GPSolo Magazine - December 2003
Software: Glue That Binds The Office
Hardware and software are the cornerstones of technology—you can’t use one without the other. Together they present what can be an overwhelming maze of potential choices for consumers. This article gives you some guidance about where to turn first when you’re standing in the software maze.
Topics covered in this article include word processing, databases, accounting, and additional functions. Certain product names keep jumping forward—because they have great features, an established market share, or a magnificent marketing department. Choosing from all the potential permutations of items is truly the job for a lawyer: You must separate hype from substance.
Start with the basics when picking software: What is the task to be accomplished? How complex must the program be to do the job? Are your users computer-savvy nerds or computer-literate folks who nevertheless would appreciate some user-friendly tools? (I’m still grousing about Windows’ setup for turning off the computer—press the “Start” button! So much for intuitive.) I’m still waiting for any vendor to admit they don’t have a user-friendly interface, they just get the job done better.
Also remember that sophisticated programs require sophisticated training. Many lawyers forget to budget for training, which will take extra money and time. You need to know which keystrokes produce what results and how to structure your new practice management program.
The best method for proceeding is to research software programs, looking for those that most favor your established method of thinking, working, and producing documents. Try to stay away from software that requires you to go through major shifts in how you think about, process, or disseminate legal knowledge. Don’t spend a lot of time trying to save a few hundred dollars. The software you purchase and training and support you provide will be critical to client service.
Above all, get out of your office and see the software in action in a law office. There’s no better training than actual combat experience. See what other lawyers are doing. Decide whether a particular tool will work in your office with your staff. Sometimes great software runs like a perfectly tuned car; other times you need an on-site mechanic to keep that foreign vehicle moving smoothly. Go online and download and run demo programs to see whether they fit your way of thinking. Call the vendor support phone line just to see how long it takes to get to a live technician.
Keep in mind that software ultimately is supposed to simplify your life—becoming angst-ridden over the prospect of buying and using it is antithetical to the process.
Bruce L. Dorner is a solo practitioner with a primary office in Londonderry, New Hampshire, and remote offices wherever he finds a place to connect to the Internet. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.