General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionTechnology & Practice Guide

American Bar Association
General Practice, Solo, and Small Firm Division

The Compleat Lawyer, Fall 1996, Vol. 13, No. 4

Checklist: Setting Up a Law Office


Jeffrey Allen is a lawyer at Graves & Allen in Oakland, California.

While each lawyer or firm has different priorities, this checklist will help remind you of things to consider, address, or include when setting up or relocating a law office.

Let's assume you will be renting office space and will carefully negotiate and document your lease arrangements with the landlord. Be sure to consider issues such as term and options to extend the term in addition to rent. Consider also the issue of possible expansion in the future.

If you are going to purchase a building, the following considerations will also apply, but be sure to do appropriate due diligence in connection with your purchase transaction respecting such things as the physical condition of the property and potential environmental exposures and other compliance issues.

The Office

__ Neighborhood or area of city
__ Courts and other government offices/agencies nearby
__ Proximity to county law library
__ Public transportation conveniently located
__ Closeness of banks
__ Accessibility for disabled or elderly clients
__ Availability of parking
__ Restaurants in the neighborhood
__ Shopping close by


__ Size of office (gross usable space)
__ External configuration (location in building)
__ Internal configuration (floor plan)
__ Size of offices in suite
__ Adequate and convenient storage
__ Secretarial work area
__ Reception area
__ Library/conference room
__ Break area (kitchen facilities)
__ Areas for equipment such as photocopy machine, fax machine, and printer
__ 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 and a dedicated line for your fax machine.)
__ Electrical outlets (Determine where and how many so that they can be installed where you want them before you move into the office. Most importantly, be sure that you have adequate power coming to the suite to accommodate your needs.)

Office Equipment

__ Desks (lawyer and secretarial)
__ Credenzas
__ Desk chairs (lawyer and secretarial; adjustable chairs are the most comfortable)
__ Reception area furniture (chairs, couches, tables)
__ Library/conference room furniture (table, chairs, book cases, reading light, coat rack)
__ Adequate file cabinets
__ Storage shelving
__ Storage cabinets
__ Computer tables for lawyers and (if secretarial desks are not computer-friendly) secretaries
__ Work table or other area for printer and fax machine
__ Client chairs or couches for lawyers' private offices


__ Plain paper
__ Multiple paper inputs to accommodate different paper or envelopes
__ Collator for multiple copies
__ Stapler for collated copies
__ Double sided copying
__ Ability to enlarge or reduce in copy process

Fax machine

__ Automatic feeder
__ Document catcher for received documents
__ Document catcher for sent documents
__ Automatic cutter
__ Memory (allows you to receive faxes when out of paper, holds and prints when paper is changed)
__ Rapid dial capability (one button dials number)
__ Plain paper capacity

Telephone system

__ Telephones (Get a phone for each lawyer and secretary plus a phone for the library, conference room, and break room.)
__ One number dial memory
__ Interoffice intercom capability
__ Speaker phone capability (look for full-duplex units)
__ Headsets (Consider these for your secretary as some units conveniently allow the use of one headset for telephone and dictation.)
__ Answering machine (Get a stand-alone machine that will take messages for you when no one is in the office. As an alternative, consider voice mail systems, telephone answering services, or the message manager featured by some local telephone companies.)

Dictating/transcribing equipment

__ Desktop units for each lawyer (dictation) and secretary (transcription)
__ Portable units for lawyer (Get portable units that use the same size cassette as the desktop units or you will have to buy a separate transcribing unit for the portables.)


__ Shelving (for books, supplies, and miscellaneous storage)
__ Cabinets (for supplies, foodstuffs, and storage)
__ File cabinets

Kitchen or break area

__ Refrigerator
__ Disposal
__ Microwave oven
__ Toaster oven
__ Storage


__ Television set
__ Videocassette recorder
__ Video camera
__ Still picture camera (35 mm SLR)
__ Instant picture camera
__ Small stereo system (AM/FM, CD player, cassette player with speakers and amplifier)

Stationery and office supplies

__ Postage meter
__ Postage scale
__ First and second page letterhead
__ Letterhead envelopes
__ Return envelopes
__ Various sized envelopes (large (about 9" x 6") and very large (about 9" x 12"))
__ Business cards for all lawyers
__ Other office products such as staplers, rulers, paper punches (two and three holes), various rubber stamps, phone message books, paper


__ Computer for each attorney and secretary (You have your choice of numerous manufacturers and operating systems. Computers in law offices generally use the PCDOS or Windows operating systems or the Macintosh Operating System. The DOS/Windows configurations are 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. If you buy a Macintosh computer, be sure to get a Power Mac (uses the 600 series RISC chips). If you go with the DOS/Windows computers, you will probably want to opt for a Pentium chip machine. No matter which computer you get, you will want the following equipment included in your package.)
__ Processor running at 100 megahertz or faster
__ Color monitor
__ Full sized keyboard (Look at some of the ergonomic units before you buy.)
__ Internal hard drive (1 gigabyte or more)
__ CD-ROM reader (4x speed or better)
__ Internal floppy disk drive
__ Fax modem (28.8 kiloBaud or faster) (You will want a modem for each lawyer and probably for each secretary as well.)
__ Scanner (You should have at least one in your office. Some of the new small foot print scanners (like PaperPort) are so useful and so reasonably priced that you might want to consider getting more than one.)
__ Computer network (You will probably want your computers to talk to each other and almost certainly want them to share printers. This will require some networking capabilities. Depending on your needs, your network may be more or less sophisticated. You may also want to consider purchasing a file server--a separate computer that handles common or shared files and also can handle e-mail within your office.)
__ 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 good quality product, and have dropped in price to the point of being very reasonable in comparison to other options.)
__ Glare shields for computer screens


__ Word processing
__ Accounting
__ Payroll
__ Time and billing
__ Telecommunications
__ Online services (AOL, CompuServe, etc.)
__ Legal research structures (Lexis, Westlaw, etc.)
__ Internet provider access
__ Other telecommunications
__ Spreadsheet
__ Personal information manager (calendar, to do list, and address book) (These functions can be handled by one program or by several different programs. They are best handled by a single program. Note that many address book programs, if properly configured, can function as a conflict checker as well.)
__ Legal research (e.g., CD-ROM)
__ Database program
__ Various computer utilities
__ General research tools and other programs

Other matters requiring attention when an office opens or relocates

__ Open UPS and/or Federal Express accounts (if already open, be sure to advise them of address changes for billing and for deliveries)
__ Notify telephone company of new address, and update listing in yellow and white pages of phone directory
__ Notify post office of change of address

Copyright (c) 1996 American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.

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