As readers know, I occasionally post on subjects dealing with law office management, an area I got interested in while writing an article Starting A New Law Office: A Checklist Download 08-06 - TBJ Starting A New Law Office for the Texas Bar Journal four years ago.
In recent weeks we've made a few more changes around the Hub that I thought might be of interest along these lines, specifically dealing with copiers/printers, lighting and network cabling.
As I said in the TBJ article, if you practice primarily in courts that have electronic filing, you may find that you really don't need a traditional copier. For a year or so, we did not have a copier at all, relying on individual desktop printers and a networked all-in-one, along with the services of the local print shop a block from the office when we had heavier or color jobs. But when we got into a major case in state court which involved early morning hearings and lots of copies, we had to rent one, and we kept it for a couple of years just in case the need arose again. In part that was because the all-in-one just wasn't getting the job done - it was slow, unreliable, and didn't scan and print two-sided.
But a couple of weeks ago I reevaluated our need for a large printer in light of what PC Magazine had to say in its review of the HP Officejet Pro 8600 Plus e-All-in-One, which it gave its editor's choice rating. The thing scans and prints two sided, in b&w and color, scans to designated network folders, and print via e-mail if you need it to, i.e. I can e-mail a file to it to be printed. It also set itself up on our network with virtually no guidance from me, which means it is smarter than me, which something I generally look for. The cost per sheet is 1.6 cents b&w and 7.2 cents color.
It scans significantly slower than my ScanSnap and isn't quite as intelligent about when d/s scanning is needed, but it allows the rest of the office to scan documents as they come in so we remain paperless. (It also prints photos, scans to various card formats and has numerous other bells and whistles which I haven't found any need for).
Most importantly, the cost of the printer - $219 (it's actually cheaper now) is substantially less than the per-month rental charge we were paying for even a low-end copier with duplexing features. But my favorite part is the amount of space it saves. The old copier took up the entire space shown by the table in the attached photo of our copy/supply room. The photos are somewhat deceptive - the table is actually five feet long and two feet wide - substantially larger than the countertop.
Of course we still need to rent high speed copiers for trial but that is something trial teams always do, no matter what copier we have. But absent trial, experience has taught us that with electronic filing we just don't need a copier - if we have a significant print job we can just get the print shop across the square to do it. It is just rare - exceedingly rare - that we need to print more than a good all-in-one can handle. And even including the ink, the cost appears to be one-twelfth - or less - the cost of a traditional copier.
The Hub - the renovated 1870's shoe store building that houses SBPS' Marshall office, is just about the only building I have ever seen where the lighting at night actually makes it look like the sets on TV's The West Wing, i.e. you have enough accent lighting to find your way around, but nowhere near enough to actually work. And that's by design - in part because the 1897 metal ceilings look their best when they're underlit, we were consciously emphasizing the artwork around the office, and because it's hard to fill 14' tall spaces with light. But it was also because I'd rather add task lighting as needed, because most studies conclude that traditional work areas are usually terribly overlit with twice the fluorescent ceiling fixtures they really need. So we started dark and loaded (and are continuing to load) the office with track and other accent and task lighting.
But the two rooms where we were consistently underlit were in the 113 side conference room, and in the 11 side "atrium" where we restored the 1928-era shoe store shelving "look" to serve as the primary war room during trials.
In the conference room (shown at left with original fixture) we had track lighting for the artwork and a ceiling fan with light fixture, but the bulbs wer limited to four 40 watt candelabra which at best only dimly lit the room. (Note to self - never buy a ceiling fan without checking the type of bulbs it uses against where you'll be hanging it). We recently replaced that fixture with a new alabaster hanging fixture which provides almost three times the light, providing the bright light that the room needs to function well. (Note the changed color of the table with the additional light).
We also changed out the artwork in order to feature Carol Pace's painting which uses the original blueprints of the Marshall federal courthouse when it was first constructed as our post office in the 1910's. (As you can tell, my boys like the room just fine for an evening of McDonald's, Angry Birds and a movie).
Over on the 111 side, this picture from 1928 was the guide for the renovation of the principal war room, which includes original shelving (resized for notebooks instead of shoe boxes) one one wall, and rolling file box shelving on the side walls (which most trial teams move out of the way to accommodate paralegal work stations and copiers).
During the day, the restored skylight provides plenty of light, but for the trial team that chooses to work after dark, the lighting presented some problems. Most of that we solved with task lights - lamps and so forth, but during the hiatus between our last trial in October and the next one set for February we added more lighting, including the two wall sconces shown in this picture, plus a set of track lighting on the back side of the arched opening. Now the space has sufficient ambient lighting throughout, even at night.
The current arrangement avoids the sin of flooding an old building with too much light, but provides plenty for working by.
Since our offices in Marshall consist of an "office" side and a "trial" side for visiting trial teams (the bottom half of the attached floor plan), we installed the network cabling with that in mind, so that trial teams could set up their own networks without having to run new cabling - just plug their switch into the existing system and select which of the Ethernet drops they needed.
But we wanted the system to be a turn-key one where the visiting trial team could keep their equipment (switches and servers) in their own wiring and supply closet, and still wanted the ability to have our phones on the "rent" side for use when we weren't in trial, as well as the ability to hook visiting SBPS lawyers working from the rent side into our network as needed. In other words, we wanted to have our cake, eat it, sell it, and rent it.
We finally got that over the weekend by reconfiguring the existing network into "office" and "visiting" networks, and relocating the Ethernet connection for the "visiting" network to the supply closet on the visiting side, using the twin sleeves we installed under the floor during the renovation two years ago. We now don't need to change anything for most visiting trial teams, but retain the flexibility to provide additional Ethernet drops to the trial team (by converting the visiting side phone drops to visiting network data drops - everything in this building is Cat 6, so there's no difference between phone and data cabling), or pull some back into our network, simply by plugging and unplugging a couple of cables.
Practicing law is rewarding and enjoyable, but I also enjoy working with the infrastructure of the office that allows it to happen. In coming weeks I'll post on how I use my iPad as a third monitor and otherwise try to spend more time during the day working while standing. Who knows what else I'll come up with.