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Law technology exhibitions are often concerned with the LOOF, the Law Office of the Future. Although prognostication is fun, we usually prefer to write about the LOHN, the Law Office of the Here and Now. This week, we offer, particularly for computer novices, our view of what law offices, and particularly smaller law offices, will be buying in coming months. (Large law offices, of course, tend to retain high-priced consultants who can make their own mistakes, without taking our advice.) We mostly won’t deal with specific products but will try to give an overview of product types and things to look for. BASIC HARDWARE Computers, as usual, are getting smaller, faster and less expensive. Figure to spend about $500 to $700 for a base new computer, with several hundred dollars more if you wish to bundle a monitor and printer. We like the Apple Macintosh computers as well, but, alas, lawyers and most other business users just have not taken to the Macs, and most law office software is not written for the Macs. For these columns, we concentrate on the Wintel stuff. We seldom push the envelope on computer speed. Today, we prefer a 500 to 600 MHz Pentium III or AMD K6-2 microprocessor, rather than the 800 MHz to 1 Ghz (that’s gigahertz for 1000 faster than megahertz) PIII or AMD Athalon machines that are available. Of course, the new Wintel desktop computer will probably come with Microsoft Windows 98 or 2000 and a minimum of 64 megabytes of RAM (random access memory), although 96 or 128 megabytes doesn’t cost a lot more and is well worth the upgrade. (A comparable laptop computer may only have 32 megabytes; that is clearly not enough. Assume an upgrade to at least 64 megabytes before you buy.) The computer will probably come with a floppy disk drive, a 10-gigabyte or larger hard drive, an SVGA video card with eight megabytes of RAM, a 20X or faster CD-ROM reader and a V90 nominal 56K modem. If you are going to use the computer on your firm’s LAN (local area network) or non-dialup Internet connection, try to substitute a network interface card for the modem. A DVD drive that reads discs that hold six times the data of a CD-ROM not to mention the latest motion pictures, or a CDRW drive that lets you write as well as read standard CD discs and read, write and erase and rewrite on special CD discs may be reasonable substitutions for the standard CD ROM drive. All of the above, plus keyboard and a mouse-pointing device, a couple of USB (Universal Serial Bus) ports and such should be easily available. Fifteen-inch color computer displays used to be standard. A 17-inch display gives the user substantially more visual real estate and is typically available in the $200 price range, well worth the money to avoid eye strain. (Special glasses focused at about 16 inches are useful for anyone who wears glasses and spends a lot of computer time.) Inexpensive non-color laser printers rated at 3,000 or 5,000 pages per month are available in the $500 range. If you want a lower- capacity printer, try an inkjet with color capability for $300 to $500. (We have yet to review the color lasers, but they do beautiful work for under $2000 in base configuration if you plan on printing a lot of color pages.) Add a scanner, preferably with an ADF (automatic document feeder) and an OCR (optical character recognition) program that converts images on the page to text in the word processor, and suddenly anything prepared by others that comes into the office — draft contracts, interrogatories or legal forms, for example — is available for recycling. Finally, every computer system should have some means of backing up data in anticipation of that date when your computer’s hard drive goes down. If you’re on a LAN, the LAN administrator could and should handle both system and workstation backup. If you’re not, a tape drive, a zip drive or even that CDR mentioned above can do the job. SOFTWARE Any computer these days should have an office suite consisting of a word processor, an electronic spreadsheet, a presentation program, a database program and a personal information manager. In some respects the Lotus Millennium Office Suite is better than either Microsoft Office 2000 or Corel’s Law Office 2000 suites, but we suspect that more lawyers use Apple Macintosh than the Lotus product. The Microsoft/ Corel battle is much closer, although most of the new computer users seem to be buying the Microsoft product, with most of the Corel users old WordPerfect fans who wouldn’t know what to do without WordPerfect’s “reveal codes” feature. Whether you acquire Microsoft Word for Windows (Winword) or Corel WordPerfect for Windows (WPWin), Excel or Quattro Pro electronic spreadsheets, PowerPoint or Corel Presentations, Access or Paradox, Outlook or Corel Central, you will have, for a few hundred dollars, a quality set of office tools you can use to draft letters and contracts, analyze an investment or track auto expenses, put together an impressive presentation for client or jury, organize all of the facts and documents surrounding suit and track important names, address, phone numbers and dates and a lot more. Add a cost-free version of Netscape Communicator or, more likely, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer to access the World Wide Web, and you’ll have a powerful and versatile computer system. LAW-SPECIFIC SOFTWARE All lawyers should have some way of tracking hours spent on client matters, for billing if the firm bills on a time basis or for case-profitability evaluation if the billing is on some other basis. The back office will have some sort of accounting program. And litigators, particularly, need a docket and case-manager system. The personal information manager in the office suite may be sufficient for the solo practitioner or very small firm, but a specially designed program to store information about all of the people, facts, documents and events relating to each case in the office makes the practice of law a lot easier than it used to be. Related are document-management systems that know about every document created in the office — and if you have a good scanner and OCR system every document that comes into the office — and cut across case lines. These programs not only help to keep track of versions of the same document for drafting and collaborative purposes but also enable the user to find that contract, a few years ago, that may serve as background for a similar deal being created today or that memo summarizing hours of legal research from last year, on exactly the same point of law at issue this year. INTERNET In the past, lawyers typically accessed the Internet on a dialup telephone, and the two basic lawyer activities on the Internet used to be e-mail and access of costly databases such as Lexis and Westlaw. A T-1 or larger high-speed Internet connection was simply too expensive for any but the larger firm and the dialup too slow for keeping large amounts of data on the Web. Today, relatively high-speed, persistent, always-on connections, through either cable TV cables or telephone DSL lines, are beginning to come online. We have no doubt that a year from now most lawyers in populated areas will be using these high-speed connections from both home and office, making it practical to use the offerings of ASP (application service provider) vendors who charge users a monthly fee to use Web-based software to accomplish the basic law-office functions we’ve discussed. And all of the data will be available wherever you can get an Internet connection. Although we worry about what may happen the first time a lawyer ASP goes into bankruptcy and subscriber law firms have difficulty retrieving and using data needed for the upcoming trial or worse, for the end-of-the-month billing, we think that lawyers will be using the ASPs in a big way. Of course, we’ll be tracking both ASP and traditional software in these pages each week. Barry D. Bayer practices law and writes about computers from his office in Homewood, Ill. You may send comments or questions to his new e-mail address [email protected] or write c / o Law Office Technology Review, P.O. Box 2577, Homewood, Ill. 60430.

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