The following is an excerpt from the MyCase eBook: Choosing the Right Technology for Your Law Firm, by author Jeff Bennion.
When you are starting a law firm, efficiency is crucial. Choosing the right technology is going to be your greatest tool for working efficiently. Properly equipping your office will help smaller firms automate many of the mundane day-to-day tasks and will allow you to keep pace with the larger firms. The right equipment is not always the most expensive equipment and, in fact, the most expensive equipment is not always the right equipment.
Your first and most important purchase should be your computer. The good news is that sometime around 2010, computers reached a point where, if you just need a computer for Internet, e-mail, and word processing, you can get a good one for cheap. Most of the bells and whistles that have been added since then and most of the things that make computers expensive are for gamers or graphic designers. You can get by with a perfectly good computer for around $400, depending on the model.
Choosing the Right Type
The first choice you will have to make is the type of computer. Here are your options:
Desktop computers are going to be larger and generally, more powerful than any other option. They are also the easiest to upgrade. Most have an outer case that is held in place with a screw. Opening up the case gives you easy access to all of the components of the computer. If one component breaks, or becomes outdated, it is often as easy as simply pulling out the old piece and snapping in the replacement component. Many have room for multiple hard drives, even if they only come with one installed. Most desktops do not come with monitors, so keep in mind that you will likely have to buy a monitor also.
An All-in-One is a monitor with the components of a computer built into it. Many are touchscreen. Although they can be convenient space savers, they are typically more expensive than a comparable desktop or laptop. They are also difficult to upgrade. You cannot replace the monitor without replacing nearly the entire device. Likewise, because they are as economical as possible in size, the components are less accessible or inaccessible. This can be a problem if you want to upgrade to a larger hard drive, or install more RAM. In addition, your connectivity ports are usually going to be limited. Some do not have any port that would allow you to connect to an additional monitor.
Tablets are generally smaller, ultra-portable, and less powerful computers. Windows has a variety of tablets ranging from the small and barely-more-powerful-than-your-phone spectrum to the full-blown desktop replacement tablets. iPads are a great tool for many lawyers, but they are limited to running app versions of programs. While many apps, such as the Microsoft Office apps, offer almost the full range of features that you would get from the desktop versions, there is still a ways to go before an iPad can act as your main office computer.
Laptops are portable, and often just as powerful as desktop computers. For nearly the same price as a desktop computer (which often does not come with a monitor), you can purchase a laptop. Most laptops allow you to attach a second monitor and separate keyboard and mouse for those who want a full size keyboard and find the trackpad too clumsy for day-to-day use.
Key Components for Your Office Computer
Here are a few additional things to keep in mind as you weigh specific computer component options:
The motherboard affects the processing speed. Having a slow processing speed will make your computer sluggish and may cause programs to crash if you’ve got too many processes going at once. In most cases, processing power will not be a concern unless you plan on working on multiple 3D graphics projects at once. Do not feel like you need to pay more for a more powerful processor because most of the time, you will not notice a difference in day-to-day work. The exception is if you want to use a tablet computer. Tablets generally use smaller processors to allow for longer battery life, but typically are much less powerful than full-sized computers and can be extremely sluggish.
RAM is temporary storage that your computer uses to help already open programs run faster. Look for between 4 GB to 8 GB of RAM. Anything more than that, and you will likely not notice a difference in performance.
SSD vs. HD
One of the best upgrades you can get for a computer is an upgrade to a solid state drive. A hard drive has spinning disc that stores all of your data. A solid state drive is like a big memory card. It has no moving parts, operates much faster, and will give you a better battery life if you use it on a laptop. I use solid state drives in my laptops that I take to trial. If I have some problem and need to reboot during trial, it takes about 15-20 seconds from the time I turn the computer off to the time the computer is back up and running. SSDs are generally more expensive and have less capacity than standard hard drives, however the price and capacity gaps are narrowing.
While typically not an issue with desktops, more and more laptops these days do not come with DVD drives installed. With cheap flash drives that can hold large amounts of data and more people transferring large files with the cloud, DVDs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. For lawyers, however, DVDs remain relevant because many court reporters still put deposition transcripts and videos on DVDs. If your computer does not come with a DVD drive, you can purchase an external drive for about $50 that simply plugs into a USB port.
Most computers these days have USB ports, but make sure they have at least one USB 3.0 port. USB 3.0 provides much faster transfer speeds. Transferring several video deposition files might take several hours over standard USB ports or several minutes over USB 3.0 ports.
According to a recent survey, the vast majority of law firms are using Windows 7. Only about 1% are using Windows 8, even though it has been out since 2012. Windows 10 has released as a free upgrade. It is generally a bad idea to upgrade immediately to a new operating system. Software or devices attached to your computer, such as printers and scanners, might not be immediately compatible with the new operating system.
Mac vs. PC
Although they are becoming more prevalent in law firms, Macs still account for only a small percentage of law firm computers. Although it is generally not an issue, some programs and hardware are not compatible with Macs. Macs also tend to be more expensive than PCs. If you plan to purchase a Mac, make sure that it is compatible with all of your programs and devices.
To learn more about properly equipping your new law firm with the right technology, make sure you check out the full (and free) MyCase eBook: Choosing the Right Technology for Your Law Firm.