-- By Eli R. Shahmoon and Hays Ellisen
Just about every lawyer (especially after a particularly brutal all-night drafting-session) has fantasized about leaving his or her firm or in-house position and hanging out his or her own shingle. We recently put that fantasy into action and took the leap to start a new boutique law practice. Although building a new law firm is certainly a challenge, we’ve been pleasantly surprised to find many free or low-cost solutions that have allowed us to set up a “virtual office.” Even if you aren’t thinking of starting your own firm, each of the services described below can greatly enhance your current practice and improve your quality of life.
Phone. Every lawyer has a cell phone, but it’s nice to maintain some personal privacy. Google Voice offers a free calling service that lets you create a new office phone number. Calls to that number will be forwarded to one or more of your personal cell or landlines, at your option. Google Voice includes free voice mail, accessible from your phone or the web. There is even free voicemail transcription, which Google Voice sends via email with the text of your caller’s message. Unfortunately, the transcription feature is still very “beta” – the garbled messages are often hilarious. Finally, the website allows users to access a list of every call, including its duration, which comes in handy when it’s time to bill your clients.
Faxes. It’s the 21st century – does anyone use faxes any more? Sadly, yes. For clients who lack scanners (or can’t figure out how to work them), eFax.com provides a low-cost solution. For $15 a month, you get an office fax number that you can use to send and receive faxes from your computer. Faxes arrive as email attachments and can be viewed on any computer or smartphone.
Webhosting/Email. Choosing a domain name and designing a website can be one of the biggest early challenges in starting up a new law firm, but reliable web hosting is cheap and easy at E-Rice. For only $10 a year, you get 100MB of storage, 3GB/month of transfers and 10 email addresses, more than enough for any startup law firm. Setup is quick and easy, and you can access your email via the web or through any IMAP or POP2 mail client, including having messages delivered directly to your Gmail inbox.
Timekeeping. Yast.com has a free timekeeping service. Timekeepers can create color-coded projects and easily record billable hours by clicking “play” and “stop” buttons. The interface is very intuitive, and there are free iPhone and Android apps for tracking time on-the-go.
Document Management. Document management systems can be one of the most costly aspects of running a law practice. But “cloud” storage systems offer a simple, cheap way to keep track of and access all of your documents. Dropbox.com gives you 2GB of storage space for free, keeps prior versions of documents and can be accessed via any web browser and many smartphones. Setting up separate folders for client matters is quick, easy and secure (all files are encrypted prior to upload, and access to your account is password-protected).
Eli R. Shahmoon and Hays Ellisen are the co-founders of Shahmoon & Ellisen LLP, a boutique New York City law practice focusing on corporate, real estate and technology clients. Eli has a BA in Computer Science from Columbia and a JD from NYU School of Law. Eli has practiced corporate law at Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP and Sidley Austin LLP in New York and was also general counsel to the Limewire peer-to-peer music-sharing service and a London-based hedge fund. Hays has a BA in Philosophy and Norwegian from the University of Minnesota and a JD from Michigan Law School. Hays has practiced corporate securities law in New York at Brown & Wood LLP, Sidley Austin LLP, McKee Nelson LLP and Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP.
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