Free Your Law Practice’s Computing Budget

Don’t let your software party like it’s 1999.

By Erik J. Heels

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.

For an OS-agnostic syncing service, you can try Dropbox, which gives you 2GB of free storage, or you can upgrade to 100GB for $10 per month.

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.

Valentine’s Day Confessions of a Shoe Blogger

Long tail is long.

From 2007-2008, I cofounded (along with Eric McCoy) the Heels.com women’s shoe store. One of my initial jobs was getting the blog online and writing the initial content. Over five years later, many of the 99 blog posts that I wrote (see list below) are still generating traffic for Heels.com. In search engine optimization (SEO) language, this is called the long tail of ecommerce. The Heels.com store has also expanded from about 43 brands of shoes to about 144 brands of women shoes.

The lesson for law firms? Start writing relevant content now for your blog. Blog a little or blog a lot. But blog regularly. It will pay off in the long run.

Oh yeah, and disregard what the so-called “experts” say. On the Internet, there are no experts. There is only change, and change is constant. (FWIW, I have blogging for ten years.)


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.

Related Posts (on erikjheels.com)

99 Posts (on high.heels.com)

  1. Designer Shoe Sale (4/22/2008)
    Great shoes, great prices, great service.
  2. LinkedIn Thinks All Dot-Com People Work For Heels.com (4/18/2008)
    Great shoes, great prices, great service. World domination is lower on the list.
  3. Goodbye Zappos, Hello Heels.com (4/18/2008)
    Strive for excellence, the PR will follow.
  4. Zinc Shoes (03/10/2008)
    Zinc shoes at Heels.com.
  5. Vince Camuto (03/10/2008)
    Vince Camuto shoes at Heels.com.
  6. Unlisted Shoes (03/09/2008)
    Unlisted shoes at Heels.com.
  7. Tribeca (03/09/2008)
    Tribeca shoes at Heels.com.
  8. Steven by Steve Madden (03/08/2008)
    Steven by Steve Madden shoes at Heels.com.
  9. Steve Madden (03/08/2008)
    Steve Madden shoes at Heels.com.
  10. Pour La Victoire (03/07/2008)
    Pour La Victoire shoes at Heels.com.
  11. Sam Edelman (03/07/2008)
    Sam Edelman shoes at Heels.com.
  12. Report Signature (03/07/2008)
    Report Signature shoes at Heels.com.
  13. Report Shoes (03/06/2008)
    Report shoes at Heels.com.
  14. Poetic Licence (03/06/2008)
    Poetic Licence shoes at Heels.com.
  15. oh…DEER! (03/05/2008)
    oh…DEER! shoes at Heels.com.
  16. Not Rated (03/05/2008)
    Not Rated shoes at Heels.com.
  17. Nine West (03/04/2008)
    Nine West shoes at Heels.com.
  18. Nicole Shoes (03/04/2008)
    Nicole shoes at Heels.com.
  19. Naughty Monkey (03/03/2008)
    Naughty Monkey shoes at Heels.com.
  20. Natural Comfort (03/03/2008)
    Natural Comfort shoes at Heels.com.
  21. N.Y.L.A. (03/02/2008)
    N.Y.L.A. shoes at Heels.com.
  22. Modern Vintage (03/02/2008)
    Modern Vintage shoes at Heels.com.
  23. Shoetube.tv, Heels.com, And A Free Shoes Facebook Contest (3/1/2008)
    Free shoes just in time for spring!
  24. MINK Shoes (03/01/2008)
    MINK shoes at Heels.com.
  25. MIA Shoes (03/01/2008)
    MIA shoes at Heels.com.
  26. Me Too (2/29/2008)
    Me Too shoes at Heels.com.
  27. Max Studio (2/29/2008)
    Max Studio shoes at Heels.com.
  28. Marciano (2/28/2008)
    Marciano shoes at Heels.com.
  29. Marc by Marc Jacobs (2/28/2008)
    Marc by Marc Jacobs shoes at Heels.com.
  30. Madeline Shoes (2/27/2008)
    Madeline shoes at Heels.com.
  31. Luichiny (2/27/2008)
    Luichiny shoes at Heels.com.
  32. Laura Brandon (2/26/2008)
    Laura Brandon shoes at Heels.com.
  33. L.A.M.B. (2/26/2008)
    L.A.M.B. shoes at Heels.com.
  34. Kenneth Cole Reaction (2/25/2008)
    Kenneth Cole Reaction shoes at Heels.com.
  35. Kenneth Cole NY (2/25/2008)
    Kenneth Cole NY shoes at Heels.com.
  36. Jessica Simpson (2/24/2008)
    Jessica Simpson shoes at Heels.com.
  37. Jessica Bennett (2/24/2008)
    Jessica Bennett shoes at Heels.com.
  38. J. Renee (2/23/2008)
    J. Renee shoes at Heels.com.
  39. Hollywould (2/23/2008)
    Hollywould shoes at Heels.com.
  40. Hale Bob (2/22/2008)
    Hale Bob shoes at Heels.com.
  41. Guess Shoes (2/22/2008)
    Guess shoes at Heels.com.
  42. Exchange Shoes (2/21/2008)
    Exchange shoes at Heels.com.
  43. Enzo Angiolini (2/21/2008)
    Enzo Angiolini shoes at Heels.com.
  44. Due Farina (2/20/2008)
    Due Farina shoes at Heels.com.
