Denver Bar Association
September 2006
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The Job’s Easy with the Right Tools

by Doug McQuiston

Last month, we discussed ways to break out of the Paper Prison. We reviewed your software needs, and now we will address hardware. Let’s start from the assumption that you already have a "recent vintage" laptop (defined below), and that your support staff all have recent vintage desktop PCs. Note: If your computer still has a green screen, stop reading this and go straight to the local CompUSA for an upgrade!

I consider "recent vintage" to be any laptop or desktop purchased within the last three years. It will suffice, though just barely, and should have certain minimum requirements:

  • Pentium III processor, (faster is better, so you will want to consider upgrading if you’re still running PIII);

  • 256 MB memory (512 preferred, 1G or more is better still);

  • Primary hard drive space of at least 1G (you’ll need more, and storage is cheap — 4G or better would be preferred, and you can inexpensively load your laptop with up to 100G);

  • Video card with 800x600 resolution or better;

  • Windows 2000 or XP;

  • XGA display, large enough to display documents clearly (14" or larger);

  • "Combo-drive" CD-RW (CD read-write) and DVD player;

  • Internet access, preferably high-speed; and

  • A wireless Internet access card or internal wireless capability.

Note: It is beyond this article’s space, and my technical expertise (minimal at best) to talk about the myriad techie details that go into setting up a good office network. So, if you are a solo practitioner, you will want to consider investing in a computer consultant to set up your systems.

To advance to a digital file stage (note that I don’t say "paperless"; despite how digital you will become, you still will be handling paper), you will need to invest in a few other pieces of hardware. My best advice: don’t scrimp! Cheap hardware is cheap for a reason. This stuff is mission-critical, so invest in good-quality, up-to-date equipment, and get what you need — in the long run, it will pay off.

First, how will you store your digital files? They all may fit on one hard drive; after all, storage is so cheap many laptops now come with 100G or more storage capacity as standard equipment. You also can order your laptop with multiple hard drives, or even an external hard drive as a backup. Although all of your casefile information might fit onto one hard drive, you should religiously back it all up, daily if possible, weekly at a minimum, and should develop a practice of keeping at least one backup copy offsite.

Many firms use "RAID arrays," (Redundant Array of Independent Disks). To your computer, the RAID array looks like one huge hard drive, so when data is created by, or stored on, your computer it is simultaneously stored on all of the drives. This can increase processing speed, search speeds,
data security and recovery. If one drive crashes, most RAID arrays work to seamlessly route to the functioning drives, allowing you to switch out the bad drive with no interruption in service or loss of data (http://www.pcguide.com/ref/hdd/perf/raid/).

Next: data security. The RAID approach can serve this end, but you will want to store copy of your data offsite in secure setting, so if all of your computers "crash" or are unuseable for some reason (a fire at the office, water damage, etc.), your data is still secure and can be restored instantly with replacement equipment. Devices such as removable hard drives, tape drives, flash drives, etc. can serve this function, as can a large number of offsite secure data storage firms that will act as a data storage warehouse for a fee. Whatever you decide, be sure you have a full copy of all of your data offsite on a daily, or at least a weekly basis. Nothing helps avoid sleepless nights better than the knowledge that your data is also resting comfortably, offsite, in a secure environment.

How do you get all of this paper into your computer? Since you can’t just fold it and put it on the CD-ROM carriage, you need a scanner. However, the typical desktop "flatbed" scanner is not going to work. There are many digital multi-function machines that will cost about as much as an old analog copier, and will scan, fax, copy and laser-print all in one. Buy one of these to replace your copier and actually save money! It will need to be fast, TWAIN compatible, have a sheet-feeder, and be capable of handling large documents as a single file. It also needs to be "networked" to your computers and file storage array so documents scanned can be instantly routed to the digital file room or to an attorney, paralegal, etc. by e-mail.

A handy scanning solution is to have the scanner coupled with a networked computer right there at the scanning station, such as ClientProfiles’ "eRouter" (http://www.clientprofiles.com/eRouter.asp). This allows you to scan a document, clean it up or re-order it as necessary, then route it right to the digital file folder, or to others for review and action, without leaving the scanning station.

That’s essentially all you’ll need to go digital. Do you want to take it to the next level of mobility? Well, we’ll have to talk about that next month.

Next month: The Mobile Warrior: Carrying your PC on your belt!


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