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?
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
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
- 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.
You need at least:
- Pentium IV or equivalent (AtMD)
- 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
- Network port.
- Firewire port -- to hook up external hard drives and other toys.
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.
decent desktop and a lighter, less expensive laptop, makes a
great configuration. You can actually buy both for the cost of a fully
A super-portable laptop weighs
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
still need software, a printer, a copier, fax machine and other
peripherals. How about a web page? Click the links above for some