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We are in the midst of a broad-based, global-information technology recession. Rapidly declining consumer confidence coupled with a dramatic decrease in corporate spending on technology has created a ripple effect for computer and technology-related companies. Downward pricing pressure is evident and the prices of hardware, software, peripherals and services are now at very attractive levels (from a consumer standpoint). Legal professionals should take advantage of this buyer’s market. Although prices may continue to drop in the short-term, firms now have a golden opportunity to increase the productivity and efficiency of their practices, catch up to corporate clients and better position themselves for the future. HARDWARE Most notebook computer users would like to take notes at meetings, depositions and trials, but often resort to traditional legal pads. The IBM ThinkPad TransNote portfolio notebook allows users to write with a digital pen on a digital notepad attached to an IBM ThinkPad. Handwritten notes and sketches are transferred to word processing, e-mail or presentation programs. With a Pentium III 600MHz processor, 128 MB of RAM and a 10GB hard drive, this gem will cost you about $3,000 ( www.ibm.com/thinkpad). If you are looking for a bargain on a power, mid-range or budget notebook, the falling prices on Dell’s Inspiron 8000, 4000 and 3800 models make the already popular systems even more enticing. All three models perform quite well and the Inspiron 8000 certainly has the power (850MHz Pentium III, 128MB of RAM, 20GB hard drive) to serve as a desktop replacement. In addition to price cuts, Dell is continuously promoting special offers on its Web site (for example, free Casio PDA, 128 MB of free RAM) ( www.dell.com). Although desktop prices have been plummeting, if you are looking for a bargain on a system using a Pentium 4 processor, wait a little longer — prices will inevitably drop as more manufacturers roll out systems using the P4. The Gateway E – 4600xl ( www.gateway.com) and Dell Dimension 8100 are among the most popular P4 systems (1.5GHz Pentium 4 processors, 128MB of RAM, 40GB hard drives, 19″ monitors and some nice extras). Due in part to their use of expensive types of memory, these systems are pricey at this time. However, prices on value desktops are extremely attractive. The Dell Optiplex, Compaq Deskpro EX ( www.compaq.com), IBM Netvista A20 and Micron ClientPro Cn ( www.micronpc.com) are examples of systems that can deliver excellent performance for most small- to medium-sized law firms or legal departments at a per-system cost of about $1,500. Networking is a complex topic and one size most definitely does not fit all. However, if your office is not networked, has a peer-to-peer network or has a need for more speed on its existing network, work-group and departmental-server technology is surprisingly affordable. The IBM Netfinity 5100 and Dell PowerEdge 2400 are both fine choices for the mid-sized work group. Expect to pay less than $10,000 for a server with a Pentium III 1GHz processor, 256MB RAM, Windows NT or 2000, mirrored hard drives, a tape backup unit, a UPS unit and a three year, same-day (four-hour-response) service (parts and labor) contract. Best of all, this is a great time for any type of project (upgrades, additions, training) because most of the networking firms are in a slow period (spending your money from the Y2k projects) and you can save on the technicians’ hourly rates. PERIPHERALS Although prices for laser printers have not decreased dramatically in recent months, there are a fair number of inexpensive options already available. The Brother HL-1240 ( www.brother.com) is a fast (12ppm), quiet, reliable and downright cheap ($299) stand-alone laser printer. In the small work-group environment, take a look at the network version of Lexmark’s Optra M412 ( www.lexmark.com). For about $850, you get a 17ppm printer with 1200-by-1200-dpi resolution. If you are in the market for a PDA (personal digital assistant) or an accessory for your PDA, the market is still developing. The Casio EM-500 Cassiopeia is a Pocket PC-a multimedia tool that provides the traditional PDA services (storing calendars, contacts, lists and memos), access to the Internet and e-mail, is loaded with Microsoft software (Word, Excel, Internet Explorer, Reader, Outlook and more) and plays video and MP3 formats in stereo. The cost is $499, but Casio currently is offering a $100 rebate ( www.casio.com/personalpcs/). SOFTWARE Obviously, the main reason for taking advantage of the widespread bargains on computer hardware is to make your software run better. Although the prices of software for legal professionals have not decreased dramatically in recent months, the best software is not all that expensive anyway. If your network/hardware vendor is your source for software, it is likely that your vendor will discount its markup on the software for you in conjunction with your hardware upgrades. Most law firms are familiar with the top products, but are slow to upgrade to the current versions and do a poor job of teaching personnel how to maximize use of a product’s features. Inexpensive but highly effective calendar and case-management programs include Time Matters ( www.timematters.com) and Amicus Attorney ( www.amicus.ca), both of which have links to Timeslips, PC Law, Tabs III and can be integrated with PDAs. Dell currently has a promotion offering discounted, pre-loaded Time Matters on desktops. Litigation support programs like Summation ( www.summation.com) and Concordance ( www.dataflight.com) provide an efficient means of information retrieval and are extremely valuable in document-intensive, protracted litigation. Likewise, document assembly and management programs, such as HotDocs ( www.capsoft.com) are inexpensive tools for even the solo practitioner to take advantage of. On the time, billing and accounting front, Timeslips ( www.timeslips.com) is an excellent, inexpensive and easy-to-use time and billing program that links to Time Matters, Abacus Law, Amicus Attorney and other case-management programs. Timeslips runs well in a network environment and can also be linked to many accounting programs. PCLaw, Jr. ( www.pclaw.com) is an integrated program for firms looking for one program for accounting, time and billing functions. Whether you upgrade any of your software or not, closely examine your firm’s virus protection and firewalls. Virus protection software is a necessity, but with the popularity of the Internet, intrusion detection software is equally important. Firewalls identify, check and filter internal and external packets of data. Building firewalls in your network requires expertise, so hire an experienced professional to handle this part of your system; there is more to it than loading software. Jeffrey Donofrio, of Ciulla and Donofrio in North Haven, Conn., is head of the Connecticut Bar Association’s Legal Technology Committee.

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