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We're going to steal a page from our Technologist blog and talk tech today. But don't worry, it's relevant -- we promise.
Small firms operate under constraints we can identify with -- limited budget, no room for downtime, and a need for maximum productivity. Some of these tips will prevent PC-crashing panic. Others keep you working -- at home, in the office, or on the road, with no downtime. Each is worth considering in the New Year, if you haven't already taken the leap yet.
At one firm that I worked at, their solution for sharing files was a NAS (Network Attached Storage) drive. These are hard drives attached to the network, which any computer can access. They are great, yet expensive ($500+). And when that firm's NAS crashed, I spent two days trying to salvage files off of the non-standard file system.
At another firm, they employed remote-hosted desktops. A decades-old computer connects to a server, which hosts a modern Windows 7 desktop. The pros were obvious (recycling old computers, networked machines meant that someone else handled maintenance, and file sharing was a snap). But seriously, talk about pushing in a thumb tack with a sledgehammer. Expensive overkill.
You, solo or small firm attorney, only need a cloud storage provider, such as DropBox or Box. We've reviewed nearly every competitor imaginable on our Technologist blog, but they all work the same: download the syncing software onto each computer. Save files to the cloud storage folder. It syncs the folder, automatically, between all of your computers. It has the benefits of the NAS without the $500 cost. And when you are on a beach in Hawaii, you can open your laptop and continue working.
Evaluate and Upgrade Office PCs
Shoestring budget? Don't be penny-wise and pound-foolish. A new office PC may cost $300 to $500 (consider reusing your monitor). What is the cost when your associate's hard drive crashes mid-day, on the eve of trial? (That's a side benefit of cloud storage, by the way. He can move to another PC and continue working.)
We put out a buyer's guide for Black Friday PC upgrades, which is equally valid one month later. If your PCs are running Windows Vista or XP, they are probably old enough to be due for an upgrade. At minimum, shift the older PCs to staff that doesn't bill by the hour, such as a receptionist or intern.
Cloud Practice Management
That NAS-using firm? They tracked clients on a Google spreadsheet. The other firm? They used separate office-correspondence, conflict-checking and form-filling software that was decades old.
Both firms got by, the latter far more efficiently than the former, but today, again, we have the cloud. Practice management software integrates everything, from contact management to billing to calendaring, and in some cases, even integrates with form building and research.
Our corporate cousin WestLaw has FirmCentral, which is insanely robust and integrates with everything (WestLaw research, Form Builder, eBillity billing, and more), with the caveat that it gets pricier with each additional feature added. On the other end of the spectrum, Total Attorneys, which has a more limited feature set, handles the basics for far less than anyone else -- though in our experience, it does fall short of the competitors.
Check out your options. All seem to offer a free trial. Trust us, the $10 to $50 per user, per month, is worth it to have everything your firm needs to handle administration and business in one cloudy place.
Any other tech "to-dos" for the New Year? Tweet us yours @FindLawLP.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.