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IT in Practice: Looking for help in all the right places

Every Issue

Cite as: (2009) 83(02) LIJ, p.86

One of the most important assets a practitioner can have is access to a knowledgeable but independent computer consultant.

A colleague recently had to do battle with a recalcitrant notebook computer for a legal practice client.

After the purchase of a Windows Vista-based notebook computer valued at about $1000, the unit developed two problems. The first was that it would not collect email, the second was that it was extraordinarily slow to shut down or start up (at least 15 minutes for each).

The lawyer did as anyone would and took the unit back to the vendor.

The vendor diagnosed the problem as a software installation fault and restored the unit to its ex-factory state, with the software ready to be re-initialised when it was turned on again.

The cost of this service was a few hundred dollars (warranties only cover hardware faults). The lawyer set the software system up again and the same problems developed. A heated phone call to the vendor resulted in a confirmation that the unit had passed all hardware tests without a problem and that no other purchasers of that unit had had any problems.

The lawyer was not technologically proficient, and with some pressing court deadlines coming up, decided to use the computer as it was – just not turning it off.

After some weeks of enduring the quirks of a partially working computer, the lawyer returned to the vendor, demanding the problem be fixed.

The vendor offered to reload the software again for the lawyer (at an additional service cost of $400), or to send the laptop back to the manufacturer for a warranty replacement of the potentially faulty hard disk, which – although at no cost – would involve the complete loss of data on the existing system and a delay of two to three weeks.

Neither of these options was palatable, especially as it would mean that the amount of real and opportunity cost expended on this problem would exceed the original purchase price of the computer.

It was at this point that the lawyer tapped into his local contact network and sourced an independent technical support person.

An overnight stay by the computer with the independent technical person yielded several important facts: there was nothing wrong with either the software setup or the hard disk, the network interface was faulty and causing all of the system’s problems and the network interface fault was a known issue with that brand and model of computer.

Merely disabling the wired network and just running off the wireless network resolved all of the lawyer’s notebook computer problems immediately.

Although relieved, the lawyer’s frustration with the computer was compounded by his experience with the original computer vendor’s action (or inaction).

Without detailed technical proficiency of their own, legal practitioners are at the mercy of those who appear to have that proficiency. There are some significant lessons to be learned by others from this incident.

Probably the most important lesson is to have available a knowledgeable but independent computer consultant. A “jack of all trades” technical person may not have highly detailed knowledge ready for every incident, but they will have technical contacts, an ability to quickly research a problem, a “gut feel” for how to solve a problem effectively, or all three.

Another valuable lesson is that computer devices do not hold any special consumer significance; they now hold the same purchase worth in the workplace as, say, a coffee machine.

The only, and important, distinction is that there should always be some sort of standby system available that can be used if a warranty repair is required.

This will prevent the consequences of an awkward commercial decision of whether to continue using a flawed system, having to make do without that system for a while or discarding the system and starting over.

Finally, recognising that computer system manufacturers work through a network of volume-motivated retail agents is important, especially knowing that most manufacturers – even the larger ones – outsource their warranty and repair services to non-retail vendors.

Often, the continuity of customer commitment from manufacturer, vendor and service agent is highly fragmented.

If the practitioner is willing to do a bit of research at the beginning of the purchasing process, downstream pain and frustration can usually be avoided.

Some great reference points to start with, specific to the profession, are the LIV’s own website referred to below and the LIV’s Small Practice Support Kit, as well as information published by the ABA in the US1 and the Law Society in the UK.2

Although some of this information is duplicated, and its currency is sometimes an issue, overall this targeted information will provide the underpinnings of making better technology decisions.


ADAM REYNOLDS is the principal of Proficio, an independent IT consulting firm. For more IT in-practice information, see the contributions of the LIV Legal Practice Management Committee and IT e-Marketing Department at http://www.liv.asn.au/members/sections/sps/it.

1. See http://www.abanet.org/tech/ltrc/survstat.html and http://www.abanet.org/abastore/productpage/5110657P.

2. See http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/productsandservices/services/usingtechnology.law.

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