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Starting a Law Firm - Basic Office Needs
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Basic Office Needs

 

Office Equipment

Office equipment needs will vary greatly depending on the office setup you have chosen as in section IV. Office Space Considerations.  A virtual or home office will have significantly different needs than a traditional firm. 

Embracing technology is important for small firms as technology can level the playing field by allowing sole practitioners or small law firms to compete with much larger entities.  From finding clients to processing documents, and even everyday tasks such as message management and scheduling—you can find applications, software, and services that do much of the heavy lifting for you

At the bare minimum, a new law firm will need the following:

1.  Computer (Mac or Windows)- Plan your device purchases carefully. Portability is essential in most law practices. If you establish a Solo practice, a laptop with a docking station might be all you need. As the number of attorneys and staff members in a firm grow you will likely want to anchor support personnel to the office with desktops. Laptops allow lawyers to practice everywhere.  Lawyers who use a desktop will need to utilize a tablet as well to provide the mobility needed. 

Whatever you do, avoid the temptation to get a big, heavy, powerful laptop. If you need desktop power, get a desktop computer. If you need portability, get a lightweight laptop or a tablet. Don’t mix the two. You’ll regret it every time you hoist your briefcase or bag with your heavy laptop in it.

Tablets combined with software are becoming increasingly useful in allowing lawyers practice away from the office.  A tablet adds to your startup costs, but can be well worth the investment when utilized properly.

Minimum Specifications for a Desktop or Laptop:

 


 WINDOWS PC

 APPLE MACINTOSH

Operating
System

MINIMUM

Windows 10 Home or Pro

 Macintosh OS 10.9.5 or higher

 Processor Type

MINIMUM

Core i5 Processor

RECOMMENDED

Core i7 Processor

MINIMUM

Core i5 Processor

RECOMMENDED

Core i7 Processor

 Memory

MINIMUM

8 GB RAM
RECOMMENDED

12 GB RAM

MINIMUM

8 GB RAM

RECOMMENDED

12 GB RAM

 Hard Drive

MINIMUM

250 GB

*Do not purchase a 128 GB HD*

RECOMMENDED

500 GB or higher

MINIMUM

250 GB

*Do not purchase a 128 GB HD*

RECOMMENDED

500 GB or higher

 Graphics Card

MINIMUM

512 MB Video Memory or higher

MINIMUM

512

 

 

2.  Printer  Any office that runs even one PC needs a printer to create hard copies of electronic documents and files. Despite the promises of paperless offices in the future, that era has not yet arrived. All sorts of business documentation needs to be printed, whether the business is a product- or service-oriented industry. Examples of common office documents include invoices, packing slips, flyers, and letters. Printers can be used not just to generate transfer electronic files to paper but also to create composite documents containing digital information and scanned images.


3.  Scanner   Whether you plan to go paperless or less paper, the scanner has become an indispensable piece of office equipment for anyone practicing law. Electronic copies of just about any document are now possible with the help of a scanner. A scanner copies can copy papers that were not created electronically and convert them into useable digital formats so that they can be modified and stored electronically.

Basic scanners should:

Take up very little space (easy to keep on a desk for quick access)
Easy to set up: works with Macs or PCs
Easy to operate: one big button to push
Holds up to 50 sheets of paper in the automatic feeder
Scans at a rate of up to 25 pages per minute
Scans in color, with auto-detection if desired, or black & white
Scans both sides of a page in one pass (duplex) and ignores blank pages.
Automatically rotates upside down pages
Handles letter and legal sized pages, even if intermixed
Straightens skewed pages
Make PDFs text-searchable
Scan wirelessly to a computer, or to iPads, iPhones or Android devices

The Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 scanner is a great entry level scanner meeting all of these specifications and comes with Adobe Acrobat Standard, a $300 value.  Costs less than $500 and can be found on Amazon for $400

 

4.  Max Machine/Service   Due to email and the expansion of the paperless environment, faxes are used less and less in the practice of law. You absolutely need a business fax number, which means you’ll want to compare the costs of an online fax service versus a traditional fax machine. The ISBA uses an online fax service because it makes sense in terms of cost savings and convenience. You should do what makes sense for your particular business needs.

The initial costs of a traditional fax machine are much more than that of an online fax service. With a traditional fax machine, you pay for the equipment (i.e. fax machine) up front. With an online fax service, you don’t need to purchase any equipment or install new hardware other than your computer, meaning you’ll spend a lot less from the start.

Below is a comparison of the traditional fax machine with online services:

 

 Online Fax

Traditional Fax Machine

 

Cost of Operation

  • Free to set up
  • Monthly cost $12
  • Includes free tech support and software updates
  • Up to $200 in initial equipment costs
  • Monthly cost $40
  • Maintenance costs start at $50 per visit

 Efficiency

  • Send and receive faxes from any device
  • Send multiple faxes at once
  • Schedule fax transmissions
  • Block or delete junk faxes
  • Save faxes directly to client file
  • Only one access point for fax transmissions
  • Must wait for one fax to send before next one can begin
  • Have to print every fax if you need a hard copy or not
  • Incur a wide range of overhead costs: equipment, paper, line connections, and maintenance.
 

