Domestic Diversions

No Excuse for Low-Tech Lawyers

As a techie, perhaps my view is a bit slanted, but with the cost of computer hardware dropping so much, and with Windows XP being a very stable and easy to use operating system, it is hard for me to understand how a lawyer can justify not using technology. A decent Dell (substitute Gateway, HP, IBM, Compaq as you wish) desktop computer can be had fully decked out with Windows XP Pro, MS Office, a CD burner, DVD drive, plenty of RAM, and even a flat panel LCD, for under a grand. If you want to trim out some of the goodies, the price can drop to the $500 range without compromising performance on core applications such as word processing, web browsing, email, case management, time and billing, etc. Even better deals can be found on so-called “refurbished” units (often just cancelled orders) listed at or computer vendor web sites like I have two HP refurbs at home that came from for about half of what they cost in the stores.

I think for many attorneys, a notebook computer is an even better value. A notebook opens up the possibility of staying home with your kids or spouse every now and then or taking a vacation you might otherwise have to miss because you can work from anywhere or connect remotely to the office and get the information you need. There are some incredible values for less than a grand. Best Buy had a very capable Toshiba notebook for $499 after mail-in rebates last Friday. Dell just sent out a catalog with the Inspiron 1100 on the cover for $599. I’d probably add a few things to the basic configuration, but the truth is that you can get a very decent notebook for only a fraction more than a desktop computer.

Yes, some types of software can be pricey, but even if you decide to pass on legal specific applications like case management and time/billing, much can be accomplished in organizing and automating a law practice using only Word, Outlook, Excel, and PowerPoint from the MS Office suite. (Of course, PCLaw for time/billing/accounting is so cheap for a solo or small firm lawyer, and it now does basic case management as well, that it would be a false economy not to buy it.)

The cheapest way to get MS Office is to order it with a new computer. Office 2003 basic edition omits PowerPoint and saves a few bucks, but the standard edition includes PowerPoint and is in my view a better buy for anyone who even thinks they might at some point want to do a presentation for a mediation or trial. Notebooks have very nice screens now, so for mediation or arbitration use, you might not even need a projector and screen to present your PowerPoint slide show to a small audience of a few people.

So stop making excuses and do yourself and your staff a huge favor by upgrading (or implementing for the first time) your law office technology.

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