This is the eighth yearly edition for the Solo and Small Firm Technology Guide by Sharon Nelson, John Simek and Michael Maschke. There are also very useful chapters by Jennifer Ellis on social media and in particular security, privacy and ethics considerations in using them and on the "iPad for Litigators" by Tom Mighell and Paul Unger.
Why should you read this book? There are two reasons. Obviously if you are starting up a small firm or considering upgrades it provides invaluable advice. There is a second reason, perhaps even more important. As Jim Calloway notes in his introduction, the ABA revised its Model Rules to require that lawyers be competent with the technology tools they must use today. If you sometimes wonder whether the technology you use is actually productive for your firm or if you are losing ground to competing firms, reading this book will bring you up to speed and give you a pretty good idea of where your firm stands from a technology point of view, even if you choose not to make changes. Once, when I was working a law firm I proposed to one of the name partners that the firm adopt a particular program. He thought about it, and then said, “no, I don’t think we can do that at this time, but keep the suggestions coming because every program I don’t use represents a potential competitive advantage for competing firms.” Good advice.
Sharon Nelson sums it up even more harshly:
“The raw choice is that lawyers must choose between adaption and extinction. They will no doubt choose the former en masse, but reluctantly. The slower lawyers are to adapt to the digital age, the harder it may be for them to survive as events overtake them.”
This is particularly important in the rapidly-changing area of social media and dealing with the implications of the fact that there is no privacy any more (the combination of Google, Facebook and the NSA has effectively eliminated privacy). Be sure to read Jennifer Ellis’ chapter attentively.
As the authors note, since the book comes out at the beginning of every year many chapters remain current, other items are only a few months behind (although it seems longer than that in Internet time).
The thing I have always appreciated about this book is that the authors actually have opinions and are not afraid to express them. Of course, it also helps that by and large I agree with them, although with the occasional caveat. In addition, they cover what is necessary for a complete office starting from scratch – hardware, operating systems, peripherals, printers, scanners, monitors, etc. If you follow their recommendations you may not make the best decision possible, but you won’t make a bad one. The perfect is the enemy of the good.
The only point I have a serious problem with this year is their recommendation of Kaspersky internet security. I switched to Kaspersky last year and when it came to upgrade to the 2015 version it was a disaster. It regularly choked on downloading Outlook messages (I am not using Exchange) and would not release the memory. As a result I had to reboot my computer two or three times a day. A call to the paid Kaspersky support (which was very good) wound up with their saying “nothing we can do about it.” So I had to switch to a different program.
A friend of mine used to say “every year I know 10% more and fall 15% further behind.” Reviewing software is like that. The book simply cannot provide detailed reviews of software, so the authors stress the need to get trial versions of anything you are planning to use and "kick the tires" a bit.
The book rightly pays a lot of attention to security issues, especially for mobile devices. They quote the rather amazing statistic that 12,000 laptops were stolen in U.S. airports every week in 2011 (with Chicago in the lead). At the same time, they are realistic ("we know so many lawyers will ignore our advice...") and offer fall-back options that may at least deter casual hackers or simple thieves who grab your laptop or smartphone. They strongly recommend against using iPhones based on its woefully inadequate security provisions. They rightly insist that the main way to protect your data is to encrypt your entire hard drive. If you do any substantial traveling not to do this is like never locking your door. You should definitely change passwords periodically (they refer to a judge who has had the same password for 10 years!!) or use a password manager or program such as eWallet. I just bought eWallet based on their recommendation and so far have been very happy with it.
I thought the section on Time & Billing applications was somewhat weak (although I certainly agree that QuickBooks is not a good choice for lawfirms). You might want to consult the "Buyer’s Guide to Legal Billing Software" published by Technolawyer for more choices (you need to subscribe to Technolawyer to get it, but subscriptions are free). I agree with their assessment of the decline of LexisNexis products, first and foremost Time Matters. They note that they have not done a single new installation in about 10 years.
Lastly, the book contains a chapter on "favorite utilities" which can be useful. Note however some more industrial strength programs may include functionality provided by single-function utilities. Thus for example, the using Worldox document management system would eliminate the need for a separate indexer or viewer.
The book is available from the ABA store. If you are starting an office, are at a point where you need to make a decision about where to go next, or just to want to keep up to date on what is currently available, this will be an invaluable primer.