Turbocharge Your Office for $2,500

Vol. 28 No. 8

By

Andrew C. Simpson owns his own litigation firm, Andrew C. Simpson, PC, in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. He is a frequent contributor to GPSolo and regularly writes and speaks on technology topics.

 

You were planning on turbocharging your office on Rodney S. Dowell’s budget of $1,000 (see his article, “Turbocharge Your Office for $1,000”) when you opened your mail and discovered a check from an old client paying a bill you had written off as uncollectable long ago. After taxes, it’s just enough to bump your total budget up to $2,500, and you figure that’s a great way to spend your “found” money. I agree with all of Rodney’s suggestions for his budget; but, now that we’ve got a little more flexibility, I will tweak them slightly.

With the bigger budget, instead of the large monitor Rodney suggests, I want you to buy three LCD flat-screen 20-inch monitors that are capable of “portrait orientation” or “rotating.” This means that the long edge of the monitor will be vertical rather than horizontal. These monitors allow you to read an entire 8 1/2” x 11” document without having to zoom in to read the print. Because most of the documents lawyers read are vertically oriented, this will dramatically improve your ability to work with documents on the screen (rather than having to print them out). “Why three?” you ask. Because of the way lawyers work. One screen is for your word-processing program; the second for the document you are working from (a document received from opposing counsel, legal research, old work product from which you are cutting and pasting, etc.), and the third is for your practice management program and e-mail program. (See, you really need four monitors!) The efficiency gain by having three monitors is incredible. You can get these monitors for under $175 each, so after accounting for the $200 savings from not buying the 24-inch monitor that was in Rodney’s budget, you’ve spent an additional $325. I’m going to assume that you don’t have a graphics card that will support three monitors, so I’ll add $100 for the card and $50 for three DVI cables in case your monitors only come with VGA cables (make sure you check before buying the monitors).

Next on the list is UltraMon. This handy, $39.95 utility allows you to better manage any multiple-monitor setup. UltraMon makes it easy to move open programs or documents from one monitor to the other and manage your displays; it will add the Windows taskbar to the bottom of all of your monitors; and, if you are working with a large document such as a property survey or engineering drawing, you can spread the document across all of your monitors.

I share Rodney’s desire to turbocharge with an iPad, but I’ve got other things on the shopping list first. So, let’s investigate what other tweaks you can add to your office and then see if you can still afford the object of your desires. First of all, I consider a screen capture utility an essential piece of software. If you are using Windows 7, you’ve got the “snipping tool” available to you at no additional cost—and it is a pretty good feature. But you’re going to splurge and get Snagit from Techsmith.com. Although the “snipping tool” in Windows 7 is a turbocharged prnscrn button, Snagit is the snipping tool on steroids. It allows you to capture entire web pages, create videos of what you are doing on the screen, or even capture video from your screen. Your captures can be easily saved in a number of formats, including PDF. It’s also simple and intuitive to use. A single copy is $49.95, so it fits well within the budget. Incidentally, Snagit will allow you to capture a PDF image of your signature, which you can use to create a signature “stamp” in Adobe Acrobat Professional (which you purchased following Rodney’s recommendations) so that you can digitally sign PDF documents.

Enough with the software. I want this turbocharged office to make your everyday office experience better. Sometimes it seems as if all I do is spend the day on the telephone. A lot of times, I want to put a caller on speakerphone, but even if the person on the other end has stopped talking, if there is background noise coming over the phone, the speakerphone on my end won’t pick up my voice (because it thinks the person on the other end is still talking). The solution is a duplex speakerphone. And, because I often have speakerphone calls with other people participating in my office, a conference room speakerphone would be really nice. As a result, I’ve decided to add a conference room speakerphone to my list. There are plenty of good ones out there; the key is to make sure it is “duplex.” This allows the transmission of conversations from both ends of the call at the same time so that your speaker doesn’t cut your voice out. I’m not encouraging people to interrupt others when they are talking, but sometimes you do need to jump in and correct something that has been said before you waste five additional minutes on the call. One well-known manufacturer is Polycom, and I’m going to choose their SoundStation2 for $359.

