First published 9/9/2013; Attorney At Work; publisher: Astin Tarlton and Feldcomm
From 1997 to 2001, I worked for Verio, marketing and selling Internet access and web hosting to businesses. Early on, we had a small marketing budget and relied heavily on direct mail and cold (actually warm) calling. While I was reviewing my sales team’s monthly goals with Buddy, my boss, he asked me, “Do you think you can make this month’s target?” I replied, “Honestly, no, I don’t think we can.” Without missing a beat, he said, “Well, you’d better change your thinking. Because if you don’t believe it, then your team won’t believe it.”
That was great advice from a great mentor. And I’ve been changing my thinking ever since.
About That Law Firm IT Budget…
Here’s how I’ve changed my thinking about my IT budget over the years.
In the 1990s, I purchased three things: (1) sturdy hardware, (2) local storage (hard drives and the like) for my data, and (3) boxed software. Because computer hardware was relatively expensive, I would keep it as long as possible, upgrading it along the way, and replacing it only when it broke. I purchased the latest versions of boxed software (often at upgrade “discount” prices) and added storage space, as needed, for my data.
Today, I still pay for three things, but my budget percentages for each have changed considerably.
I still buy sturdy hardware, but I only keep each desktop and laptop computer for four years. Moore’s Law (which, loosely paraphrased, says computing power doubles every 18 months to two years) means that each new computer will be 4x better/faster/stronger than its predecessor. It also means that my hardware costs have decreased over time. For smaller devices (tablet computers and smartphones), I plan for a two-year lifecycle, which dovetails nicely with the typical two-year mobile phone contract. Apple comes out with a new iPhone model about every year, so I end up getting every other model, which is good enough for me.
I also still have some local storage (typically buying the largest hard drive possible for each computer), but I rely on (and pay for) off-site storage and backup for my data (including iCloud, Dropbox and CrashPlan).
But the biggest change has been in how (and whether) I purchase software. Now, the only programs I purchase annually for my law firm are operating systems (Mac OS X, Parallels), database (FileMaker), and billing (QuickBooks). My days of buying boxed software are over. Today, I rely on free software on the desktop, in the cloud, and on my mobile devices.
It never ceases to amaze me that lawyers (and law firms) continue to pay yesterday’s prices for yesterday’s technology, when much of today’s technology is available at today’s prices (often free). It’s 2013, and if you’re a lawyer starting a law firm, then you shouldn’t be partying like it’s 1999.
Free Desktop Software
I am unapologetically a Mac guy, although I started my law firm as a 100 percent PC shop. But I can also tell you, unequivocally, that your data doesn’t care whether it was created on a Mac, PC, or Linux computer; in the cloud; or on a smartphone.
No matter what system you purchase, chances are it comes with an operating system, web browser, mail client and more – all of which you didn’t have to pay extra for. But you don’t have to stop there.
Consider office productivity software. In January 2003 (over 10 years ago), my law firm switched from Microsoft Office to OpenOffice. We used to pay $500 per person per year for Microsoft Office. We now pay $0 per person per year for OpenOffice. Most people use only a handful of the features in MS Office anyhow. In the first few years of its lifetime, MS Office added features that made the upgrade cost worth it. In the past 20 years, not so much.
So, while it is true that OpenOffice does not have all the features of Microsoft Office, OpenOffice has proven more than good enough for my firm.
Free Cloud Software
There is also plenty of free cloud-based software that can be at least a starting point for lawyers. For email, you can use the free version of Gmail, or for $50 per person per year, you can get Google Apps Gmail for your own domain name. Either way, Gmail is a very good option for email, in part because the spam filtering is so good. On the downside, because Google is so big, they often change features or abandon products despite an active user community. Recent changes to the reply and compose functions in Gmail caused an uproar in the Gmail user community. And Google recently abandoned Google Reader, which many people (including me) relied on to aggregate RSS feeds from blogs and other websites.
