4) The Right Stuff (Hardware)
Now that we finally have a place to put our office supplies, it's time to figure out what we need to run said office. I strongly believe in the ease of access/backup and cost-effectiveness of the paperless office. It greatly reduces time lost sorting through files and in storage costs. Just compare the storage space for a box of files vs. a single DVD, which may contain several files on it.
So, what do we need to start and run a paperless office to save us time and money? We covered this topic at the recent How to Start and Run a Successful Solo or Small Firm Practice conference held by the Massachusetts Bar Association, and it is surprisingly very little!
1: The Scanner
No question, the industry standard for desktop scanning (up to 30+ pages at once in color or black and white) is the ScanSnap. The most recent iteration, and the one I have been using, is the ScanSnap iX500. It is a fantastic machine. The settings are easy to use and customize so that you can quickly and easily convert your mail, medical records, contracts, etc. into beautiful electronic documents.
Where color is unnecessary (most medical records, contracts, etc.), I would recommend scanning in black and white, as this greatly reduces the size of the file. See my example below:
98 KB Vs. 13 KB
The black and white file above is 13% of the size of the color version of same. Using black and white where appropriate will quickly result in massive savings in electronic storage space.
Cost for the ScanSnap iX500 is normally $495.00, but sales can often be found to get price closer to $400.00 (check Amazon). It is a must.
2: The Printer
Unlike the desktop scanner, there isn't really an industry standard in desktop printing. Depending on your practice area, you may need a larger printer/scanner for handling large volumes of documents. For most small or starter practices, however, it should be sufficient to use a desktop printer for your daily needs and only occasionally use a commercial larger scanner/printer at your local FedEx, Kinkos, Staples, etc. as needed.
When looking for a desktop printer, my requirements were for a black and white LaserJet printer with at least two paper feeds. The reasons for each:
Black and White- Color printers eat ink at a voracious rate, often will not print unless all ink cartridges are active (even if you only try to print black and white and the yellow is out), and, unless you are regularly using the many colors, the ink will dry out and you will need to replace them anyway.
LaserJet- The ink cartridges are more expensive, but they print substantially larger numbers of pages at a reduced price per page and at a faster rate. Let's use my office HP LaserJet P1102w's 85A ink cartridge vs. my home InkJet Cannon Hero 3.1's 30 ink cartridge as an example. The LaserJet has est. 1600 pages @ $54.00 per cartridge = $0.03375 per page vs. the InkJet's est. 335 pages @ $12.99 per cartridge = $0.03878 per page (15% more value with LaserJet).
Two+ Paper Feeds- Lawyers send a lot of mail (the old-fashioned kind, as well as email and faxes). We'll cover the latter two in the next post when we deal with software. For now, it is important to note that I need a second feed into which I can fit envelopes for printing. I mostly print two types of envelopes: letter-sized and fatter envelopes for mailing CDs. Therefore, it is important to have two feeds: one for normal/bond paper and another into which I can put envelopes for printing. Otherwise, each time I wanted to print an envelope I would have to take out all of my paper, resize the fed manually, and then print my envelopes. Having two paper feeds is a pure quality of life improvement that removes one more hassle from every day life.
3: The Computer
Like the printer, there is no industry standard in computing power, so find something with the features you need. For myself, I needed a laptop with high portability, large storage space, a CD/DVD burner, and many USB ports. The reasons for each are described below.
High Portability- Laptops are the new legal pads of depositions, mediations, hearings, and trial. They can be used to make presentations (whether on the screen or with a projector), take notes, review documents, and have an entire file with you at all times. I've found that you never know when, mid-deposition, a document you thought to be unimportant suddenly comes to the fore and you thank your lucky stars it is a click away. As a paperless lawyer, you are going to want a computer with you at all of these events. I recently brought my laptop to trial with me, using it as my notes for questioning, tracker of the evidence, and to reference and read from particular documents at closing. The verdict came back in my favor, so it seems to have done the job (I know there is a cause and effect question there, but I don't have a better anecdote at the moment, so that's what we're going with).
Large Storage Space- Legal files are large and messy. Keeping them well-organized is an art more than a science, but having the physical room to keep them at all is a must (we have covered the organization topic at one of our recent Mass. Bar Association's Tech Tips for Lawyers CLEs). My files range from 10 MB for a smaller auto claim to nearly 1 GB for a large case file that advances far into litigation or trial. I had to make sure to get a large hard drive that could handle many active case files at once.
CD/DVD Burner- Once I close my files, I burn them onto DVDs for external storage. Under Mass.R.Prof.C. 1.15(f), client records must be kept for six years from the date of the close of representation. As allowed by the rule, these records may be kept electronically, so long as hard copies can be produced (e.g. on DVD from which you could print if necessary). I also use the CD/DVD burner to make discs containing demand packages, discovery, and expert materials that need to be sent out. This can take a large volume of documents (500+ pages), and reduce them to a single well-organized and searchable disc.
Many USB Ports- Lastly, there are a lot of devices that need to be hooked up to that machine of yours; your nice new scanner and printer, a backup hard drive, and, for me, a USB mouse (I really hate the touchpad). Three USB ports seem to be the norm on a laptop, so that's what I went with.
Considering all of these factors, I purchased an HP Pavilion laptop. Mine has 672 GB of hard disk space, a CD/DVD burner, and 3 USB ports. A good, serviceable machine. Note that I did not talk about the RAM or graphics card. Frankly, for a work computer whatever comes in the machine will be sufficient; you do not need 16 MB of RAM to run Outlook. Do not let this be a driving feature unless you plan on using the machine for something more advanced (like serious game-skiving). With an eye on sales, you can get this affordable machine between $350.00-450.00.
4: External Backup
As required by Mass.R.Prof.C. 1.15(f)(1)(G), electronic client files must be kept on an external backup. For this purpose, you may use a physical device or a properly-secured cloud backup. I chose to use an external hard drive: a WD MyBook Essential 2 TB External Hard Drive. I will talk about the software I use for backups in the next post, but, for now, know that this 2 TB hard drive serves as my external backup for all active client files. This allows me to rest easy knowing that, if my computer crashed, I would have a safe backup of all client files. For added security, this storage device can also be kept outside the office; otherwise, in the event of something like a fire both devices may be damaged for a serious loss. To this end, I ensure that a backup of my files is kept outside of my physical office at all times. Maintaining properly-secured cloud storage also satisfies the don't-put-all-of-your-eggs-in-one-office problem.
On Amazon, you can get the Hard Drive for about $90.00.
In total, assuming no good deals are found, you are looking to spend about $1,135.00 on the bare essentials in hardware to setup a successful paperless law office.
Additional items, such as a shredder (for sensitive record destruction) and the CD/DVDs themselves, together with other miscellaneous office supplies, will factor in as well, but these are the four big ticket items that just about anyone will need.