The RuralLawyer Book

Becoming A Rural Lawyer - A Personal Guide to Establishing a Small Town Practice by Bruce CameronWell, it’s official – Becoming a Rural Lawyer is here. Like RuralLawyer the blog, RuralLawyer the book is designed to help you decide if you’re meant to practice in the 128,000 small towns dotting the US landscape. Becoming a Rural Lawyer looks at the myths of practicing in small towns, discusses emerging areas of rural practice, talks about the rhythms and (unwritten) rules of small town life, and  includes advice, tips, and words of wisdom from rural lawyers from across the US.

Becoming a Rural Lawyer is available through (where I welcome your impressions of the book).

It went bump in the night

Well, I knew that one day I would lose a disk, but I really didn’t need it to happen today, I really didn’t need to lose the disk with my database on it, and I certainly did not expect a 2 month old disk to pack up and go south. The cool thing is that I was down for less than 90 minutes and half of that was spent running to the local big box computer store to get a new drive.

It took all of 3 mouse clicks and less than 45 minutes for CrashPlan to do a complete restore from my on-site backup. Had I not wanted instant gratification, I could have restored from my off-site personal cloud in little over 2 hours. Had I ever wondered about justifying the cost of having a highly redundant back up system, today put all my doubts to rest. Rather than spending countless hours rebuilding my contact list, document database, forms, etc. I went to lunch while my hardware and software did their thing.

Building A Practice: Stepping Up The Hardware

Admittedly, the basic hardware for a law office is not very sexy, but utilitarian seldom is. It will get the job done until the money starts rolling in. Now, should you want something a bit more, here’s what I’d add:

  1. A large LCD monitor, and a bluetooth keyboard and mouse. While that laptop keyboard and screen are fine for on-the-go work, for long hours at a desk, an external monitor, and a fullsized keyboard and mouse will significantly reduce eye, neck and finger strain.
  2. A plain paper scanner (preferably one that will scan both sides of a page simultaneously). Anything that will reduce the amount of paper in your office is a time-saver. It is far easier to keep a digital client file organized than it is to track all the paper associated with the hard copy version.
  3. A removable USB hard drive system like the Iomega REV system. This is a backup to your backup. The idea is to have a set of periodic backups that you can store at a remote location and can cycle through on a periodic basis. This way you have a series of backups so that you are not dependent on any single storage device to preserve your data.
  4. A dual monitor desktop computer.  Add this last, it ties you down and eats up desk real estate and for most purposes does not add a great deal more functionality than that provided by your laptop.

Building A Practice: The Minimum Hardware

I was recently discussing the hardware requirements for a new firm with a colleague and we distilled the bare minimum hardware requirements to: a laptop with at least a 15″ display, a black & white laser printer,  and an external USB hard drive at least as big as the laptop’s internal drive.

The laptop should be a desktop-replacement class machine. Leave the ultra-portables for another day, this machine is going to be your office workhorse and should have the computational “horsepower” (CPU speed, system memory, and disk space) to be able to run multiple applications simultaneously, and should have a full-sized keyboard so you can type on it comfortably for long periods.

In terms of print quality, speed, and longevity, single function, black and white laser printers shine. It is even possible to find black and white laser printers with auto duplexing, multiple paper trays and support for both envelopes and legal paper in the sub-$500 price range.

Combine an external USB drive and an on-line backup service like Mozy or Carbonite and you have the bare minimum for a redundant backup system. Use backup software like Retrospect to create a  mirror image of your system disk on the external drive will provide immediate access to your data should your system disk pack it in. Regular incremental backups to an on-line service will allow you to keep a copy of your data in a relatively safe off-site location. It may take longer to rebuild from incremental backups, but at least they will be there should a catastrophy wipe out your office.

Metrics That Matter: Data Loss

It is estimated that data loss costs U.S. businesses average $12-418 billion per year and, on average, each hour of downtime costs $50,000. The average cost to re-enter 20 megabytes of data is between $17,000 and $19,000 and takes between 19 and 21 days[i]. The cost to recreate data from scratch is estimated to be between $2000 and $8000 per megabyte[ii]. A data loss event can be catastrophic occurrence; 60% of companies that lose their data close within 6 months of the event and 72% fail within 24 months[iii].

The leading causes of data loss are: hardware or system malfunctions (40-44%), human error (29-32%), software corruption (13-14%), computer viruses (6-7%), theft or data breach (9%), hardware destruction or natural disasters (3%)[iv]. The leading causes of data theft are: attacks from external sources (73%), theft by business partners (39%), and attacks from internal sources (18%)[v]. It estimated that: 1 in 5 computers will suffer a fatal hard drive crash within its lifespan, 15% of laptops are stolen or lost (approximately 2000 per day), and, on average, a hard drive fails every 15 seconds[vi]. Continue reading