General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionSolo Newsletter



What Equipment Do I Need?

By Lenore C. Garon

Law practice from home is an American tradition dating back to Patrick Henry. I have done it since 1991, primarily handling motions, appeals, and other litigation-related work for conventional lawyers. This is what I have found essential for the home practitioner:

Telephone: Your lifeline to the outside world. You need a business listing—more expensive than residential, but important to enable your clients, when they misplace your number, to find it in the business phone directory. Naturally, you need an answering machine, reserved for that line. Get one that allows each caller to leave as long a message as he wants.

Computer: It’s your writing tool, library, secretary, and more. The biggest, sharpest screen you can afford is easiest on aging eyes and simplifies working with multiple documents. Your word processing program should convert to and from other word processing formats (most modern ones do), to enable you to edit agreements drafted by others.

Internet access and a fast modem: These are musts. The Internet contains a wealth of state and federal case law, up-to-date statutory material, agency materials, and a treasure trove of information on every subject under the sun. Access to much of the legal material, through government and law school web sites, is free!

E-mail is a fast, cheap way to communicate with large numbers of people (say, setting up a meeting with eight participants from two countries in distant time zones), and to send colleagues completely formatted briefs and other documents as attachments, with virtually immediate delivery. (Caution: Consider encrypting e-mails containing confidential materials. E-mails are misdirected on occasion.)

I connect the computer modem to my home line. That way, when I am on the Internet doing research, my clients can still reach me.

A high-quality printer: But a laser printer (although now quite affordable) is not necessary. The newest ink-jet printers produce impeccable black and white text (and allow your kids to print in color on the weekends). They are a little slower than laser printers, but it doesn’t matter for short materials and it’s more practical to have really big jobs reproduced at a copy shop.

Fax: A stand-alone fax is more convenient and versatile than a computer fax board. A plain paper fax doubles as a copier for small jobs. My fax machine shares my business line with no problem, but if I received a great many calls or faxes, I would purchase distinctive ring service from the phone company to avoid interrupting myself for a call that turns out to be a fax.

Finally: A little cash left for a luxury? An inexpensive (used—even obsolete) laptop computer enables you to take notes efficiently at meetings and in law libraries. (Put the notes on a diskette and transfer to your big computer for the final document.)

Lenore C. Garon has a home practice in Falls Church, Virginia.



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