Ten Tips For A Virtual Law Office
Judge Hon. Arthur M. Monty Ahalt
This Article was first published in the Prince George’s County, Maryland Journal/Newsletter
TIP 1 – Get the Right Equipment. The foundation for a virtual law office is composed of hardware, software and networks. Prices for equipment have dramatically reduced. A workstation should consist of a Pentium processor, 2.0 Gb hard drives, 24 MB of memory, 33.6 modem, 6X CD-ROM. Without a monitor or keyboard this computer (or a close equivalent) can be purchased for under $1,500. Better yet, start a simple local area network (LAN) in your office with your secretary and law clerk. You can start a simple LAN for under $3,000.
TIP 2 – Get Connected. Becoming connected to the rest of the world should be a top priority. Internet connections are available for as low as $5 per month for limited access. Don’t overly analyze the market. The pluses and minus of each ISP (Internet Service Provider) probably do not make that much difference to the rookie. The national online services provide the easiest opportunity to get connected. They have good online help services. They also have multiple access numbers. They do not require a large investment, usually a one-month fee of less than $20. If the current controversy about America Online’s busy signals is troubling, try Compuserve.
TIP 3 – Use the Computer. The fast way to learn how to use a computer is to put your hands on a keyboard and start using it. A good way to accomplish this task is to start using a software program which requires inputting several times a week entry such as a checkbook program.
TIP 4 – Start Scanning. Scanning software and hardware have also dramatically come down in cost. A simple scanner with software can now be purchased for under $300. The point of this exercise is to begin getting some experience creating an electronic file. Jim Lombardi, Esq. started by using his fax software to copy interrogatories so he did not have to retype the question when he answers the interrogatories.
TIP 5 – Use E-Mail. Electronic mail is a powerful method of communication which is reliable, quick and a great cost saver. The electronic mail work spaces of web browser software are easy to use and generally user friendly. The Bar Association web page has compiled a list of E-Mail addresses for Bar members. You can look those addresses up at www.mdlaw.net/pgbar25.htm. If you want to have your E-Mail address included on this list, E-Mail Don Patterson at email@example.com.
TIP 6 – Read Periodicals. At first a terminology barrier exists. The best way to overcome this barrier is to start reading about computers on a periodic basis. A good place to start is the newspaper. Most newspapers now have a weekly section of columns about computers. Some are very basic “how to” questions and answers while others are more narrative articles on some new software or hardware. The point is that if you start using the words often, you will soon know and understand the terminology. Another good idea is to buy a different computer magazine a month off of the newsstand and just read the advertisements and articles of interest.
TIP 7 – Go to Conferences. Hardly a month goes by when there isn’t a bar technology conference somewhere in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area. The programs are high quality, practical, educational events. The quality is similar to the usual high-quality Continuing Legal Education seminars for years sponsored by local, state and national bar association leaders.
TIP 8 – Talk with Other Lawyers. Experience we know is a great teacher. If you make the use of computers the topic of conversation as you talk to other lawyers about your cases, you will be surprised at the amount of information you will gain in a very short period of time. What works. What doesn’t work. What new developments are helpful. What new developments are duds.
TIP 9 – Be Willing to Take Risks. Nothing ventured is nothing gained. In order to begin to use technology to your advantage, you must be willing to risk some of your time and a little bit of money. With risk comes reward. The track record for technology is that until you put your time and money at risk, your learning curve does no begin. The sooner you start the less time you will lose.
TIP 10 – Embrace Change as a Friend not an Enemy. Change is an inevitable product of the technology offered by the information age infocosim. Ordinarily, people resist, fight or ignore change. When those dynamics of resistance occur, change in people’s work patterns occur very slowly and productivity decreases. On the other hand, when change is embraced with an attitude of acceptance, people’s work patterns change very fast and productivity dramatically increases.