Apple’s iCloud service allows you to sync your content across multiple devices. The free version includes 5GB of storage, and you can purchase additional storage in increments of 10GB for $20 per year.
And if you are in the business of providing customer support to multiple computer users (think co-workers, friends, family), you may want to consider the remote-control service LogMeIn, which has both a free and a paid version. The Pro service has more features and costs about $70 per computer per year. (If you’ve ever needed to help out-of-state relatives with computer problems, then LogMeIn is the life-saver you’ve been looking for!)
Then, of course, there are all of the free social networking services, including LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. Of these, only LinkedIn follows the free/paid model of other cloud services, but the others will likely add this feature in the future.
What all of the above have in common is that I started with the free version and migrated to the paid version.
And, of course, there is also plenty of free software included with any good smartphone, with mobile-specific functions such as maps, music, shopping, and much more.
Pay for What You Value
Next year marks my 30th anniversary of being on the Internet. My thinking about computer hardware and software has changed a lot. Through all the changes, though, one thing has remained constant: I have always paid for what I valued.
So while my spending on hardware has remained more or less constant, my spending on data (in particular, cloud-based backup and syncing services) has increased, and my spending on software has decreased.
I recently calculated the computer cost per person per year for my law firm, and it has gone steadily downward in the 12-plus years I’ve been running the firm. In short, I’ve changed my thinking about my computer budget. Buddy would be proud!
Erik J. Heels is a trademark and patent lawyer, Boston Red Sox fan, MIT engineer, and musician. He blogs about technology, law, baseball, and rock ‘n’ roll at ErikJHeels.com.
I lived the life of Dilbert when I was in the Air Force. Once while I was away on a business trip, our office cubicles were rearranged, but nobody was managing the project. When I returned from my trip, my cubicle was gone, and I had to convert a storage area into my new office (after hours, “borrowing” pieces of cubicles from around the office to construct mine). So this Dilbert strip resonated with me. Frame 1: Dilbert thinks, “I’ve been away from work so long. I wonder if anything has changed. Frame 2: Pointy-haired boss to Dilbert, “You weren’t here when we moved to new cubicles so your coworkers picked one for you.” Frame 3: Dilbert sitting in new cubicle, which is attached sideways to the outside of the building.
If automobile dealerships ran their business like the MBTA, they’d say, “Well, sales are down, and we need the revenue, so we’ve decided to double the prices on all SUVs.” Sales plummet, head scratching ensues. For exhibit F (for fail) I present the MBTA suing to prevent MIT students from presenting about the flaws in the MBTA’s payment system. (Hint to MBTA: fix your payment system.) In the same way, the music industry has spent the last decade digging itself into a DRM hole that it is just now starting to dig itself out of. (Hint to the music industry: your customers don’t want DRM-encumbered anything.)
So here are the stories that represent meaningful trends in law, technology, baseball, and music.
Michael A. Bartley Joins Clock Tower Law Group
We’re pleased to welcome Michael A. Bartley (Mike) to the Clock Tower Law Group family. Mike comes to us via Franklin Pierce Law Center, where he received both JD and LLM degrees, and Harvard University, where he received his bachelor’s degree in computer science. Before starting law school, Mike was a lead software developer for video security products at Biscom while also running his own company that simulated sports games based on artificial intelligence algorithms (Mage Sports). While at Pierce Law, Mike was the managing editor for the law journal IDEA: The Intellectual Property Law Review and also interned for the Berkman Center for Internet & Society. Welcome Mike!
R.I.P. Airline Passenger Bill of Rights (2008-03-26)
A federal court struck down New York State’s Airline Passenger Bill of Rights, a first-of-its-kind law that took effect on Jan. 1. The law allowed the state to levy fines against airlines who failed to provide fresh water, working toilets, fresh air, and electricity to passengers trapped on planes during lengthy runway delays.
