as I know, you cannot actually use Time Machine with a Pogoplug.

      If you want to use it as a backup drive you can access remotely, that’s fine, but it won’t be equivalent to Time Machine + a Time Capsule. Honestly, I think I’d recommend going with Dropbox or Mozy, instead, since they’re easier to use and you can probably use them for free, for now, since you won’t have a ton of files to back up.

      I liked the Pogoplug a lot when I reviewed it, but with Dropbox, I never figured out what I needed it for. It’s sitting in its box.

  5. Avatar Michelle R. says:

    I found info on various forums on how to make time machine compatible with pogoplug. It takes a few steps, so I will try it out, and leave feedback on how I did it.

    • Sam Glover Sam G. says:

      Hey, if it works for you, go for it!

      • Avatar Michelle R. says:

        I definitely agree that dropbox is the way to go for cloud back up. But with the external hard drive, I know I can be lazy to plug it into my laptop (it’s much easier when there’s a stationary desktop). Plus I recently had an old external just take a nose dive, so I’m a little paranoid about my files at the moment. I made a partition on the new WD, one for personal and business, and it’ll be a relief knowing that it’s wirelessly backing up with the pogo. I’d use dropbox, but I have a lot of personal files, and I don’t want to pay the extra cost of adding space to my current account. And my idea is to add a couple old externals lying around to the pogo, so that I have more than one backup and lots of space. I’ll let you know how the pogo-time machine hack works out!

  6. Avatar Michelle R. says:

    Following up on your comment, I did some more research and it looks like a lot of people have found that the work around hasn’t been great with the pogo, as it often leads to corrupted files. Thank you for the heads up!

  7. Avatar Joe Ddang says:

    Oh man I needed a good laugh. Get the Mac, it’s just better.

    Here is my reply. “No it’s not.”

    I win.

    ot anti-mac by the way, have one in the house, but don’t particularly care for it.

  8. Avatar Jim Burton says:

    For those who use a PC:

    I highly recommend shopping at the Lenovo Outlet. Good machines at big savings.

    If you are confused by the different versions of Windows, the one you want is Windows 7 Professional 64-bit.

    For those of you who use a Mac:

    Mac OS 10.7 “Lion” is installed on new Macs, but if your Mac has Snow Leopard, do NOT upgrade — yet. You will want at least 8GB for Lion.

    You may also need to run Windows. You can run it through BootCamp or you can install Parallels and run it in your Mac. Look for deals on Parallels, it’s frequently on sale. The version of Windows is less important because you will be spending most of your time in the Mac.

    Not a fan of the MB Air. I recommend a 13″ MacBook Pro.

    What Apple giveth, Microsoft taketh away. Office:Mac is about as awful as iTunes for Windows. Still, it’s the standard.

    Whether or not you get Office, you WILL need LibreOffice. LibreOffice is about the only way to reliably open WordPerfect documents on the Mac, and there are plenty of .wpd files floating around in the legal world.

    What about Linux:

    If you have older hardware (that laptop that got you through law school and is on its last legs), you aren’t too worried about compatibility, are comfortable with using the terminal (think DOS), and you are willing to take the time to learn how to run the OS and troubleshoot your machine, Linux may be for you. Go with Ubuntu (or Xubuntu for a lighter version.)

    FWIW, I have been running Linux since Red Hat 6.1 (1999) and Linux was not for me, at least not for my main machine.

  9. Avatar Drew McGuinness says:

    Getting ready to tackle setting up Quickbooks (finally) for my solo practice. Bought Quickbooks Premiere. Big issue I’m having now is whether to set it up on my laptop or my desktop. I use laptop 90% of the time. Scanner and large screens and hard drives are attached to my desktop (home office).

    Anyone know of a link to detailed description of how to keep quickbook data files on a dropbox folder and auto-synch between desktop and laptop?

  10. Avatar Joan says:

    I am (among other things) a freelance contract lawyer who works for several lawyers. About half my lawyer-clients use word perfect (wpd) and want me to prepare docs in wpd. I have a desktop iMac (with Parallels to run the wpd because there is no wpd for macs), and I’m in the market for a new laptop. Does your recommendation of the Macbook assume the use of word (and not wpd)? Are other lawyers restricted by the continued use of wpd?

    • Sam Glover Sam G. says:

      I know there are still some WordPerfect holdouts. I think you just have to keep using Parallels, or else gently notify your clients that the world has moved on, that Word is now the industry standard, that Windows 3.11 is no longer supported, and that AOL is no longer a good way to access the internet.

  11. Avatar Joan says:

    Thanks Sam. But as I have happy clients who use happily use wpd, would you suggest the Lenovo instead of the Macbook Air?

