It’s tough to start a business, especially for the non-tech savvy. Everything these days revolves around technology and if you don’t use it to your advantage, firm efficiency hangs in the balance. I get a lot of calls from attorneys looking to start their own law practices in search of technical guidance. I coach attorneys on what technologies to avoid, what to embrace and what to look out for. Due to our massive experience with law firm startups it’s easy for us to choose the right technologies depending on the startup budget. We believe in affordable solutions that lower support need. If your calling support, your not billing your clients. Support is important if needed, but the solution should not call for more than 1 call every 3-6 months.
If your an attorney toying with the idea of starting your own practice, please consider the following…
You need office phones, you need a main extension or 800 number and VOIP is the way to go. Buying a phone system is so 2005. With a hosted VOIP system you pay monthly for ever and never have to worry about expensive installations or downtime. Your system is guaranteed to work as VOIP carriers offer an SLA for all services, plus you can take your phone anywhere in the world, plug it into a network jack and get dial tone. You can setup an automated attendant and pretty much configure your system to do anything you want including forward to your cell. Hosted VOIP systems are dependable, affordable and fully customization. I like Vonage Business because the support is US based and the service is excellent. Avoid Ring Central, and any of those VOIP systems in Costco or BJ’s.
You probably need a fax solution. Don’t buy a physical phone line from a local carrier like Verizon and have them install it in your office & don’t buy a fax machine. Instead go for an online fax service. With this service you can send and receive faxes via email, and since this is all electronic you can even send and receive faxes through your mobile device. Distribution groups can be organized within your email system so the right people get the firm faxes too. You can do all of this for almost the same cost of having a Verizon line in your office. We like eFax and Vonage’s fax solution. Again, avoid Ring Central.
The truth is that more people are moving toward the cloud, and for good reason. The cloud will offer you the ability to work from anywhere, at anytime and from any device. It brings versatility, security, and anonymity to your firm. I’ve found it to be most affordable for startup law firms of 5 or more. I’ve also seen that the cost can be burdensome for solo or dual attorney firms just starting out without a good client book. It’s a solution that will grow with your firm as your firm grows, infinitely. It’s versatility has no equal. Startup fees for a traditional server can be up to $5,000 plus monthly backup, monitoring & support fees. Avoid this and look toward the cloud.
Avoid Google and all other non-Microsoft email solutions. Avoid free email solutions as well. Get yourself a Hosted Exchange account through Sherweb or Intermedia or if you must, go with Office 365. We like Hosted Exchange because the support is better and vendors offer unlimited mailbox storage. Alternatively, Office 365 support is terrible and has a 50GB mailbox limitation. They also have massive global outages, we just don’t like the risks involved with Office 365, it’s a huge target in the hacker community and I don’t want my clients associated with it.
Internet & Office Space Location
I lump internet & office space location together because your office location dictates your internet speed and options. Don’t discount the speed of your internet being a serious deciding factor when looking to lease or purchase office space. Taking a space where the building only offers DSL means no cloud or VOIP services for your firm. These services are very internet intensive and require decent bandwidth. Even if you did want a traditional IT setup with a phone system and non-cloud services, this means if you ever change you mind, your building’s limitations will limit future firm decisions and growth. You want at least cable internet, and at least 20MB up. If your fortunate enough to get Google Fiber or Fios, get it as it is the fastest and most reliable in the country. If your building only offers a commercial grade WiFi service like AT&T U-Verse, move… This is popular in California and the Mid-West, the speeds are terrible and simple internet browsing is a nightmare.
Office Space Wiring
Once your settled on an office space you still have to consider office wiring. Each office need 2 network jacks, not 1. You need one for your PC and one for your VOIP phone, maybe a third for a multi-function printer. Many firms piggyback their computers through their VOIP phones because they have only 1 network jack in their office. Please avoid this. Your VOIP phone can bottleneck your browsing speed, cloud speed and destroy your network integrity if and when the VOIP phone starts to die. Resolve this by making sure you have 2 jacks in every office. Also if the space is not wired, push your landlord to wire your space or pay for you to hire an outside vendor. Often the landlord will pay all or half so it’s always worth asking. Also, don’t forget to plan for copiers and large scale network printers within the office. Let your wiring person know the future locations of these devices so ethernet and power can be installed. Finally, don’t depend on WiFi as your primary network source, please wire your office. WiFi is not as secure, and you will have speed issues depending on the size of your office and the age of the building. Nothing beats a wired internet connection.
Subletting Office Space
Many of our New York firms sublet space from larger firms. This offers the subtenant, you, shared internet connectivity. This is not a problem if the sharing is done right. Remember, you want to remain anonymous on the network, you don’t want anyone to see your computers, servers, or files. Basically you want to protect yourself from other subtenants and your landlord. To do this, each tenant has to have a segment on the network devoted to them. Many IT companies don’t do this and I really don’t know why. No worries, get yourself an IT company, perhaps Rekall ;), and they can do this for you without messing around with your landlord’s network. Alternatively you can always purchase your own internet and setup your own network within the office. The setup is easy and it will offer your firm the highest degree of security.
I hope these tips helped. If I missed anything please let me know in the comments below.