Now more than ever, great technology tools – many especially designed for lawyers – are amazingly affordable if not free, tech-savvy lawyers advise. But don’t forget the crucial difference between “frugal” and “cheap.”
Smaller firms and solos in Illinois know the importance of making every penny count when outfitting their offices with technology. But that shouldn’t mean getting it on the cheap, say practitioners who have focused closely on the issue.
“Frugal does not mean cheap. You still have to have all the basics for your law firm,” says Marc Matheny, an Indianapolis-based solo practitioner in civil litigation, probate, and family law who’s part of a nine-attorney shared office, who presented at the 2013 ISBA Solo and Small Firm Conference in Itasca (see sidebar). On the other hand, said Matheny, “The one thing that you need to avoid as a frugal lawyer is the ‘gotta-have-it’ syndrome. I’m a ‘gotta-have-it’ guy. But if you’re a frugal lawyer, and I still think I am, you have to stay away from [getting all of] the newest products.”
A small firm or solo does not need an information technology staff or top-of-the-line specialty software. But, “if you’re cheap, you’re going to get burned,” Matheny says. “We’re not asking people to bypass things by being frugal. We’re asking people to explore other options, such as using OpenOffice to open documents, as opposed to, somebody sends you a document in WordPerfect, and you don’t have WordPerfect – and [you use free OpenOffice] rather than spending $400 on WordPerfect, which you’re hardly ever going to use.”
Nerino Petro, a member of the ISBA’s legal tech committee and practice management adviser to the State Bar of Wisconsin, agrees that frugal doesn’t mean spending the least amount of money. “Frugal means getting the most efficient and effective technology you can for a reasonable price,” says Petro, who continues a part-time real estate practice in Illinois.
He also uses OpenOffice as a frugal-versus-cheap example, looking at it from a different angle. “You can get OpenOffice at no cost, but if you have to spend a lot of time learning it, or getting it to do what you want, are you saving money vs. a commercial product?”