Why Pay More? Buying Refurbished Office Equipment 

By Wells H. Anderson

Sitting behind his impressive, U-shaped desk, David Baer explained to me how he had acquired his office furniture when he opened his business law office in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a couple of years ago. His source was Furnish Office and Home ( www.furnishofficeandhome.org), a nonprofit operated by the Project for Pride in Living ( www.ppl-inc.org). Law firms and corporations in the Twin Cities area donate furniture in excellent condition to the program, and the proceeds support programs that assist people in achieving self-sufficiency.

Baer’s purchase struck me as a three-way win:

  1. Baer saved 80 percent off the cost of new furniture yet achieved a top-notch professional image.
  2. A charity received the entire purchase price.
  3. The environment was spared from the impact of producing new furniture and disposing of old.

Baer’s modern desk set is but one example of ways that you can save money and go green by judiciously purchasing used or refurbished computers, peripherals, and furniture. Are you moving from one office space to another? Are you starting up a new law office? Are your current computers, office equipment, or furniture not serving you well? You can benefit both the environment and your bottom line by investigating refurbished computers and used desk sets, chairs, tables, and other furnishings. You may also be able to support a charitable organization by doing so.

By purchasing a used or refurbished laptop, you can get more performance for less money. Sure, you could purchase a new, bargain-priced laptop for the same price as a better refurbished model, but the performance and reliability of a “bargain” laptop may well be substandard.

Another problem with low-priced new laptops is they are likely to come with the “Home” versions of Microsoft’s Windows operating software and Office productivity suite—which law firms should avoid. These software editions can cost you far more in hassles and technician time spent trying to make them work on a network than you save with their lower price.

Liam McCabe wrote an excellent article on shopping for used laptops ( www.laptopadvisor.com/articles/used-laptops). His article contains links to online retailers that offer bargains on refurbished equipment, and he provides advice on purchasing through eBay ( www.ebay.com) and through craigslist ( www.craigslist.org), a less reliable source. When purchasing a refurbished laptop, you do need to take care not to buy too old a model, so that you don’t end up with a slow processor or limited amount of RAM.

Desktop Computers and Servers
You may be tempted to upgrade your existing desktop computers or server by adding more RAM or bigger hard drives. Upgrading may be a good “green” option for a couple of years because it uses fewer resources to produce a few parts than an entire computer. Once computers reach a certain age, however, their slow performance relative to newer models means you and your office suffer significantly lower efficiency. Working on a computer and a network that is highly responsive not only saves you real time, it reduces job frustration.

One approach to replacing computers economically is to purchase refurbished computers about every three years (less frequently for servers). By buying models that are not the top-of-the-line and brand new, you may benefit in four ways:

  1. You avoid the higher markup on the bleeding-edge machines, which are only marginally faster.
  2. Models that have been out for a year or two are significantly lower in price.
  3. Refurbished models sell for less than new ones.
  4. Refurbished computers may have a lower failure rate because they have already been broken in.

Something to watch out for with refurbished computers is their combinations of options. They cannot be tailored at the factory to your specific preferences; instead, they come preconfigured with components and software. So you need to ensure that the available machines match your needs. It is often more economical to purchase a configuration that exceeds what you need rather than to buy a lower-priced model and upgrade it with parts.

Major computer manufacturers have web pages devoted to available refurbished computers and equipment (see the sidebar at right). Generally the risk of receiving defective items is lower from these manufacturers than from third-party vendors. Third parties may also offer shorter warranties than the original manufacturers.

The best source for used software may be your own office. Refurbished computers may or may not come with the software you need. Because you are likely replacing existing computers, you may be able to transfer the software you are currently using from your existing computers to your new ones.

Be sure to check the license terms for the software on your existing computers. These terms may restrict the use of the software to the machine on which it was pre‑installed. It is also possible that the installation and recovery media for your Microsoft Windows software may have drivers and applications that are specific to the brand and model of your existing computer.

A potentially false economy is buying an older computer with older Windows software and then finding that you need to pay a high price for a new version of Windows. When you buy new computers, they usually come with the Windows operating system and Office applications pre‑installed at significant savings. So figure into any purchase the cost of getting the Windows software you need, either by transferring and upgrading licenses or purchasing new ones.

If you need to begin using a new software program or are switching from one software program to a competing product, check to see whether competitive upgrades are available. You may have software licenses, boxes, and disks sitting on a shelf that entitle you to a significant discount on a competitive upgrade to a new program.

Another software option is to check with people in your network to see if any of them have software programs they are no longer using. They may transfer their licenses so that you may either use that software or use it to get a discount on an upgrade to a current version or a competing product.

When getting rid of your old computers, take care to remove both your software and data. This is important in order for you to comply with license terms for transferring your software to another computer and, of course, to maintain the confidentiality of your data.

Various programs are available to wipe your hard disk before your old computers leave your office. Microsoft’s SDelete is a free program (available at http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/bb897443.aspx) that performs this function. Eraser (available at http://eraser.heidi.ie), also free, has more features for securely erasing your data.

“Used furniture” may conjure up images of old, scarred wooden desks and threadbare armchairs. In reality, most law office furniture is usually indistinguishable from new. Firms move, reorganize, and merge, leaving behind desks, shelves, and other items that have no place in the design of the new or remodeled offices. So don’t let negative images get in the way of great deals.

In addition to local outlets such as Furnish Office and Home described above, there are a number of national sources for used office furnishings. (See the sidebar at right for some suggestions of where to start.) You also may want to check with larger law firms in your area to see where they donate or resell their used office furniture.

From Trash to Treasure
Smart reuse can save you money and protect the environment. Take a look at well-equipped, refurbished computers when it is time to improve your efficiency. Review the software you already have for possible discounts on upgrading to new versions. Consider high-quality used office furniture from reputable sources to achieve the professional office environment you desire.

These reuse options are “green” and economical. They can deliver benefits both to you and to others.


  • Wells H. Anderson, JD, CIC, a veteran legal technology consultant, runs Active Practice LLC. A Time Matters software expert, he assists lawyers in becoming more profitable and satisfied with their work. Anderson works remotely on targeted projects with law offices throughout North America. He  presents a free monthly webinar on  legal technology and may be  reached at info@activepractice.com and 800575-0007.

    Copyright 2010

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