Volume 17, Number 8
December 2000


Setting Up a Law Office: Technology Considerations

by Jeffrey M. Allen

While each lawyer or firm has different priorities, this checklist will help remind you of technology issues to consider, address, or include when setting up or relocating a law office. The choice of where to locate or how to set up an office involves decisions at many levels other than technology. Those areas exceed the scope of this article.

The Office Configuration
  • Areas for equipment (servers, printers, scanners, photocopy machine, and fax).
  • Telephone outlets. Determine where and how many so that they can be installed before you move into the office. Don't forget jacks for your computer modems (which you will probably want serviced by telephone lines not used for voice communications) and a dedicated line for your fax machine.
  • Electrical outlets. The more the merrier. Determine where and how many so that they can be installed where you want and need them before you move into the office. Most importantly, be sure that you have adequate power coming to the suite to accommodate your needs. You might also want to consider the possibility of one or more dedicated circuits for your computers and related equipment. The benefit of the dedicated circuit is that it is cleaner and less likely to cause interference with the computer than a mixed-use circuit.
  • Internet access. Historically, Internet access has been over telephone lines through relatively slow modems. High-speed broad bandwidth access became available a several years ago, but was sufficiently expensive that only larger operations could economically consider it. More recently, high-speed broad bandwidth capacity has been brought down cost-wise to the point that it is not only affordable in most places for small offices, but, in many cases, it is affordable at home as well. This type of access comes in many forms including DSL, T-1 and T-3 lines, and cable modems. As computer research moves online and many law office functions become Internet oriented, the speed of access will become more and more important to the efficiency of the office's operations. You will probably want to determine whether high-speed Internet access is available at the proposed office location. In the not-too-distant future, this option should be generally available in most major metropolitan areas. Having it is a big plus. Not having it is potentially a serious problem.
Office Equipment Furniture
  • Ergonomics is the word here. More and more companies are producing office and computer furniture that is ergonomically designed to increase the comfort and the efficiency of you and your staff. You will want to look at this type of furniture before deciding what to buy, because such equipment can have significant impacts on your health and the health of your staff.
  • Office furniture is now being specifically designed for computers and related equipment. Look at it and decide whether it best serves your needs.
  • Numerous choices exist. Common features to think about include: plain paper, multiple paper inputs to accommodate different paper or envelopes, collator for multiple copies, stapler for collated copies, double-sided copying, and the ability to enlarge or reduce in the copy process.
Fax machine
  • Fax machines have become very inexpensive, and in fact often are included as a part of computer functionality. As a practical matter, you will still want a dedicated fax machine.
Telephone system
  • Today's telephones come with many feature sets. Look at what is out there to determine what best meets your needs. Common features include one-number-dial memory, speaker phones, intercom capability, and headset capability.
  • Answering machines have largely been replaced by voice mail systems built into telephone system capabilities.
  • Investigate the quality of telephone line service available to your building. Poor line service will come back to haunt you in many respects, including computer modem functions. Many areas now have fiber optic wiring, which substantially improves the quality of the lines.
  • Television set.
  • Videocassette recorder.
  • DVD ROM.
  • Video camera (look at the new digital video devices).
  • Digital still picture camera.
Computers Hardware

You have your choice of numerous manufacturers and operating systems. Computers in law offices generally use the Windows operating systems or the Macintosh Operating System. The Windows configurations are substantially more prevalent; the Macintosh configurations are generally easier to work with and learn. There are benefits and deficits to each system; the good news is that the differences are diminishing in number and importance. Under any circumstances, get the most powerful (within reason) computer you can. No matter which computer you get, you will want the following equipment included in your package.

  • Processor. Pentium III or equivalent running at 700 megahertz or faster (Windows) or G3 or better (Macintosh).
  • Memory. Minimum 128 MB RAM, but 256 MB is much better and not significantly more expensive.
  • Color monitor.
  • Full-size keyboard. Look at some of the ergonomic units before you buy.
  • Optical mouse.
  • Internal hard drive. Get at least 10 gigabytes. More is better and not much more expensive. 20-plus is becoming common.
  • CD ROM burner.
  • Internal Zip drive.
  • Fax modem (56 kilobaud or faster).
  • DVD ROM drive (optional, but a nice feature).
  • Scanner.
  • Computer network. Ethernet is pretty much the current standard for small offices.
  • Printers. You will need at least one printer and may want more. Quality and speed considerations will push you to purchase a laser printer. They are fast, produce quality product, and have dropped in price to the point of being very reasonable in comparison to other options.
  • Word processing.
  • Accounting (general accounting, time and billing, and payroll).
  • Telecommunications.
  • Legal research (Lexis, Westlaw, etc.).
  • Internet provider.
  • Spreadsheet.
  • Personal information manager (calendar, to do list, and address book).
  • Database program.
  • Scanner/OCR.
  • Various computer utilities.
  • General research tools and other programs.

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