GPSOLO June 2008
Lawyers in solo or small firm practice must keep a constant eye on the bottom line, even though production is also paramount. Bearing in mind that equipment these days becomes outdated almost as soon as it’s removed from its packaging, there are still steps you can take to ensure the preservation of its value.
Whether a maintenance contract is worth its cost depends on two factors: the price of the item and how essential that item is to your practice. With large office equipment, such as copiers, a maintenance contract can often be very valuable. Contracts for large office equipment often include supplies, such as toner, which amortizes the cost of these supplies on a usage basis. In addition, the service provided under a maintenance contract can be “life saving” if the equipment is rendered suddenly useless in the middle of a workday or a large time-sensitive project.
Particularly in an office that operates with only one copier and no backups, the security provided by a maintenance contract can be crucial—having a technician “on call” to restart production can prevent a disastrous work stoppage. (In an emergency, remember that most facsimile machines do make copies, but usually at a very low speed.) The maintenance contract should also provide some training to the support staff on basic tasks, particularly on what can be termed “unjamming” techniques. A machine suddenly rendered unusable can frequently be restarted even without the help of the technician, although often it is best to have the equipment checked out under the contract anyway—frequent jamming or other minor copier problems may be an indicator that parts of the machine need replacing.
Items that are used daily in practice and that are essential, such as a main computer, can also be worthy of the additional cost of a maintenance contract. If the practice goes down when the computer goes down, the peace of mind a contract buys on a less expensive machine can itself be worth the cost.
The balance might tip the other way, however, for less expensive pieces of office equipment, such as printers, that are easily replaced without a loss of productivity. If the equipment costs only a couple hundred dollars, if it can be swapped out easily for a new machine, and if it carries a manufacturer’s warranty for at least a year or so, it might not be worth the expense of a separate maintenance contract. In such instances, the item might be viewed as simply disposable, and adding to its cost with a maintenance contract may be unpractical.
The technological expertise of the equipment’s owner and user also should be taken into consideration when valuing the added cost of a maintenance contract. If you are a “techie” who can fix most of your own problems, the extra expense would be an unnecessary burden. If you are less technologically adept, the added expense can prevent lost billable time and so boost your productivity.
Maintenance contracts are most valuable with more expensive and more necessary equipment. In other instances, such an added expense could be likened to actually buying the product twice, a consideration not to be taken lightly when profit is paramount.
Randi B. Whitehead is a lawyer in Sarasota, Florida, and has been an active ABA member for more than 15 years. She currently serves as the Real Estate Group Coordinator and Vice Chair of the Diversity Committee for the GP|Solo Division, along with serving on the ABA’s Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law. She may be reached at email@example.com.