You’ve got about $575 left of your “found money” burning a hole in your pocket. Can you afford the upgrade to an iPad 2 with what’s left, or should you stick with Rodney’s recommendation of a free iPhone 3GS and $180 yearly data plan? First, of all, you need to decide what iPad features are “mission critical” for a law office. The ability to get e-mail wherever you are is critical. So that makes 3G capability pretty important. The cheapest iPad 2 with 3G is the 16 GB model, costing $629. Many lawyers want to know if 16 GB is enough. I would say that for most lawyers, the answer is yes. I’ve got a 32 GB version with three different e-mail accounts synced to it, 19 hours of music, 15 e-books, several depositions, TrialPad, and a dozen or so games—and I’m only using 5 GB so far.

Also, as part of your purchase, you would want to add TrialPad. It’s an $89.99 app that allows you to make presentations using documents on your iPad. You can do call-outs and highlighting or draw (with your finger) on your screen, and the annotations can then be displayed on a monitor, a projector, or on the iPad itself. It’s an easy presentation tool that will allow you to use your iPad quite effectively in client meetings, mediations, trial, or even when marketing your services to potential clients. To use this with a monitor or projector, you need the Apple Digital AV Adapter at a cost of $39.

Getting the iPad 2 and TrialPad is looking doable until you factor in the data plan. AT&T offers a no-commitment iPad 2 data plan at 250 MB a month for $14.99—but you’ve already fully tapped your reserves of found money. Can you get by on WiFi for the first year? It’s a gamble, but I’m still going to suggest you consider the iPad bundle for our turbocharging plan, for the following reason: Shortly before this article goes to press, the Amazon Kindle Fire will be released at a $199 price point. I believe Amazon’s offering will put tremendous pressure on Apple to lower the cost of the iPad 2, and possibly allow you to buy it with the desired bells and whistles (and a full year’s worth of data) within the budget. Remember, though, that to fit the iPad2 into the budget, you must elect not to get the smartphone and data plan in Rodney’s budget, as the features of the iPad2 (other than a phone) overlap with those of a smartphone.

In case the price of the iPad doesn’t drop enough (or you can’t convince your spouse that the iPad is really for work), you should make other plans for the remaining $575. I think most law offices will benefit from a color laser jet printer. The ability to print quality color documents is useful for marketing, submitting exhibits to court, and creating documents that impress your clients, among other uses. Get rid of the ink jet printer with jets that get clogged when not used and that burn through ink when they are used. I’d like to recommend a faster printer, but your budget is only going to let you get something like the HP Color LaserJet Pro CP1025nw for $229. This will print 17 pages per minute in black-and-white but only four pages per minute in color. Although you can get more expensive printers within your budget, you’ve got to factor in the cost of the toner, which is not included when you buy a printer. On the faster models, the cost of the toner alone exceeds your remaining budget, but with the CP1025nw model, you can purchase the four toner cartridges you need for $217.96. With these four cartridges, you should be able to print 1,000 pages in color; for most law firm applications, that will last a long time. You’ve also got to add a cable—not included with most printers these days. A six-foot USB cable will set you back $25. All told, if you buy this printer instead of the iPad package, you have about $100 left in your budget.

Although you may have a little cash left over, it’s easy to overlook hidden costs when budgeting. For example, if you live in a jurisdiction where you have to pay sales tax, you probably don’t have anything left in the budget. Also, there may be installation costs you need to consider. I have the technical ability to install the software and hardware items I’ve described. The most complex installation in the budget is the video card for the monitors. I consider installing a video card a task that anyone who is not afraid to open the back of a computer can accomplish. But if that prospect frightens you, make sure you include installation costs in your budget. You can probably get a tech-savvy neighborhood kid to do it for under $25. If you don’t pay sales tax and have a few dollars left over, turbocharge your staff: Spend those extra dollars on a gift card or two and reward members of your staff who have done something helpful recently. It’s a small gesture, but the morale boost it delivers will be far more valuable than the cost of the card.

 

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