If the services or hours you put into a matter are the products you sell, then consider the technology your hammer and nails. Technology encompasses the digital tools you need to get the job done. When you are building a practice, you want to put a plan together, a road map if you will, of the technology you need (or just want) to power your practice. This month we will look at the technology tools you will find most useful.
1. Your Primary Workstation
Your primary workstation is going to be a laptop or desktop computer station that you will spend large amounts of time sitting at, whether it is for researching, drafting, communicating with clients or counsel, or billing or managing your calendar. When you are first starting out, if you are only budgeting for one workstation, I recommend you get a laptop computer. The portability will come in handy, especially if you anticipate doing work outside your office. Ultimately, though, you should work toward having a desktop workstation at your office and a laptop to take with you anytime you leave the office. Why both? If something were to happen to your laptop (i.e., irreparable damage or theft), then you could still work from the office with the desktop, and vice versa. If you only have the one laptop you work from, then you will be without access until you can acquire a new laptop. It is not mandatory to have both when you are getting started, but you should work toward that as quickly as you can.
2. Your Network
With more courts adopting e-discovery and the near-total adoption of electronic communication, it is inconceivable that you can build a law practice without the Internet. You are going to need a modem and a router to connect your hardware to the web. A router receives the broadband signal from the modem and will make Internet connections available to devices on your network. You should look for a router that offers:
- WiFi/wireless access points (WAPs). WiFi access is increasingly mainstream as many workplaces now accept the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) mentality.
- Capacity to reach your entire office space. Wireless routers are designed for a specific range. Make sure the one you purchase can accommodate your space.
- Firewall capability. This is an essential feature for your network security. A firewall is software that is built into the router that will help screen and filter out incoming cyber-attacks.
3. Your Backup
Everyone will lose data at some point. You could suffer a hard drive failure on your computer, ransomware could render your files inaccessible, or a thief could abscond with your laptop. If you fail to back up your files routinely, these everyday occurrences can result in your losing your files forever. Or at least until you sacrifice time and replace them.
First, let’s look at what needs to be backed up. The obvious answer is, first and foremost, your client files and your personal files. You can always reinstall an operating system or re-download your software programs. Your client and personal files include documents, photos, videos, and any other form of digital data you use to run your practice. These need to be backed up regularly. At a minimum, you should back up daily. Ideally, you will have a continuous, real-time backup system in place. There are many ways to back up your files. One solution is to back up to an external drive, such as a USB hard drive or external storage device. This is the fastest and easiest to set up using your computer’s built-in backup features. If you are running Windows 7, you can use Windows Backup; on Windows 8 or 10, you would use File History. Mac users have Time Machine built into their systems. You can connect the drive to the computer and run the backup tool or leave it plugged in and set to back up automatically. While this is an easy system, it is lacking in geographic redundancy. Geographic redundancy means you have created a backup at a different geographic location than where your original station is. This protects you in the event of a fire or earthquake that destroys your access to your computer and the backup, rendering it useless.
You can use a cloud storage service, such as DropBox, Microsoft OneDrive, or Google Drive. Storing and maintaining your files on a cloud storage drive allows you access from computers anywhere. It will automatically sync to your online account and other PCs, keeping your files up-to-date. A cloud storage system will address the need for geographic redundancy, but it has limitations. Cloud services usually offer a limited amount of space (a few gigabytes) for free, but if you have only a few files, or are willing to pay for extra storage, this could be a good route.
You can create a backup system over the Internet with a service like Backblaze or Carbonite. For a monthly fee, these programs will run in the background of your PC or Mac, automatically backing up your files to the service’s web storage. The downside to this system is the ongoing monthly fees and the initial backup is usually slower than an external drive backup, but the benefits far outweigh these downsides.
4. Your Mobile Device
Your smartphone is the Swiss army knife in your technology tool kit. You can use it to access client data, stay up-to-date on research, maintain your courthouse and client calendars, market your service to potential clients, and more. If you are debating between a traditional cell phone and a smartphone, get a smartphone. I recommend the iPhone or the Samsung Galaxy S9+. If you are debating between iOS or Android, go with whichever one you are comfortable with, or the one your friends and family use.
There’s plenty more technology to consider when building a practice, but these tools form the foundation and should be your first priority when starting a practice.