There are so many dazzling high-tech gadgets on the market these days, it can be hard to separate the nice-to-have and want-to-have from the must-have. But all those shiny new boxes shouldn't distract you from the three essential technologies detailed here.
A Good Backup System
The computer is the greatest labor-saving device ever invented by humans--until it crashes. Then it's the spawn of Satan.
The best way to prevent the irretrievable loss of data is to make sure you have a good backup system. It may be the least sexy topic in all of computing, but a good backup plan can save you from certain catastrophe. The first line of defense is the automatic backup feature offered by most newer versions of operating systems. (In Microsoft Windows 7, it's a feature in the Control Panel labeled Backup and Restore. In the Mac's OS, the function is called Time Machine.)
These applications automatically back up your computer at a preset time, storing the files on another disk (such as an external hard drive, a disk on a network, or a thumb drive).
Older versions of the Windows and Mac operating systems don't include an automatic backup feature, but you can buy add-on software that will do the job for you. Programs such as NovaBackup (www.novastor .com), Genie Backup Manager (www .genie9.com), and Acronis Backup & Recovery (www.acronis.com) cost about $50 and can be configured to automatically back up your entire computer at designated intervals.
But to make your backup plan truly fail-safe, it's best to have a backup system that's not in the same location as your computer--a backup to your backup. After all, if your computer is stolen or destroyed in a fire, chances are the external drive containing your backup data will also be missing or damaged if it was nearby. The solution: Several services now let you back up your computer "in the cloud," that is, on remote servers that you can access over the Internet.
One such service called Mozy (www.mozy.com), prices its monthly plans according to how much storage space you need. Mozy charges $5.99 a month to store 50GB--roughly equivalent to 6 million email messages, 7,500 photos, 8,500 music files or 1,000 videos. A 125GB plan costs $9.99 a month. (CrashPlan (www.crashplan.com) is another service with similar pricing.)
Considering the value of all the work sitting on your computer, paying less than ten bucks a month to ensure that it's not lost forever seems like a small price. Plus, you'll never again have to call your computer a spawn of Satan.
A Better Internet Presence
Lawyers who wouldn't dream of having a messy or uninviting public entrance to their office often don't apply the same level of care to their Internet presence. But to many would-be clients these days, you are who your website says you are.
Lawyers who still don't have any Web presence basically don't exist to anyone under age 35. Having a website is the 21st-century equivalent of having a business card--and you know what you think of people who don't have business cards. (For more on Internet strategies, see "Market Yourself!".)
Fortunately, setting up a basic website has never been easier. Google runs a free service called Google Sites (www.google.com/sites) where even attorneys with no coding skills can build a business website. If that's too much hassle, you can hire a web developer to create and maintain a site for you. (Prices vary, but it's not hard to find a developer that will host your site for $10 to $20 a month.)
In addition to having a website, you should be a member of a social media site such as LinkedIn. It takes only a few minutes to set up an online profile that colleagues and would-be clients can access; just sketch in your background, areas of practice, and contact information. More ambitious attorneys may want to consider starting a weblog or using Twitter to build up their online presence. But a word of warning: It's better not to blog or tweet at all than to have a languishing blog or Twitter account that hasn't been updated for six months.
Of course, your Web presence cuts both ways. If an Internet search for your name turns up information that's unflattering or damaging to your reputation, you may want to check Reputation.com. This service helps you groom your online image--within reason. For $10.95 a month it will manage your online reputation and improve your rankings in Google search results. The price goes up for more difficult tasks, such as suppressing a false or misleading review. Of course, if the information you object to has made its way into major news articles or court records, it's probably on the Internet to stay.
A Scanner and Online Fax Service
Let's face it--lawyers murder trees. Tons of paper, millions of trees. It's hard to think of a class of people that are more dangerous to forests than attorneys, except for maybe lumberjacks. And even then, most lumberjacks don't work nights and weekends.
It's too late to bring back the trees you've already killed off with all of the paper you go through every week, but the purchase of a good scanner can significantly reduce your culpability going forward. A scanner turns paper documents into electronic files, making the information easier to work with and significantly reducing office clutter.
For best results, shop for a scanner that can handle multipage, double-sided scanning, so that virtually any document you come across can easily be converted into an electronic file. (There's more information about going paperless in Practical Tips.)
If you also sign up for an online fax service, you'll be able to send and receive electronic documents as faxes without using paper, toner--or a fax machine. Services such as MyFax (www.myfax.com) and GreenFax (www.greenfax.com) charge you $10 to $15 a month for the ability to send and receive faxes through your computer. All you need is an Internet connection and an email account.
Of course, some lawyers may round out their must-have technologies list with a smart phone, a laptop, an MP3 player, and that totally super-cool iDrive vehicle control system found only in BMWs. But making sure you have these basics will save you a lot of time, money, and aggravation. Plus, trees won't weep when you whiz past.