OurStage Artists Get A Bigger Stage (2008-03-28)
OurStage, an online talent community where fans vote for the best upcoming music and video artists, has forged a partnership with AOL.
Tampa Bay Rays Baseball Goes Live With Comrex ACCESS (2008-04-08)
Rays broadcasters Andy Freed and Dave Wills were all set to do their “Hot Stove Show: Countdown to Opening Day” live from the local eatery. But just moments prior to the broadcast, panic ensued when the ISDN line dropped and wouldn’t reconnect! Luckily, ACCESS was running and ready to go.
FantasicToe Launches (2008-04-24)
Fantastic Toe is the web community that lets you organize and showcase your shoe collection. You can now upload photos of your shoes, categorize them however you’d like, and browse and vote on other members’ shoes and collections.
1000 Steps Closer to Curing MS (2008-05-06)
Accelerated Cure Project for Multiple Sclerosis has collected one thousand blood and data samples, which will be part of the largest openly accessible, multi-disciplinary repository ever assembled for use in Multiple Sclerosis (MS) research.
codesnap Launches (2008-07-11) codesnap is a new website to allow code buyers to quickly find coders to build small projects. A posting costs you just $5, and then completion of a typical project will be $100 or so. Your posting will be seen by hundreds of coders, who will then complete your job usually within a few days. Buyers, this is also a good recruiting tool: meet coders and quickly evaluate them via your small project.
Reinventing Patent Law (2008-02-27)
The February 2008 issue of the ABA Journal has a very good article about patent law entitled “Reinventing Patent Law.” In the article, the author, Steve Seidenberg, notes that all three branches of the US government are changing (or have changed) patent laws in ways that negatively impact the rights of patent owners.
Spork Patent (2008-02-28)
Spork = spoon + fork. And it saved the airlines millions of dollars.
Major League Baseball Bullying Amateur Baseball In Trademark Shakedown (2008-03-13)
Michael Masnick writes: “MLB now thinks that it has total control over any team that has a name similar to Major League team, despite the fact that no one is going to confuse the Chatham A’s with the Oakland A’s or the Harwich Mariners with the Seattle Mariners. This would appear to be yet another abuse of trademark, and hopefully the Cape Cod League finds a lawyer who can explain to Major League Baseball the moron in a hurry test to prove that there’s no trademark violation.”
Do Patents Stimulate R&D Investment and Promote Growth? (2008-03-13)
James Bessen and Michael J. Meurer have authored a new book presenting a careful empirical analysis of whether patent rights encourage innovation. Their conclusion: for the most part, today’s patent system does not achieve its stated goal.
Dell vs Florida Registrars (2008-03-26)
Jay Westerdal writes: “Three Florida Registrars were named in a lawsuit by Dell on November 16th: BelgiumDomains, CapitolDomains, and DomainDoorman…. [A]ccording to our internal data, those three registrars are responsible for 72.5% of all domain tasting in the last 6 months.” The downside of this lawsuit is that if you’re trying to recover a cybersquatted domain name registered with one of these registrars, then your domain is trapped at that registrar until this lawsuit is resolved.
Two New Sites Simplify Life After Death (2008-04-08)
Robert Ambrogi writes: “eDivvyup is an online auction site specifically designed to help surviving family members divide and distribute the deceased’s personal property…. iGoodbye.com offers a way to leave critical financial and personal information to heirs without having to give it to them while you are still around.”
Stephen King Slams Attempt To Ban Violent Videogames (2008-04-09)
Stephen King says: “What makes me crazy is when politicians take it upon themselves to play surrogate parents. The results of that are usually disastrous…. What really makes me insane is how eager politicians are to use the pop culture as a whipping boy. It’s easy for them, even sort of fun, because the pop-cult always hollers nice and loud. Also, it allows legislators to ignore the elephants in the living room.”
2007 Wiretap Report (2008-05-06)
With the economy in shambles, it’s nice to see that not everything is trending down. Wiretaps were up 20% in 2007!
