There were a few mainstays back then—a phone, a typewriter, a fax machine—that have long been eclipsed by the sheer breadth of different computers (and tablets and tablet-sized smartphones), printers, scanners, routers, and many other technological goodies that demand the time and attention of the aspiring solo.
And that attention is not just demanded by the technology itself: an increasing number of state bars have issued ethics opinions requiring attorneys to remain abreast of trends in technology or risk losing their licenses. So to help you out, we have compiled a quick shopping list you will want to plan for as you start your own firm.
A pair of caveats: (1) many software vendors are moving to a subscription-based pricing model where you pay them every single month, so some of the items listed below may not be available as a standalone product by the time you read this; and (2) most of the cloud-based tools offer a range of pricing options to choose from, so the prices we have listed are for the “standard” or “middle-of-the-road” packages.
Laptop (price varies widely; ~$1500): You will spend the bulk of your time practicing law in front of a computer, so you will want something good. Luckily technology has advanced enough that just about anything on the market today will be more than enough for your typical law firm needs (and will also have limited the importance of the classic debate over Windows, MacOS, or Linux). You shouldn’t need to spend more than $1,500 to find a solid machine to your liking that will last at least three to four years.
Router (Linksys EA6400 ($150) or Airport Extreme ($200)): Your Internet service provider will provide a modem connecting you to the outside world, and your router is the bridge between the modem and your internal network. It also provides the security for your Wi-Fi network. See this excellent primer on router basics.
Remote Backup (WD Elements ($260); Apple Time Capsule ($300)): In the corner of your network, you want a hard drive serving as a backup repository for your work. Western Digital and Apple both have popular options that work seamlessly with your platform of choice.
Printer (Brother HL-2270dw ($100)): Stick to a laser printer, ideally one with Wi-Fi and duplex (double-sided) printing capability. Brother and HP both offer a number of workhorses.
Scanner (Fujitsu ScanSnap ix500 ($425)): The scanner is easily the most expensive item after the laptop, and the ScanSnap line gets raves from many law firms—for good reason. Its scan speed and quality are unmatched for the price.
Credit Card Processing (Square (per transaction)): The easier your customers can pay you, the easier it is to get paid. Square and its ubiquitous card reader enables your firm to take credit cards from Day One without a monthly fee; they just skim a portion off the top of each transaction.
Word Processing (Microsoft Office ($220)): Office remains the de facto standard in the legal profession for creating documents. Some old firms still use WordPerfect, some new firms try to use things like LibreOffice, but Microsoft’s offering is actually pretty good.
PDF Creation (Adobe Acrobat Pro ($120)): If you practice in federal court or most e-filing jurisdictions, you need PDFs. While Apple’s MacOS has PDF creation built in, Adobe Acrobat is the gold standard in PDF creation, annotation, and redaction.
Calendaring (Outlook; BusyCal ($50; MacOS only)): Your firm will live and die by its calendar. Many firms use the Outlook app that comes with Microsoft Office, but Mac users also have a great option called BusyCal; both offer all sorts of functionality beyond what you can get from a paper calendar, including reminders of upcoming deadlines, event invites, and CalDAV syncing.
Accounting (QuickBooks ($230)): Starting out, you likely will not have money to burn on an accountant. There are plenty of accounting software options out there like gnucash (free) or Xero (cloud; $30/mo) or Freshbooks (cloud; $30/mo), but QuickBooks is the industry standard for accounting used by the accountant you’re going to hire one day anyway. Spending some time learning how to use it can reap dividends and keep you abreast of your firm’s financial strength.
Everything in this section charges you on a monthly basis, so keep that in mind when looking at the prices!
Client Management (per-user pricing; MyCase ($40), RocketMatter ($65), Clio ($72)): One area where cloud software is constantly evolving, and has solidly beaten out traditional software packages, is in client management. The “Big Three” in this arena all offer free trials of their services, and enable you to track your clients, cases, conflicts, calendars, and the list goes on and on.
Remote Storage (Dropbox ($10); SpiderOak ($10)): Having a backup in your office is great, but if the building burns down it helps having something off-site as well. Dropbox is the most-used, but some attorneys have expressed concerns over its security (particularly Dropbox’s compliance with government subpoenas); competitor SpiderOak provides what it calls “zero knowledge” security, but has a far less-polished user interface. Review both before deciding what best fits your needs.
Collaboration (Google Apps for Work ($10/user)): Google offers a suite of Office-like options via the web, which are adored by some attorneys for providing easy collaboration. Many firms also rely on Google Calendar in lieu of Microsoft Outlook.
Phone Number (Google Voice (free)): Giving out your personal mobile phone to clients is a decision often regretted. Get a dedicated phone number through Google Voice, which forwards calls to your mobile phone, and give that out instead. When you hit a point that you need a more dedicated phone solution, you can then port the phone number to a carrier of your choice for $3.
Virtual Receptionist or Portable Branch Exchange (varies widely; Ruby, 8x8, Phonebooth, Grasshopper): Once you have a phone number, you want someone other than you to answer the calls. You will waste a lot of billable time being your own receptionis (trust me!). Virtual receptionist services have a live human answering the call and then forwarding it to you; PBX services help you create a phone tree that can direct callers to various extensions. Both have advantages that will vary based on your type of firm.
Fax (Send2fax ($9)): Yes, people still use faxes in 2015. Yes, they still use them even though nearly all fax solutions today just turn the fax into a PDF and email it to you. You need a fax number. Send2fax is effective and among the least-expensive options out there.
Intuit Payroll ($30/mo): When that day finally comes when you can hire staff, your bank will encourage you to use their payroll services—and charge you a bundle. Intuit offers an inexpensive payroll option, complete with creating all the various tax forms you will need, for an inexpensive price.
Properly outfitting a law firm can be an expensive proposition, but the items listed above should cover just about anything you will need until you are rolling in the fees.