  45. Dollhouse Shoes (2/20/2008)
    Dollhouse shoes at Heels.com.
  46. Betseyville (02/19/2008)
    Betseyville shoes at Heels.com.
  47. Diego di Lucca (2/19/2008)
    Diego di Lucca shoes at Heels.com.
  48. Diba (2/19/2008)
    Diba shoes at Heels.com.
  49. Dereon (2/18/2008)
    Dereon shoes at Heels.com.
  50. Cynthia Vincent (2/18/2008)
    Cynthia Vincent shoes at Heels.com.
  51. Corso Como (1/31/2008)
    Corso Como shoes at Heels.com.
  52. Claudia Ciuti (1/30/2008)
    Claudia Ciuti shoes at Heels.com.
  53. Cindy Says (1/30/2008)
    Cindy Says shoes at Heels.com.
  54. Cindy Says Couture (1/29/2008)
    Cindy Says Couture shoes at Heels.com.
  55. Chinese Laundry (1/28/2008)
    Chinese Laundry shoes at Heels.com.
  56. Charles David (1/27/2008)
    Charles David shoes at Heels.com.
  57. Charles by Charles David (1/26/2008)
    Charles by Charles David shoes at Heels.com.
  58. Carlos by Carlos (1/25/2008)
    Carlos by Carlos shoes at Heels.com.
  59. Bronx (1/24/2008)
    Bronx shoes at Heels.com.
  60. Boutique 9 (1/23/2008)
    Boutique 9 shoes at Heels.com.
  61. FeedBurner + AskGraphics = Better Blog (01/22/2008)
    Content + presentation = experience. More blog changes afoot (pun intended) at High.Heels.com.
  62. Betsey Johnson (1/22/2008)
    Betsey Johnson shoes at Heels.com.
  63. BCBGirls (1/21/2008)
    BCBGirls Footwear at Heels.com.
  64. BCBGMaxAzria (01/20/2008)
    BCBC Maz Azria shoes at Heels.com.
  65. Apepazza (1/19/2008)
    Apepazza shoes at Heels.com.
  66. A.B.S. Shoes (1/18/2008)
    A.B.S. Shoes by Allen Schwartz at Heels.com.
  67. Shoe Brands (01/18/2008)
    Women’s shoe brand at Heels.com.
  68. Transform Backless Shoes With Muleos Straps And Ties (1/17/2008)
    Muleos are fashion accessories for slides, mules, and backless bridal and evening shoes or sandals.
  69. Shoes Make A Great Valentine’s Day Gift (1/16/2008)
    Guys, trust me on this one.
  70. Heels.com Store Update (1/15/2008)
    New arrivals and on sale shoes even easier to find.
  71. Heels.com Blog Overhaul (01/14/2008)
    Change is constant.
  72. Heels.com Founders Tell Their Story (11/12/2007)
    Plus a discount coupon code!
  73. Columbus Discovers Shoes (10/08/2007)
  74. Why Do Women Wear High Heels? (09/11/2007)
    The answer may surprise you.
  75. Putting Comfort Into High Heels (09/10/2007)
    From A Podiatrist And An MIT Rocket Scientist.
  76. Heels and Bags Mashup (09/09/2007)
    Match game.
  77. Decorations For Your Feet (09/08/2007)
    Party on!
  78. Slingback (09/07/2007)
    A thousand words.
  79. GameBoy Shoes (09/06/2007)
    Do not want!
  80. How To Deal With Broken Heels (09/04/2007)
    Don’t ditch ‘em, fix ‘em!
  81. Love Of Fashionable Footwear Brings People Together For Shoe Club (09/03/2007)
    Social networking for shoe lovers.
  82. Girls Say Wearing Heels Makes Them Happiest (09/02/2007)
    Agreed. High heels = happy.
  83. Stepping Out With My Baby (09/01/2007)
    Nice Flickr photos.
  84. Red High Heels Video :: Kellie Pickler (08/31/2007)
    The original music video.
  85. Red High Heels Video :: Kellie Pickler on The View (08/30/2007)
    Pick Pickler!
  86. Metallic Silver Sandals (08/29/2007)
    Look, something shiny!
  87. Video Teaches How To Walk In High Heels (08/28/2007)
    Because we were all newbies once.
  88. Adjustable High Heels (08/27/2007)
    Shoes that convert from flats to high-heels.
  89. Blogroll :: Shoeaholics Anonymous (08/23/2007)
    Your Shoe Addiction Secret is Safe with Us!
  90. Blogroll :: Teenfashionista (08/22/2007)
    By a nineteen-year-old aspiring fashion writer who is determined to make it big in the fashion world.
  91. Blogroll :: ShoeBUYTES (08/21/2007)
    The official fashion blog of Shoebuy.com.
  92. Blogroll :: Chic Alert (08/20/2007)
    Designer Clothing, Shoes, Handbags, Jewelry.
  93. Blogroll :: ShoeBlog (08/19/2007)
    The ShoeBlog is a site dedicated to women’s shoes.
  94. Blogroll :: I Love Shoes, Shoes, and Shoes (08/18/2007)
    A personal space to rant and rave about shoe-mania.
  95. Blogroll :: “The” Shoe Blog (08/17/2007)
    Because shoes don’t judge.
  96. Blogroll :: Soles4Souls (08/16/2007)
    A nonprofit that provides shoes for the needy.
  97. Blogroll :: Sole Satisfaction (08/15/2007)
    I can’t get no … sole satisfaction!
  98. Blogroll :: Shoe Queen (08/14/2007)
    Hail to the queen, she’s the queen and so we hail her.
  99. Stop Making Sense (08/13/2007)
    Gotta love that big suit.