Technology can make your solo firm frugal
Think you’ve got a frugal firm? The frugal firm, according to veteran solos Patrick J. Crowley of Okemos, Mich., and Marc W. Matheny of Indianapolis, is not a “cheap” firm or one that cuts corners unnecessarily. It is a firm with limited resources or one that makes a conscious decision to use all available resources before investing in the latest and the greatest in technological wizardry.
To operate a fully functioning law office, the pair said at an ABA Techshow presentation, you need several essentials: a decent computer system, telephone and email functionality, an accounting and time-and-billing system, practice management software, mobility and a document management system—all of which (except for the computer, a smartphone and a tablet) are available at little or no cost to the user.
At a minimum, your computer system should have 2GB of memory, a 320GB hard drive, at least one 23-inch monitor, a 512MB-plus video card and a duo- or quad-core processor running at a minimum speed of 2.3 GHz, they said. But a power user or someone working with a large number of applications should consider investing in a higher-end system.
There are a variety of email systems available, ranging from the totally free services provided by Gmail and Mozilla Thunderbird to the more traditional Microsoft Outlook, Crowley and Matheny said. But if you want to take your email one step further, you must buy practice- and case-management software, which can either be based in-house or “in the cloud” with an Internet-based service.
However, whatever product you choose, Matheny cautioned, you should stick with it because no practice- and case-management system is fully compatible with another. A good comparison chart of those software options is available at the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center website.
Along with practice- and case-management software, you’ll need time-and-billing and accounting software, which is not necessarily an expensive proposition, the pair said. Established products like Timeslips, Time Matters and PCLaw are available for as little as a few hundred dollars, along with nonlegal packages such as QuickBooks and Simply Accounting.
Crowley and Matheny said they would leave it up to the individual practitioner to decide which phone system is best for his or her practice because prices tend to vary greatly based on provider and location.
But the frugal lawyer should know the difference between a traditional phone system and a VOIP system (for voice over Internet protocol), which allows for numerous lines and numbers for what normally is a smaller fee.
For online legal research, Crowley and Matheny recommend starting with Google. But there are many different legal research tools available online, either for free or for a nominal fee, they said, including Casemaker, Fastcase, LoisLaw, Findlaw and the Legal Information Institute at Cornell University Law School.