Security

  • Transmissions encrypted and HIPPA compliant
  • Nearly impossible for someone else to accidentally read confidential documents
  • Faxes sit in machine’s tray exposed until they are retrieved
  • Phone lines are not encrypted and are vulnerable to hacking

Review best Fax Services of 2017 – Via PC Magazine

 

 

5.  Shredder   Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the U.S., one of the most important pieces of equipment for any office to own is a shredder.  Tearing papers into bits by hand is not only time-consuming and tiring but is not always as effective as it needs to be. Shredders range from inexpensive units that fit over a wastebasket to large, heavy-duty machines that can destroy several pages at once; every firm needs to consider the needs of the office and take them into account when making a decision on which type of shredder to buy. The more rugged shredders can handle stapled papers and can also shred plastic credit cards and other such cards with identifying information on them.



6.  Smart Phone – The ability to practice from anywhere is a must for today’s attorney, so having a smart phone is mandatory to provide the practice mobility needed. Few lawyers clock a typical 9-5 day, so you cannot afford to lose time waiting and a smart phone allows you to practice anywhere in a pinch.


7.  Office Furniture – Depending on the setup and size of your practice you will need a variety of office furniture. Determine your furniture needs, considering the number of staff members, number of offices, file storage needs and meeting or conference rooms.
 

 

 

Technology

Even if you consider yourself a tech geek, you will want to find a local IT expert to assist you with getting your firm up and running and keep it running.  Technology is changing rapidly and will become too time consuming for an attorney to maintain their office’s technology needs.  Your time will be better spent practicing law rather than updating software.

 

1.  Office Suite Software   Microsoft Office is currently leader in office productivity software offering both a Mac and a PC version. Other options include Google Docs, WordPerfect Office, IBM Connections Docs and Open Office, but you need to be comfortable with using these programs to convert documents back and forth to Microsoft format.  Many of these office suite products are available as local install or as software as a service for a monthly fee as little as $9.99. 

Your office suite software should include a word processing program, spreadsheet program and presentation software.


2.  Adobe Acrobat Software that allows users of different computer systems and software to convert and share documents to one another in portable document format (pdf) without changing how the original document looks.  Acrobat Reader is a free program that allows you to read all pdf files, but you will need to invest in Acrobat Standard DC to take advantage of the many other benefits of Acrobat such as converting files to pdf, combining files, annotating files and much more.  


3.  Practice Management Software Practice management software helps attorneys track all information relating to client matters, including contacts, calendaring, documents, and other specifics by facilitating automation in law practices. There are several you can choose from, depending on your firm’s needs.  Do your research to determine which software package is best for you.  Ask other lawyers you trust what system they use, how long they have used it, and what they like about it.  Don’t forget to discuss what they dislike about their software.



ABA Practice and Case Management Software Comparison

Choosing the Right Practice Management Software provided by CLIO


4.  Document Management Systems Document management systems are electronic filing cabinets that provide a framework for organizing all digital and paper documents. A basic system will work with scanners, allow access via mobile devices, track edits, restrict access at various levels, monitor and record who is accessing, search system by keywords, and allow various document types.  Document management systems can be a self-hosted or a cloud-based solution, you must determine which best fits your practice.  Both version provide a robust array of functionality, but have significant differences.

Document Management Systems: A Buyer's Guide provided by Business News Daily

5.  Document Automation Software Many attorneys spend as much as 40% of their time creating documents, so implementation of a document automation software in your practice is a must.  With document automation, you can standardize documents, reuse client information and access them from anywhere.  You can think of document assembly as templates that can be used over and over.  A good document automation system also allows the variable client data to be used over and over. Document automation software simply makes you more productive.  There is a short list of services to consider: Hotdocs, Pathagoras, Epressdox, and TheFormTool.

 The Iowa State Bar Association has provided a document automation software with more than 500 templates for the past 15 years.  For more information about this program please visit http://www.iowadocs.net/

6.  Backup Software is pretty simple: Make a copy of your files from your hard drive. Storage of these files can be on an external drive, a NAS, or by an online service.  The value is being able to restore documents if lost due to a disaster or simple error of deleting or overwriting them.  With a proper backup, you should be able to restore the files or the entire computer within minutes if not hours. 

With improved internet access speeds and greater file compression online services have become the norm for the industry.  These services eliminate the need to have onsite backup devices which need to be taken offsite daily to ensure the ability to restore in the event of a disaster.   Online services can be purchased for as little as $50 annually depending on needs.

 

7.  Security Suite Software Security software helps protect your computer—and the personal information you have stored on it. Anytime you are connected to the Internet you are exposing your system to hackers and virus creators, whose intent is to cause harm to your computer or steal your data.   How do you protect your computer system, keep your private information private, and your computer safe from hackers? You must employ a Security Software Suite.  Security Suites offer a variety of protections, but at minimum your service should include the following protection:

  • Antispam Software

  • Antivirus Software

  • Firewall Software

  • Spyware and Spyware Removal Software

 

The Best Security Suites of 2017, PC Magazine

 

8.   High Speed Internet Connection Every firm regardless of size will need a Broadband or High-Speed Internet. Your phone company, cable company and your wireless provider all have a variety of solutions for you to consider.  The broadband technology you choose will depend on a number of factors. These may include whether you are located in an urban or rural area, how broadband Internet access is packaged with other services (such as voice telephone and home entertainment), price, and availability.
 



The Iowa State Bar Association • 625 East Court Avenue • Des Moines, IA 50309
Ph. (515) 243-3179 • Fax (515) 243-2511
Email: isba@iowabar.org