Prevent Domain Theft (2008-05-09) DomainTools is the best site for researching domain names. Their new Registrant Alert system allows you to monitor domain records for newly added or deleted text. This can help prevent domain name theft (among other things). Try your own email address for free. See also Domain Name Buying Tips.
USPTO Remains Clueless About Trademark Specimens (2008-07-02)
After reading Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) decisions about acceptable specimens, you’ll get the distinct impression that the trademark laws were written in 1947 (which they were) when goods were sold in stores for purchase by consumers. The Trademark Act desperately needs to be updated to reflect the reality that today’s goods and services are offered via catalogs and websites and sold via the phone and websites. Anybody looking at this catalog page can clearly see (1) what the product is and (2) what the trademark is, but the specimens was rejected. Here’s another example. Welcome to 1947.
The Economics Of Free Isn’t Good Or Bad – It’s Simply What Happens (2008-02-27)
Michael Masnick writes, “Asking if economics is good or bad is like asking if physics is good or bad. Sure, gravity sucks for those who want to fly, but it’s simply a force that is. The same is true with the economics associated with infinite goods that force a price to free.” Yes, I am a firm believer in the reality of free. And gravity. And Economics in One Lesson.
Hulu Launches (2008-03-13)
The good news is that consumers in the U.S. can go to Hulu.com to watch a large selection of hit TV shows, movies, clips, and more in high-quality, anytime, for free. The bad news is that they have to be U.S. consumers and they have to go to Hulu.com to watch.
LinkedIn Company Profiles Gone Wild (2008-03-21)
Ross Mayfield says: “LinkedIn launched Company Profiles today…. The profiles are trademarked brands that have been created not by the company, but by individuals. In part by employees, in part by past employees. Brand Managers will have to get used to the role employees have in brand definition.”
Political Blogs Spread More Link Love Than Tech Blogs (2008-04-03)
The visuals in this study are cool, but the findings (that political blogs interlink more than tech blogs) are unsurprising. With politics (unlike technology), talk is the product. More links, more product.
VideoDrive Adds Multiple Movie File Format To iTunes (2008-04-29)
VideoDrive makes it easy to add videos in multiple formats (including MPG, MPEG, MP4, AVI, WMV, SWF, M4V, M2V, FLV, WMA, MKV, ASF, DIVX, XVID, and YouTube video) to iTunes without converting them or losing quality. This is a good example a story that doesn’t make sense to most people. When I was in the Air Force (late 1980s – early 1990s), I was pushing for Macs as a better alternative to PCs. I gave a demo to the Colonel in charge of computer acquisitions about how you could create a document on PC in WordPerfect 5.1, save it to a 3.5-inch floppy disc, put the floppy disc into a SuperDrive-equipped Macintosh, and edit the same file in the Mac version or WordPerfect. When I reached my “ta-da” moment about the Zen of interoperability, the Colonel responded, “Why wouldn’t I be able to do that?” Why indeed. Computers should just work with each other. File formats should just be portable from application to application, computer to computer. And so on.
Is The American Idol Prize Worth It? (2008-02-22)
Augie De Blieck writes, “The thing that gets me is that the show lives in an age that’s quickly fading. The recording industry is broken, and now all the kids are competing for a recording contract with a company that relies on a distribution system that’s shrinking and can barely afford its own expenses. It’s a system that rewards the artist for performing and selling their own t-shirts, though I’m sure that’s all covered by the contract for the recording company to do it.”
Stuff White People Like: Music Piracy (2008-03-30)
“White people have always been renowned for having ridiculously large music collections. So when file sharing gave white people a chance to acquire all the music they ever wanted, it felt as though it was an earned right and not a privilege.” Via Staring At Strangers.
Rocker David Cook Wins American Idol 7 (2008-05-21)
But with the brand watered down (7 years times 4 finalist = 28 artists), can David Cook manage more than 15 minutes of fame (plus or minus 9 months)?