Starting Out On Your Own
by
Andrew Z. Adkins, III
Legal Technology Institute
at the University of Florida College of Law

Dear Mr. Adkins,
It was a pleasure speaking with you this morning. As we discussed on the telephone, I am planning to hang my shingle during the first part of February and am busily attempting to get together a budget and set up shop. Can you provide me with some basics about computer hardware and software and where should I begin?
John Smith, Esq.

Dear Mr. Smith:
Thank you for your phone call and I appreciate the opportunity to help you launch your new solo practice. There are many factors involved in setting up a new office — technology is just a small part of it, but a very important part. First know that you should count on spending between $4500 to $8500 on computer technology per user in the office, depending on the level of technology you wish to implement, including computer hardware, software, networking, communications (email, Internet), installation, training & support.

You can, of course, head down to the local Circuit City or Best Buy and purchase a computer and software for less, but unless you have the time and the experience, you'd probably want someone to implement your system for you. In addition to the standard word processing software, you'll need some software specific for the law office, as well as (again) someone to help you set it up and provide initial training.

Here's a quick step-by-step on what you need & how to get it.

1. Determine your software needs first. As with most lawyers, you will need a few "core" applications:

a. Word Processing - only 2 choices. Microsoft Word & Corel WordPerfect. The decision is really based on what you are comfortable with. Buy the one you are currently using; while many new computer systems come bundled with MS applications (including Word), you don't always have the time to learn how to use it. On the other hand, if you know & use MS Word, that's the choice. In case you are wondering, yes, the world is moving to Microsoft Word.

b. Time, Billing & Accounting - there are several choices for solos and small firms. TimeSlips, PC Law, BillingMatters, and Tabs3 each have strengths & weaknesses. TimeSlips only does time & billing - no accounting. You'll have to buy another accounting system & the "integration" is NEVER seamless. TimeSlips starts at $400.

You'll find PC Law a complete time, billing, accounting, checkwriting, general ledger, trust accounting, and reporting system. PC Law starts at $250.

BillingMatters is a new product from the same company that provides TimeMatters (case management). It integrates directly with TimeMatters, but is similiar in functionality to TimeSlips – it does time keeping and billing, but does not provide full accounting BillingMatters starts at $350.

Tabs3 (Software Technology, Inc.) handles time and billing; the company also provides other accounting modules that integrate seamlessly with Tabs3. Tabs3 starts at $295.

c. Calendaring, Case Management - all lawyers need calendars. Most start by using a manual system and carry it with them. As their practice grows, their calendaring (and todo lists) grow and it becomes an organizational nightmare. Probably the most popular standalone (i.e., no other SW integration) calendaring program is Microsoft OutLook. It usually comes bundled with calendaring, todo task management, email, and a few other goodies. But, it has one major limitation for lawyers – the calendaring function is based only on a single appointment. Most lawyers need a calendar system that will not only schedule THE appointment, but also schedule several reminders (ie, ticklers) automatically for those important deadlines.

TimeMatters (Data.Txt, Inc.) is a case management system with a strong calendar function. It allows you to keep client information (ie, contact information/rolodex) and case information (case diary) and merge this information directly into your word processing documents (document generation). It also provides you with various reports and lots of other goodies. Price starts at $350.

Amicus Attorney (Gavel & Gown, Inc.) is also a case management system, similar to TimeMatters with all the same functions. The major difference is that it integrates "tightly" with PC Law, and is often sold together with PC Law. Amicus Attorney follows the day timer look, which many attorneys are accustomed to. Amicus Attorney starts at $399.

d. Internet - you'll need Internet access for a couple of things. First, email - everyone needs email. Second, browsing - there are so many legal research tools available via the Internet, you can almost bypass LEXIS & WestLaw. So, two things - an email application - you can use the MS OutLook or use a "freebie" such as Eudora Mail. The Web browser choice is either MS Internet Explorer or Netscape Communicator.

You'll also need access to the Internet; these days you can use high speed (DSL or cable) for around $39 - $49 per month. Either way, don't skimp. You WILL be using the Internet for both email and research.

2. Hardware

a. Computer - Buy name brand stuff, even mail order is good. Here's the current computer specification we recommend: Pentium 4/3.0 GHz, 512 MB RAM, 40 GB Hard Drive, CD/RW, 17" Flat Panel Color Monitor, Multimedia (sound card, speakers). We recommend Dell, Gateway, or HP. There are dozens of others, but you want to get one that has both a warranty AND on-site service & support.

b. Printer - You'll also need a printer - choose HP (they don't call them "HP compatible" for nothing). Get a printer that can handle the workload you'll need. Most likely the HP 2000 or 4000 series.

3. Installation - Now's the hard part. Who's gonna get all this stuff up and running and assist you in learning how to use it? There are multitudes of folks who do this, but many are systems integrators who handle larger installations & charge accordingly. Probably the best thing to do is ask around other lawyers – who's handling their systems. Try to find someone who has experience in setting up systems in a law practice; it has different requirements than other types of businesses.

Well, now that this tome is finished, I hope you have a better handle on what to expect as you begin your new business and law practice. A little more advice:

1. The Florida Bar LOMAS (Law Office Management Assistance Service) 800-342-8060 provides assistance to members of The Florida Bar on matters of law office management, technology, and business.

2. The Legal Technology Institute at the University of Florida Levin College of Law (that's me) provides independent legal technology consulting services, assisting lawyers and law firms in their decisions on computer software, hardware and implementation.

3. Legal Technology Conferences that provide CLE as well as education on legal technology:

ABA TECHSHOW, held annually in March in Chicago (www.techshow.com)
LegalTech Conferences, held in New York in February and Los Angeles in June (www.legaltechshow.com)
The Florida Bar Annual meeting typically provides several technology/management CLE sessions.

Good luck in your new endeavor. If I can be of further service, please do not hesitate to call.

Sincerely,
Andrew Z. Adkins III, Director
Legal Technology Institute
University of Florida Levin College of Law



Andrew Z. Adkins III is a nationally recognized expert in law office technology.  He is the director of the Legal Technology Institute at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. He is a founding member of The Legal Consulting Group, an association of independent computer consulting firms working with the legal profession.  He is also the author of "Computerized Case Management Systems: Choosing and Implementing the Right Software for You," published by the ABA Law Practice Management Section.