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December 2000
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Second Opinions

Leaving Mega Big Firm for the Country

By John Mellitz

Leaving Mega Big Firm for the Country CONGRATULATIONS on your upcoming promotion to solo law practice. You already know the good news. The bad news is that you are going to have to make practice management decisions heretofore handled by a committee.

Hardware

I don't know of too many office lawyers in rural areas who manage to avoid going to court. If you make house calls, you will want to take your computer with you.

Consider a notebook computer that falls in the "desktop replacement" category. The Dell Inspiron 7500 weighs in at almost nine pounds, but it has the advantage of incorporating a CD-ROM drive and a floppy disk drive at the same time, thereby obviating the need to swap them as needed. It comes with a bright 15-inch active matrix screen and will accommodate very fast processors and a lot of internal memory.

Get a Pentium III processor operating at a speed of not less than 750 MHz, and a minimum of 256 MB of internal memory, (RAM). These specifications are dictated by the requirements for voice recognition programs, (VR), and multi-tasking, (running multiple programs at the same time).

For storage, get as large a hard disk drive as is available. You may end up storing video depositions on the computer, and storing photographs and scanned documents is becoming increasingly commonplace. These types of files require a lot of disk space.

Consider purchasing a docking station. Attached to the docking station will be a standard keyboard of your choice, a mouse or other pointing device, a network cable, and possibly a printer and a scanner. If you purchase a large screen monitor, it too will be connected to the docking station.

Associate's Computer

You can save some money here without compromising performance. A desktop or tower computer with at least a 500 MHz Celeron or AMD Athlon or Duron processor, and 128 MB of internal memory should be more than sufficient. You should get a very large hard disk here too, because this computer will act as the office file server, storing duplicates of just about all the data on your notebook computer, as well as data generated in and used exclusively in the office. It is now possible to purchase a 75 MB hard disk for less than $500.

Because cost is not a major factor, I suggest you purchase two additional very large hard disks identical to the working drive, and equip the computer with a RAID controller that will allow you to keep a mirror image of your data on a second drive.

The second drive should be hot swapable, meaning it should be able to be plugged into the computer like a cartridge while the computer is on. You will alternate the two extra drives daily and take the idle one home with you in the evening.

Any of the major players in the industry, (Dell, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard, Compaq, IBM and Micron), can provide you with such a machine. Be forewarned: It will not be a disposable $1,500 home office computer.

Because your associate will be operating the computer for long periods of time, you should equip it with a display similar to yours. Although they are expensive, a 17-inch or larger active matrix LCD panel will not only be easy on the eyes, but will take up very little space.

You can create a two computer network by purchasing a special crossover cable designed to connect two computers directly. Both your computers should be equipped with a 10/100Base-T network interface card, (NIC), into which the cable will be plugged.

Both computers should have as their operating systems Microsoft Windows NT Workstation or Windows 2000 Professional.

PDA Choices

The Palm V organizer is thin, light, has a good, bright display, and will fit in your shirt pocket. It will hold all the names, addresses, etc. on what used to be the office Rolodex, your entire schedule, and your task list. It may also hold a program for entering your time while out of the office for transfer to your billing program when you return.

Because this industry moves very fast, you might want to investigate the state of development of cellular telephones that double as PDAs.

Back Office Programs

Leaving Mega Big Firm for the Country You will want an accounting or bookkeeping system with time billing capability. If you will not be writing a large number of checks as client advances to be billed to the client, I recommend Timeslips 10, Standard Edition. This can be linked to an entry level accounting program called M.Y.O.B., (Mind Your Own Business) 9.0.

If you do write a lot of client advance checks, (i.e. 25 or more per month), you should look into TABS III with the GLS (General Ledger System) and APS (Accounts Payable System) from Software Technology, Inc., or PC Law from Alumni Computer Group. [Note: Timeslips has announced that it is developing an integrated accounting program based on the same technology as used by Peachtree Accounting].

Of course, you will need a word processing program, and it will be the one with which you and your associate are the most comfortable.

Assuming you and your associate are comfortable with computers and want maximum flexibility and power, I suggest you purchase Time Matters for Windows 3.0 for case management. This software will tie together all your contacts, matters, calendar/docket entries, and task list. Furthermore, it will allow you to associate a wide variety of information with related people or matters. This includes notes, telephone memos, e-mail, documents of all kinds, (including but not limited to scanned items, spreadsheets, word processing files), time entries, and specialized data relating to the types of matters you handle).

This case management software also will enable you to implement fairly sophisticated document management and document assembly systems. The system will automatically merge the data associated with a matter into forms or templates of your own making, whether you use WordPerfect or Word.

Additionally, Time Matters will be the source of the most important data in your Palm Organizer.

You might also look at Amicus Attorney IV which is comparable to Time Matters in most of its features and benefits, but has a friendlier interface that makes it somewhat easier to get up and running with the basic features. It is my opinion, however, that Time Matters is a better overall choice.

There may be some specialized programs for managing intellectual property matters.

Services

You can save yourself a lot of wear and tear if you retain a competent independent legal technology consultant to assist you in putting together your office systems. I would strongly advise against using vendors as sources of information and advice. They are not employed by you, are not obliged to recommend what is best for you, (and in most cases lack sufficient knowledge and experience to do so even if they were so obliged), and they have no discretion as to what they can recommend.

You should contact the manufacturers of the software you own and find out from them what consultants or other training resources are available in your area.

Attorney John ("Tim") Mellitz is a principal of Mellitz & Associates. He is based in San Francisco, Calif., and St. Louis, Mo.

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