    • Sam Glover Sam G. says:

      I would suggest you get whichever computer you prefer to use, and if you go with a Mac, use Parallels or VMWare Fusion to run WordPerfect for those clients who require it.

      I think Macs are awesome computers for people who like Macs, and ThinkPads are awesome computers for people who like Windows. For people who want it all, get a Mac and run Windows software in Parallels, VMWare Fusion, or dual boot with Boot Camp.

  12. Avatar uzo akpele says:

    I still use wordperfect. I just transitioned to mac and I run parallels. MAJORLY LOVING IT. I do not have to worry about word because wordperfect will convert word docs to wdp allow me work on them and then save as word and return to the sender.

    The interaction between parallels and mac cracks me up each time I work. Parallels thinks it is a computer but mac knows parallels is only a software.

    If you must buy a PC, get a Lenovo. Those are simply the best.

  13. Avatar Michael Kushner says:

    The US Department of Justice sticks to using WPD on everything they send out. I use to move between Word and WPD.

  14. Avatar Scott says:

    People are still using WordPerfect? Is there even still support for that? I was pretty sure that it went the way of the dinosaurs when I was 10. The fact that the USDOJ or any government is using WordPerfect should be enough of a clue that it is a terrible choice. Also, I keep reading about using DropBox or Mozy and then using this and that and the other thing for doing documents and such. I’ve used DropBox. It isn’t that great. There is only one way a solo or small firm should be going and that is MircoSoft Live. IT does email, has an online office suite for free, does storage and file sharing. AND, guess what, it is FREE!!! And even better, you can use any domain you want for the email. Also, there is a professional pay by the month version for when you start to grow that is really affordable.

  15. Avatar Bruce says:

    I am thinking about opening up a solo office and was wondering if you were about to update the hardware and software shopping list. It is mostly current now, but if there are updates that would be terrific – great article and very helpful comments in any event.
    Bruce from San Diego

  16. Avatar HNB says:


    I just discovered your site–I love it! I am now a lawyerist addict.

  17. Avatar Paula says:

    I’m neither a lawyer nor do I play one on the Internet, but I found this list handy for solo providers working within the virtual world.

    And, as a user of both Mac OS & Windows, I agree that Macs are typically more robust than PCs, but if someone is just starting out, the PC laptop price is hard to beat.

    I’m also a bookkeeper (primarily QuickBooks), who wouldn’t suggest using DropBox to store the working QB file. It’s fine for backups, but if you use DropBox it may cause corruption in your data, whether you use QB for PC or QB for Mac.

    Great site (even for the un-lawyerly)!


  18. Avatar Steve says:

    For a newly minted (and I mean new; just took the Bar last month) lawyer, is Quickbooks alone enough to keep time and bill clients? Along the same lines, is Google Apps enough for calendar, email, and client contact information when you’re just starting out?

    My father is a solo practitioner and I will be joining him. Getting him to deal with technology is like getting a child to eat his vegetables.

  19. Avatar Drew McGuinness says:

    Check out for timetracking/billing.

  20. Avatar Riley Ross says:


    Any updates or change-in-opinion re your suggestions for the lawyer going solo in 2013? Great and helpful column.

  21. Avatar Paul Spitz says:

    One thing to keep in mind is that if you are working in a cowork or other shared office space, you probably don’t need a printer or scanner. Those are typically already available, although you may have to pay a per-page fee for copies and printouts.

    • Avatar Alex says:

      Unless your co-working space has a subpar printer like mine! I’ve found the Brother HL-6180 DW to be worth every penny. Occasionally, I need to print out a BAD (big-ass-document) and it’s nice to have my own printer for that.

      • Avatar Paul Spitz says:

        Well, that’s important. Luckily, the printer/copier/scanner at my current cowork space is pretty nice — it’s fast and does color. However, I’m moving in 3 weeks to a new space, and I’ll have to see how the printer and scanner are. I may end up buying my own, but I’ve been able to go the entire first year of my solo practice without having to spend any money on that.

  22. Avatar Eva Hibnick says:

    Sam, what about software to keep track of all their to-dos? Trello or Todoist? I think this is valuable for attorneys to keep track of all the moving parts that come with running your own business.

  23. Avatar Ramsey Hanafi says:

    If we are talking about a new solo (i.e., someone who maybe does not have alot of money) plopping down $1,500 for a new laptop is a head-scratcher. Especially if it’s primarily used for document editing and internet browsing. You can get a capable and reliable laptop for a third of that price that will have more than enough juice for office tasks, and some Netflix when you’re done working.

    I would second the recommendation for Lenovo’s if you’re looking for a Windows brand laptop. If you’re willing to go refurbished, also check out the Lenovo Outlet (an official Lenovo site) for refurbished Lenovos. You can find some great deals there.

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