You graduated. Perhaps you practiced for a couple years under the reign of terror of some evil boss in the name of “valuable experience.” Perhaps you just couch-surfed until the crushing weight of a dismal job market led you to the realization that starting your own firm was the only way to keep yourself in the lifestyle to which you’ve become accustomed - Olde English and Cheetos.
Either way, you’ve decided to open up shop on a limited budget. Some say your requisite tech is as simple as a laptop and a printer. That’s mostly true, but there are a few other factors to consider.
You still have that laptop from law school. Should you repurpose it as your firm's computer? If it is damaged from multiple bullet holes, or at all unreliable - no. However, the truth of the tech matter is, nearly everything you'll need to do in a law office can be done on computers most would consider "ancient."
If it runs Windows XP or later, is capable of connecting to the Internet, and all of the buttons on the keyboard function, it'll meet the minimal requirements of your office. On the other hand, you should consider the downtime and cost to your clients if your dinosaur Dell gives up the ghost the night before a trial. If you have the funds, investing a few hundred dollars in a new budget desktop computer (preferably with Windows 7) could save you more in the long run.
As for printers, go for a budget black-and-white laser. Color printers, especially inkjets, eat ink and will cost way more than the cost of a cheap laser after a few months. Personal experiences with Brother and Epson printers have left us wanting more, while Canon and HP printers have proven more durable. Your results may vary.
The basics are obvious - Windows and Word. Beyond that, you'll probably want some way to handle the firms' accounts and billing, track time, manage client contacts, and do conflict checks. Form-filling software and a research provider, like Westlaw, LexisNexis, or FastCase is also highly advisable.
You could invest in traditional software, like Quicken for accounts, TimeSlips for tracking billable hours, and Outlook for managing contacts, but at this point, that might be like buying a BetaMax in the late 1980s. Consider an all-in-one practice management package, especially one that operates "in the cloud," such as Firm Central, MyCase, RocketMatters, or Clio.
If you're curious about these futuristic cloud-based platforms, we'll be taking a look at a number of the leading providers in the coming weeks. We'll also be looking at the other costs of starting up a small firm. Stay tuned.
Note: The aforementioned Firm Central is a Thomson Reuters product. So are we, so is West. The rest of those cloud providers are not. Don't worry - we'll review each thoroughly, impartially, frankly, and hopefully, humorously.