How I Started My Law Firm With Less Than $2,500 Worth of Technology

I was recently published in Technolawyer, your source for all things tech and law related! This article originated in Answers to Questions, one of nine free and award-winning email newsletters published by TechnoLawyer for lawyers and administrators who manage law firms and legal departments. Learn more about TechnoLawyer.
January 6, 2011 IN THIS ISSUE 1. Clark Stewart, How I Started My Law Firm With Less Than $2,500 Worth Of Technology.
TechnoLawyer member Adam B. Portnow asks: “Hi. I’m a new lawyer, just admitted to the Florida Bar in October 2008, and I’ve hung my shingle right out of the gate. I have one partner who is also a newbie. We haven’t decided on any specialty yet — our firm is a general practice, we handle any kind of case from Real Estate to Guardianship to Criminal Defense. “We’re starting to get busier with new clients coming in, and it’s becoming clear that we need some firm/client management software, some document-generating software like HotDocs, plus billing/account tracking software, and also electronic legal research service (although we’ve been making pretty good use of the local law library, having an online service would save us a lot of time). I’m so overwhelmed by all the different options out there, I don’t know where to start looking or what to do? “I feel like a jerk asking such a broad question, but what advice do you have regarding necessary software for a new lawyer with very little starting capital to manage a 2- person firm? What are the necessities, versus what can I get away with holding off on? (examples: Can I survive my first year or two without dictation software? Can I get away with QuickBooks for my billing or is there something even cheaper?)”
Clark Stewart: I’m celebrating my first year in practice and I defy anyone on here to do it cheaper than I did! I started like everybody else here: old busted desktop, laptop, iPhone, Brother all in one printer. Did it way less. However, here’s what a year’s hindsight will bring:
1. Get an iPhone. Not a Droid. Not Windows 7. iPhone! When you’re in court or in the car and the judge wants to know what your schedule looks like or a new client wants to give you a number you’ll need something idiot proof. I’m not bashing the Droid. Far from it. I was tweaking the ROM on my HTC before anybody had even heard of ’em. But what the Droid lacks is simplicity. Pure, caveman simplicity. iPhone does what you want it to do and a little more (sometimes less than Droid) but it can’t be beat for simplicity.
2. Lose the fax machine. These things are money pits. They require paper, $. Toner, $$$, and a phone line, $$$$$$$! Sign up for $10 a month for a fax number (an 888# if you want it for the same price). Use your all-in-one to scan your docs if you didn’t type them. Open your email program of choice. Type the fax number you’re sending to followed by In the subject line type your cover page notes or who it’s to. Finally attach your document and hit send. The email/fax goes to myfax where it gets converted and forwarded to the recipient. They get the fax on their dinosaur fax machine and never know you’re living in tomorrowland! The reverse is even cooler: they send you a fax and it gets diverted to myfax who converts it and sends it to you as an email. Adios fax machine.
3. Download the Time Master app from the iPhone app store. $10 gets you the most intuitive, powerful timekeeping app anywhere. For an extra $5 you can create PDF invoices. There are too many features to list about this app, and tech support is the app developers themselves. FYI you won’t need them but they can teach you how to do some crazy stuff with this app. Coolest thing about it? When I generate a report it emails it to me in a table format which I highlight and print the selection in Gmail. I then attach this to my fee declaration I submit to the state and get paid. No more typos from typing your own time reports.
4. Lose the network. You’ll think you need one to preserve your data to a hard drive and the other laptop, but it’s a pain to set up on your own, and expensive if you don’t know what you’re doing and need help. Get a free Dropbox account. Download it to all your computers, download the app on your iPhone and voila, you’ve now got a network on all your devices that syncs instantly when any changes are made to a document across all platforms as well as backing up your files in the cloud. Still paranoid? Get a free online backup account and add your Dropbox folder to the auto backup list. Now you’ve got your entire filing cabinet on your iPhone, backed up in the cloud, available on any computer with a net connection as well as your office computers.
5. FINALLY, go PAPERLESS!! It’s all the rage right now and for good reason. It’s just better. Get yourself a scanner. I opted for the Epson GTS50. Just get a sheetfed scanner. Your all-in-one will kill you if you have to scan one page at a time. Pick a date and from that point forward scan every piece of paper you get into a folder named for the client it pertains to, then shred it if the rules of ethics will allow. Paperless means that ten years from now you won’t be screaming at yourself or a runner or a secretary for losing a file, or in tears because your office caught fire — probably from that fax machine you wouldn’t get rid of! Plus you’ll save money on filing cabinets and offsite storage.
The coolest thing about paperless is telling a client you haven’t talked to in ten years that you have the file right in front of you and can email them a document in seconds. They’ll talk, and it’ll rain! All this tech can be had for under $2,500 easily.
An aside: The coolest thing I have done with my technology was when I used my iPhone and myfax to fax an order setting aside a writ of arrest to the jail where my client was sitting panicked because they hadn’t gotten said order yet because it had to be printed and delivered from the courthouse. I had it on my phone because any orders scanned in the clerks office are emailed to me. I simply forwarded the order as a fax to the jail. Thirty minutes later my client was out of jail at 5:30 am! I hope some other young bucks can make use of my one year head start! FYI I am a solo with no secretary or paralegal typing this as I ride to the Alabama / GA State game. Viva revolution!
Clark V. Stewart                                                                                                                                                                                                  Attorney at Law