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Office Equipment and Technology

Every law firm requires certain basic office equipment and technology to be able to function effectively, from the first point of engaging with potential clients to providing services to them right until the closure of the file.
Office equipment generally refers to the various hardware in the office that is needed to perform specific tasks for which it was specially designed — the keyword here being hardware.
Office technology, on the other hand, is a set of tools, methods, and systems used for practical purposes and to solve problems in the office as well as to ensure you and your office are safe, but which may not always be physically tangible.
Both of these are important and to make sure you do not overlook any of your equipment and technological needs when starting up your law practice, it is a good idea to create a checklist.
Start with some key items, such as these listed below.
Office Equipment
  • Phone.  Your first purchase should be a phone that best meets your law practice’s needs.  Whether it’s a mobile phone or a phone system, make sure that there is a designated telephone number and designated person attending to it.  A phone would not serve its purpose if potential and billable clients cannot reach you or the firm.  Try not to get talked into purchasing a phone system with features that you do not need.
  • Computers.  When buying office computers, it is essential to understand what your needs are, because doing so will allow you to weigh the costs against the features that each model offers.  If you will be working primarily from your office, desktops are the way to go because they are less expensive than laptops.  However, if you find that your work requires a bit more mobility, a laptop may be something to consider in lieu of an office computer.  Once you have decided on an operating system, such as Microsoft or Apple, stick with it for networking purposes.
  • Printers.  Monochrome laser printers offer speed at an affordable price, while colour laser printers, although more expensive, are now within the budget of many small law practices.  If your practice has limited printing needs, you might be able to get by with a multifunctional printer that can also copy, scan, and fax.  The disadvantage of multifunctional machines is that they are not built for heavy use.  If one function breaks down, you will need to take the whole unit for repairs.  If you are starting up with a small team of staff, it will be best to get a multifunctional printer that can print both monochrome and colour.  If you do not foresee heavy printing, there is no need to get a copier as the printer will be enough till your firm grows bigger.
  • Copier.  For limited use and light workloads, small offices can opt to scan documents and print multiple copies by purchasing a three-in-one machine.  If your law practice has heavier copying needs, a dedicated copy machine is a necessity.  Consider leasing if you cannot afford to purchase one outright.
  • Paper shredder.  You may also consider purchasing an inexpensive paper shredder to dispose of unwanted documents, particularly those that contain personal or confidential information.
  • Paper binding machine.  Law firms often need to bundle documents together and if you find that your office bundles documents frequently, you may consider purchasing a binding machine.  While you may opt to bind your documents in stationery shops, depending on your documentary needs, it may instead be more cost-effective to get a simple, manual one.
Office Technology
  • Email.  Setting up a work-related email is important as a lot of communication involving legal work is done via email these days.  It is also important to have a work-related email that is separate from your personal email, as mixing the two can lead to issues down the road.  You may even want to consider creating a custom email address at your domain, provided you have the budget for it.
  • Website.  Speaking of domains, it is a good idea to set up a website to represent your law firm.  A good website may increase the visibility of your law firm and provide potential clients with the information necessary to determine if they should reach out to your firm for assistance in their matters.  A well-rounded website would be able to provide information about your firm and services offered, as well as information about the experience of the lawyer(s) and, most importantly, how to contact them.
  • Internet connectivity.  There are a variety of broadband packages to choose from different telco providers.  Some may even come with phones and email accounts.  Choose the best one that fits your budget and requirements.  When you finally have your internet up and running, make sure to have a secure password in place to avoid abuse by third parties.
  • Video communication service. In recent years, video conferences and online/hybrid meetings have become part of the norm in lawyer-client interactions. Having access to such a service has gradually become a necessity, especially when your client is not in the same vicinity to make a physical meeting.  While there are numerous online video communication services — some of which are free — you should take care to select one that offers robust security features such as communication encryption and strong authentication methods.
  • Security system.  It does not need to be elaborate, but if you have costly equipment and/or valuable data in your office, some type of security system is needed.  Many law firms these days opt for installing card access or fingerprint access systems as a safety measure.  If you do install such systems for the office, you will still need to be able to lock the main doors to the office as when there is power failure — the security system may not have a backup battery to last throughout the power shutdown and the system will disengage.
  • Cloud storage services.  For a small firm, a full-fledged document management system may be an overkill in terms of features, and it would be costly as well.  Instead, having access to a simple cloud storage service like Dropbox, Google Drive, or Microsoft OneDrive may suit your firm’s needs better to ensure easy and secure storage of softcopies of documents.  These storage systems also serve as a backup in the event of any unforeseen incidents destroying physical copies of these documents. 
  • Billing and accounting software.  This would help in making your firm’s financial management more streamlined, ensuring that it is more efficient and accurate by reducing human error.  This would help with matters such as documenting payments made and invoices issued by the firm, managing accounts, and would make any potential audits down the line a much smoother process.
  • Research tools.  Access to updated legislation and the latest cases is necessary as legal research is an inherent part of law practice.  Access to such research tools has been made easier due to service agreements entered between the Malaysian Bar and several legal research tool providers, whereby Members of the Bar and pupils in chambers now have access to legal research products provided by CLJ Legal Network Sdn Bhd (“CLJ”), The Digital Library Sdn Bhd (“TDL”), and Thomson Reuters Asia Sdn Bhd (“TR”).  Alternatively, you may wish to consider visiting the Bar Council Library and making use of its resources.
Do your best to take a practical approach when shopping for office equipment and technology.  All the bells and whistles can be enticing, but oftentimes those added features are not the least bit necessary.  However, when it comes to physical equipment, do look for energy-saving features that can save you money on electric bills whenever possible.  Finally, read all warranties carefully when purchasing any office equipment and technologies and ensure that you are getting the best value for your purchase.
While the items that have been listed are important, they are merely the basics for what is needed to start a law firm.  There are new types of law firms emerging in Malaysia, with group law practices and virtual offices being a growing topic of discussion in legal circles.  These may have differing budgets and differing needs when it comes to equipment and technology for communication, finance management and document management compared to smaller firms.  And as time goes on, new needs may come to light leading to new equipment being required and new technologies being developed.
But for smaller firms that are just starting out, having these basic office equipment and technologies in place would be a good starting point.