General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionMagazine

Volume 17, Number 4
June 2000


The One-Man Band

BY John Y. B. Hood

Representing clients effectively is the challenge every lawyer faces. While it is never easy, I have found that a carefully studied, consistent, and systematic combination of leading-edge technologies allows me to deliver services comparable to those of larger firms. I employ a lot of different products and I am always looking to embrace new technology and methods of work that give me an additional edge. But my underlying approach is to keep it simple. In a sentence: Do not do technology for technology's sake.

The computers I use are all fairly standard Windows-based PCs, and I use WordPerfect, Excel, and Microsoft Works much like any other businessperson would. I'll detail these more widely used products later, but I want to focus now on the four pieces of technology at the heart of my practice.

These products are critical to my ability to run my practice without a legal staff, and I enjoy the freedom from routine that their use gives me. By using these four products together, I am able to focus on the appropriate strategy and tactics for each case-with the reassurance that all the basics are being handled.

The Fab Four

ProDoc is the backbone of my approach to office automation. This document assembly software system generates forms for a number of practice areas, and includes several volumes of the current state bar-approved forms. ProDoc allows me to enter case-specific information just once per case. With little effort on my part, ProDoc generates the appropriate forms and pleadings I need as the case progresses.

I input data and ProDoc outputs all data back in WordPerfect format. I keep an active client directory with all the information about a particular matter or case on zip disks.

An additional benefit of ProDoc is that it "remembers" data. Once I've had a case in a particular jurisdiction, or dealt with a particular law firm or individual, all that information is available, and never has to be reentered (until the next election or until someone moves).

O'Connor's Jump Start covers litigation forms that are not available on ProDoc. This "book on CD" focuses on litigation forms, as well as Rules of Civil Procedure. Although Jump Start does not accept input from the ProDoc database, the two products complement each other in that all forms and pleadings are output in WordPerfect's word-processing format.

These two products are among the greatest time-savers imaginable. And they provide the assurance that information, once entered correctly, will remain consistent from document to document. ProDoc provides added assurance by "understanding" what forms and pleadings commonly are used together-and generating them unless you direct otherwise. No matter what the deadline pressure, it ensures that I am able to prepare accurate and complete pleadings and filings.

The zip drive is my portable filing cabinet. I keep all of my active client files in a WordPerfect directory on a zip removable disk. I can generate documents in one office and carry them with me, printing them out as needed. The large capacity (100MB and now 250MB) of each zip disk allows me to either put many matters on one disk, or put all the elements of even the most complex case on one disk. And zip drives are so widely available that I can ship files on disk when necessary.

P.C. Anywhere is a remote control program that allows me to connect my notebook to my office computer from anywhere in the world over a standard telephone line. P.C. Anywhere gives me the ability to operate the computer in my office from my home or remote locations as if I were sitting in front of it. Any application on the host (the office computer) can be run and the output routed back to the remote notebook computer. This allows me to exchange files, generate pleadings, and perform virtually every other task from the courthouse, or from a hotel room if I'm traveling out of town. It also allows me to respond immediately to unexpected developments in cases, whether or not I have that case information on my laptop.

Best Supporting Products

The four products I've just discussed are the ones that contribute most to my effectiveness in representing the needs of my clients. Several additional products help with the business of practicing law. The most potent one-two punch in this regard is the team of Timeslips and a PalmPilot. I use the PalmPilot to keep track of my calendar, billable time, and expenses-even at the courthouse. I synchronize the data to my PC on a daily basis and Timeslips can then be used to generate appropriate billing information.

Let me briefly discuss my use of the three office standards I mentioned at the beginning. I use WordPerfect for word processing. I'm a longtime user and feel more comfortable with WordPerfect than with Microsoft Word. I use Microsoft Works to handle simple databases-single spreadsheet situations. I employ Microsoft Excel to create more complex databases and multiple spreadsheet books.

With the exception of the zip drive and the PalmPilot, my focus in attempting to streamline my operations has been on software that will allow me to work smarter, not harder. I look for applications that don't hog computer resources, so I have not been compelled to keep buying the latest, fastest computer every year or two. The computers I have are reliable veterans of many campaigns, but I still have sufficient machines so I'm not out of business if one fails. And being committed to a regular and thorough backup routine is essential for my peace of mind.

Hardware and More

Presently I have three computers:

  • A Hewlett Packard Vectra, which I use for my main production work.
  • A Compaq Presario notebook always accompanies me during travel.
  • A Compaq Presario desktop is configured for my billing and connected to two scanners.

I use a Compaq flatbed scanner for oversize documents. I use a Xerox with an automatic feeder for scanning standard size (81/2" x 11") documents. It is a real time-saver for documents that run more than one or two pages.

For printing, I rely on Hewlett Packard LaserJets. Like most people, I have found them to be extremely reliable and as economical to use as any other printers. One printer is a multifunction device that can accept and send faxes.

I use a variety of services to connect with the world, as no single provider in my area offers a desirable all-in-one plan. I use America Online to connect to the Internet. I use two cellular phones. One is installed permanently in my car; the other is a handheld cellular phone, which I carry everywhere. I use GTE Nationwide service, so I can avoid roaming charges. I have a plan that includes 1,500 minutes per month of long-distance calling.

When I cannot send documents electronically, I take advantage of the State Bar Association's members-only rates with AirBorne Express.

One device that I have not embraced is the pager. I find that pagers inevitably go off at the wrong moment. Whether disrupting a meeting or just making me lose my train of thought, I view them as a nuisance. I am very conscientious about checking for messages, and I can control when I do so.

Delivery of Services Is the Goal

Avoid technology for technology's sake, but dive in and embrace new tools and techniques that will unleash your creativity and productivity. Without the combination of products, devices, and services discussed in this article, there is no way I could accomplish as much as I do in a given day. By adopting appropriate innovations in a timely manner, I have been able to grow my practice without hiring a large support staff.

Most important, these new technologies have enhanced my ability to deliver quality legal services to my clients. And for all of us, that should always be the deciding factor when we evaluate any departure from proven methods and procedures.

John Y. B. Hood is a sole practitioner in Livingston, Texas. He is a former electrical engineer who ran one of the first retail computer stores in Beijing, China. When he turned to law, he embraced technology. He successfully practiced law from offices in Houston and Livingston, Texas, for several years without a secretary or paralegal. Late last year he consolidated his practice to one office in Livingston. He practices in the areas of family law, civil litigation, and corporate transactions.

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