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The computer is the heart of the SOHO law office.  When I left my firm, I  started over, with all new equipment.  It works beautifully, all the time. Here's what I use, or what I know about.

Desktop or Laptop?  It's laptop, no contest. I would no sooner go to court without my laptop than without my shoes.  If you will use only one computer, it must be a laptop.  You need it to:

  • Store and use discovery, correspondence, contact information, and legal research away from the office. Ever wish you could haul several banker's boxes full of depositions to a mediation?  Now you can, safely saved and searchable on your hard drive.
  • Use presentation software, like PowerPoint, in the courtroom. You've seen those classy presentations.  You won't believe how easy they are to create and use.
  • Stay in touch with clients and colleagues by email from anywhere.  Yep, anywhere with a phone line.  Email is so easy that there is no excuse not to use it.
  • Do legal research, draft briefs, motions, and jury instructions from your hotel room. This is a huge advantage when you are trying a case away from home, or simply traveling. I once wrote a case-winning brief in Yellowstone Park.  

Minimum Specifications.   You need at least:

  • Pentium IV or equivalent (AtMD) processor.  
  • 512 megs of RAM.   
  • 40 gigabyte or larger hard drive.
  • CDRom (or CDRW or DVD), and a floppy. A CDRW (rewritable) is the real deal.  You can back up tons of data on one disk.  You can submit a CD to the court with your brief hyperlinked to all the cases and exhibits cited.    
  • 56k modem. 
  • USB port. (Allows you to attach newer peripherals).
  • Network port.
  • Firewire port -- to hook up external hard drives and other toys.

Laptop Pricing.   A fully equipped laptop (usually called a desktop replacement model) will cost at least $1500, which is $500 more than a similar desktop computer. It's a bargain. 

Desktop replacement laptops  are expensive, heavy, and fully equipped.  Good brands include Compaq,  Dell, and Toshiba.   Amazon (click the buttons to the left) has discount pricing on name brand laptops.  

Don't fear the small keyboard, monitor and funny mouse.  You can add anything you want just by plugging in components.  

You can also add scanners, printers, Zip drives and other peripherals via the USB ports. 

Whether you need a bigger monitor depends on your laptop screen.  Remember, a 15" flat panel LCD  monitor is equivalent to a 17" CRT monitor.  If your  laptop has a 15" screen, you don't need a big monitor. If you are shopping for one laptop to use full time,  get one with a 15" screen.

Another option is to buy a light, inexpensive laptop to use alongside your desktop computer.  The two computer option actually costs very little more than a fully equipped desktop replacement laptop model.  

Two Computers.  A decent desktop and a lighter, less expensive laptop, makes  a  great configuration. You can actually buy both for the cost of a fully equipped laptop. 

A super-portable laptop weighs under five pounds, and is a joy to lug around. It will have a smaller hard drive, screen, and keyboard.  You wouldn't want to use it all the time, but the portability is wonderful on the road.

Since I use two computers, I back up from one computer to the other, and keep everything synchronized, so I don't find myself in trial without my latest jury instructions. I like the two computer solution.  If one goes down, I'm still in business. 

Desktop Computer.   A good desktop is cheap, about $800 to $1300 including a 19" monitor. You can get a 17" flat panel monitor for about $400 more than a 19" CRT. This seems expensive until you see the increase in desk space and usability.  A 17"  LCD flat panel gives about the same view as a regular 19" monitor.  I use a 17" LCD from ViewSonic and love it.  

Ever lust for the ultimate desktop computer?  If so, here it is.  Alienware builds state of the art machines for gamers. Each version is stocked with the absolute fastest, coolest components.  They aren't cheap, but neither is a Porsche.

 Alienware - Ultimate Gaming PC


I want a bigger monitor, to go with the new Alienware I'm lusting for, although they are still pretty expensive.  An 18" flat panel goes for $700 to more than $1500.  I'll look around and do a whole page on these soon.  Check the page, under construction, here.

Buy or Lease.   The computer is your most expensive piece of equipment.  If you lease, go top of the line.  Otherwise you'll start thinking about a new one halfway through the lease, and feel like you are stuck.  You need to be happy with it for the term of the lease.  

The three year lease on my current laptop just ran out. It's a fine computer, the absolute top of the line when I got it. I'll probably get another year out of it.

Dell has good lease programs, and a variety of tools to make the home office go.  See the Dell Home Office Storefront.

Backup.   The usual method is to use Zip discs, rewritable CDs, or floppies.  Works great if you remember to back up, do it correctly, and don't lose or damage the discs. You  must also store backups off site -- away from the office where they won't be destroyed in a fire or flood.

More Stuff.   You still need software, a printer, a copier, fax machine and other peripherals. How about a web page? Click the links above for some ideas.