Iâ€™m presenting before a very small group of new solo practitioners tonight. Theyâ€™ve formed a support group to help one another deal with the hassles and cope with the emotions of starting a solo practice. Itâ€™s an innovative idea implemented by Erik Mazzone, our North Carolina Bar Association, Practice Management Advisor. Iâ€™m thrilled to be able to help.
Iâ€™m going to suggest that they keep it simple when it comes to technology and that they avoid buying a bunch of stuff. Iâ€™m sure there are many alternatives to my suggestions, but I donâ€™t want to overwhelm people with choices so Iâ€™ve deliberately narrowed the field.
Hereâ€™s my list of suggestions -
First on my list is a laptop. The laptop makes you more mobile than the desktop. Iâ€™m a Mac fan, but I think itâ€™s reasonable to select a Mac or PC. Iâ€™d suggest spending about $1,500 on the Mac or $1,000 on the PC. Youâ€™ll end up with something comparable at those price points. By the time you add virus protection and a bit of software to the PC the gap will narrow, but ultimately this is a personal preference thing.
Iâ€™d add a laser printer next. Iâ€™ve had good luck with a small laser printer by Brother that cost about $100. There are plenty of good units out there and Iâ€™d focus on keeping it cheap. Iâ€™d also suggest a scanner. Youâ€™ll want to start this new practice paperless and a decent scanner is essential. Iâ€™m in love with the Fujitsu Scansnap S1500. It works like a charm and comes in a Mac or PC version.
Next up is a phone. Youâ€™ve got to have a smartphone for your practice. Get an iPhone if you can tolerate AT&T. Get the latest Droid from Verizon (this month itâ€™s the Incredible) if AT&T is awful in your area. Get an unlimited plan and start calling people to drum up some business. Iâ€™d also add a layer to the phone system and sign up for a hosted PBX service so I can route calls, add staff (eventually) and give my clients the sense that thereâ€™s more going on here than me and a cell phone. Phonebooth and Grasshopper would be my first choices.
Your going to need a website for your new practice. To keep it simple, Iâ€™d register my domain at GoDaddy and build a website with SquareSpace. You canâ€™t make it much easier, or less expensive, than this combination.
Mail is an important part of running a solo practice. Itâ€™s central to much of what we do. Iâ€™d suggest buying a postage scale and some stamps. If that feels overly simple then Iâ€™d suggest Stamps.com for postage and SimpleCertifiedMail.com for sending certified letters.
I really think itâ€™s important to start your practice off with a case management system. I certainly donâ€™t want you to run out and buy a server and load it up with expensive software. Iâ€™d suggest considering the three key players in small firm, hosted, case management arena – Clio, Rocketmatter, and Advologix. Iâ€™m partial to Advologix because itâ€™s built on Force.com (the platform for the very successful and well-funded Salesforce.com).
While those are all good systems I think they have plenty of room to grow and are struggling to keep up with some of the rapid development of the non-legal systems. Iâ€™d carefully consider CentralDesktop.com and thatâ€™s probably what Iâ€™d encourage a brand new solo to use given the current state of the market.
In addition to a hosted cased management system, there are several other software applications Iâ€™d employ. Iâ€™d purchase a copy of Microsoft Office (some solos I know have purchased the student license during school and are still using it). Iâ€™d rather use Google Docs for all my wordprocessing and spreadsheets, but youâ€™ll likely find that you need Office to deal with some of what you get from clients and opposing counsel.
My email sysem of choice would be Gmail. Iâ€™d go ahead and sign up for the Google Apps for Business package that will allow you to use your firm domain name as your email address rather than using a gmail address. If you have some issue with using Gmail, then Iâ€™d look at Rackspace. Another option, and this is what Iâ€™d probably do, is to hook up with DNAmail. They can set you up with Google Apps or Hosted Exchange email. Theyâ€™ll handle the setup for you.
When you get some revenues flowing Iâ€™d manage my time and billing and accounting using the case management system I selected (if you go that route) and Iâ€™d add Freshbooks or QuickbooksOnline to handle anything not handled by the other system.
Beyond all that, Iâ€™d sign up for a fax account with myfax or efax so that some dinosaur lawyers can send you faxes. Iâ€™d also get an account with SugarSync, Box.net or Dropbox for use as my file storage repository and for automatic backups of my laptop.
I think that will get you started. You might, of course, need some practice specific software. For instance, in my practice we use a child support calculator and a tax analysis program. Eventually, youâ€™ll want a document assembly product and you may, depending on your state, need a legal research product. Some bar associations provide Fastcase for free.
Iâ€™ll remind folks that they can always buy more stuff down the road. Personally I belong to the “guy that dies with the most gadgets wins club”, but Iâ€™d like you to survive your first year so Iâ€™m discouraging buying everything in sight.