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For small firms and solo practitioners, the Internet is the great equalizer. Firms with one employee or a thousand can handle legal research, electronic filing, marketing and communications equally. In the year 2004, this is not news. But what is amazing is that there are still lawyers practicing out there who barely utilize the features the Internet can offer them. For those lagging behind, here’s a brief primer on what firms, big and small, should be doing. All lawyers should have high-speed access to the Internet, and by high speed I don’t mean the latest 56K modem. While the big firms have T1 or greater connections to the Internet, small firms can get an equivalent connection by using a cable modem or DSL line. Both offer extremely fast Internet connections and also offer the advantage of being constantly connected. Costs for this type of service can range from as low as $35 a month if you are operating a solo practice from your home to several hundred dollars for a larger firm needing business class service. Contact your local cable company or local phone company to compare the options available and the costs involved. Equipment needed for a high-speed connection is minimal and is often provided at little or no cost by the provider. Each computer will need a network card, but these are standard in most new machines anyway, and cost from $15 to $45 if you do need to purchase one. If you are sharing your office with someone else, you can use a router to split the connection to different computers, although you may need to check with your provider first. Many office buildings provide high-speed connections for their tenants as well, where users can share the costs and reap the benefits of large buying power. Check with your building’s operations to see if this is a possibility. DOMAIN OF YOUR OWN Once your high-speed connection is established, you also need your own domain name. Using a free e-mail account, such as one from Yahoo or Hotmail is fine for personal use, but a business needs a business address. It looks much more professional to have an e-mail sent to your attention @yourfirmname.com than it does having it sent to @yahoo.com. Fortunately, you can often get your own domain name and e-mail hosting through your high-speed Internet connection. Depending upon your level of service, there may not be an additional cost, or if there is, it is nominal. If you prefer, you can also use a service such as GoDaddy (www.godaddy.com), Network Solutions (www.networksolutions.com) or other domain name registrars that provide a variety of e-mail services. For only a couple of dollars a month, plus the cost of registering the domain name, you can have your e-mail forwarded to whatever actual address you prefer. Or for a few more dollars, you can have a fully functioning e-mail system under your own domain, accessible from your machine, or through Web e-mail from any computer connected to the Internet. Of course, you could set up your own e-mail server in your office, but then you are responsible for its maintenance. By using an outside service, it’s someone else’s responsibility to make sure the system is working properly. WEB PRESENCE While not absolutely necessary, it’s not a bad idea to take the next step and create a Web site for your practice. While the number of clients actually retained because they found a lawyer on the Internet is minimal, having a Web site will enhance your image for existing and prospective clients. The same providers mentioned above can host your site for as little as $5 a month, and they even provide tools to create your site. There is no need to hire professional Web designers unless you really want to spend the money on a fancy, unique site. By using the tools provided by the service you choose, a professional presentation of your practice is easily achieved. If you do create a site, make sure it provides some value to the person viewing it. While posting information about your practice and the types of cases you handle is important, if viewers can take some information with them, they may remember you when they need a lawyer to handle a particular matter. SECURITY As the MyDoom worm and its variants pollute the Internet, no discussion would be complete without the issue of security. Anti-virus software is, of course, the first step. All machines should be protected with current software using the latest definitions. Symantec’s Norton Antivirus, McAfee and Sophos are among the leading anti-virus software. But protection does not stop there. Since you are now on a high-speed Internet connection, you are essentially on a large network of connected computers. It is imperative that you also use some type of firewall software to protect your machine from unauthorized entry or takeover. Many virus programs don’t damage your machine but use it to send out e-mail and other messages designed to bring down computer systems elsewhere. By using a firewall, you can help prevent these types of attacks. Many of the anti-virus companies provide complete packages, which protect you from viruses, spam and intrusions. And don’t forget to always install your Windows updates. Microsoft periodically issues these critical notifications to prevent or seal attacks on your computer. Windows XP and 2000 have automatic update features, but it is best to check periodically yourself by clicking on the Windows Updates button on your Start menu, or going to Microsoft’s Windows update Web site, http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com. Brian R. Harris is the database administrator for the American Lawyer Media Pennsylvania division and the former editor-in-chief of The Legal Intelligencer. Harris can be contacted at [email protected].

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