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Introduction

It's important to recognize opportunities to streamline a workflow or make collaboration easier. The challenge is sorting through the fluff and marketing doublespeak to find actual solutions that work. For this, I advise you to seek out the right software rather than letting them find you through solicitations.

Computer hardware

Let's just say I have a problem: I only work with awesome computer hardware. My office workstation is a custom built system with a 12-core Xeon and dual GPU's running Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Although I can't run Windows except in a virtual machine, it meets all of my requirements and runs two displays. One display is for me, the other is for clients to look at without having to move from their seats. Overall, it's very effective and I wouldn't do anything differently next time. My recommendation is to have a desktop and laptop so that you can bring your laptop to client facilities, court, etc. in order to have internet access and remote file access. Otherwise, what is the point of visiting a client?

CRM systems

There are many Customer Relationship Management systems out there. I use a custom CRM system that I wrote as a web application because I was not satisfied with the Salesforce demo that I looked at. Whatever system you use should have several features: (1) task and project management, (2) shared contact history and case summaries, (3) file server access, and (4) profile pages for each user where they can see their active tasks. Other desirable features include automatic reminder emails, automatic task prioritization/precedence, and the ability to track bills and time spent.

Case management

A few options here. You could use a commercial system such as Rocket Lawyer or Clio. However, these lock you in to their ecosystem and they control your data. My recommendation is a local web application that offers you the ability to customize your case management system with any number of features you want.

Email providers

While your own email server is desirable, it's often better to have a commercial provider host your email. I personally run the G Suite of applications from Google, and we primarily use it for email. The email system is advanced enough that we have numerous capabilities but basic enough that individual users can configure their own preferences as appropriate. One thing you want to avoid is using a shared email server such as DreamHost for email. Their mail servers are constantly getting blacklisted due to the large volume of email originating from those IP addresses. I had enough of that, so I switched to Google and I'm very happy with it.

File servers

Your own file server is critical because it lets you have complete control over access to attorney-client privileged matter. The challenge is upkeep and maintenance. For most people I would recommend a Windows Server-based solution that the attorney can manage himself or herself. For advanced solutions, Red Hat Enterprise Linux is suitable.

Web hosting

You must have a reliable web presence that loads quickly. I personally use DreamHost for web hosting, primarily due to the inertia of being a customer since 2004. There are other options, but DreamHost is pretty good.

Remote access

The easy way is to set up a private website with password protection where members of the firm can log in and access the complete file server through a web browser. This requires a SSL certificate among other things. It works great. The hard way is setting up something like Citrix, which requires a software purchase and other prerequisites.

Software for daily use

Microsoft Office is standard. However, I use Adobe Creative Cloud (specifically, InDesign) to generate all documents for a better overall experience and more customized looks. I'm happy with this approach because the typography and layout, and graphics, are far superior to Word.

Lexis v. Westlaw

These guys are in a battle to the death over who has more clients and a better platform. I can tell you this: Lexis has better deals and ends up costing less money for a small law firm. As for whose online platform is better, it's a crap shoot. I have used both and there's not a huge difference. However, Westlaw in California has the Rutter Group practice guides which are excellent. Lexis has Matthew Bender, but California Forms of Pleading and Practice doesn't have the same focus as each of the Rutter Group titles. The best balance overall in terms of value, I think, is having Rutter Group practice guides in print and Lexis online.


Last updated: July 6, 2018

© 2018 Andrew G. Watters

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