Conjuring up an automated practice

The issue now for a firm like my own is how to maximise our investment in technology and not to fall into the trap we did several years ago of purchasing a platform that was unsuitable for the commercial climate.

As a practice with 22 fee earners and 30 staff, we must grasp the technological nettle or lose business to leaner and meaner competitors.

Not all the fee earners in this practice have keyboard skills, but we found that when alerted to this fact the hardware retailers threw in tuition as part of the basic startup costs of installing a network.

We used a local computer consultant, Toni Miller, who now has his own consultancy, Sol Technology. Toni advised us of the configurations of the workstations and software, and installed all the hidden cabling over a weekend, so that all most of the fee earners noticed was that on Monday their secretaries were using PCs rather than Wangs.

Although the conversion from Wang to a PC network was smooth there were a few minor teething problems.

One of the most dramatic benefits was the drafting and reproduction of documents which are more easily edited and laid out. We are not yet at the stage where fee earners take a portable PC and overhead projection panel to clients' offices and draft documents face-to-face, but the day is not far away.

Where fee earners spend lengthy periods outside the office the use of notebook PCs is increasingly a necessity. This is particularly so in our case as we undertake a lot of immigration and refugee cases, often taking advice from our clients at ports of entry.

Most small and medium sized firms are guided not just by costs, but by systems that have been tried and tested by their competitors.

Desktop PCs are the most commercially viable because upgradability is one of their core features and they lend themselves to being networked in modest local area networks (LANs). When front office and back office operators require more applications than a more powerful PC at the heart of the LAN, a fileserver is a simple way of expanding the capabilities of the investment.

As a young City firm, our philosophy is to embrace leading edge technology and aim to be at the cutting edge.

Not every fee earner in this practice has come round to the idea that PC technology makes our life easier, nor that the technology will quickly pay for itself.

The Windows environment and the development of voice recognition software means that the wizardry is already here and you don't have to be a magician to use it.

Jarret Brown is senior litigation partner at Bayer Rosin.