Legal Firm Computer Hardware

The Optimal Hardware Setup for Law Firms and Work from Home Environments

In operational terms, law firms had to adjust to Covid, which firms have done by having all staff members work through it remotely at home with the tools that they already had or those provided by the firm. Through that process, we now have different models of working, with brick and mortar, remote, or hybrid work, but most firms are not working remotely as efficiently as possible. This blog is about the optimal hardware environment for firms to both operate most efficiently, as well as best manage the overall work from home environment for the firm.

Truly progressive, future-looking law firms that saw the benefits of focusing on technology prior to covid, had already invested heavily in their staff’s mobile and at home hardware environments. Those firms had little or no adjustment to make when covid hit. They were operating with laptops/notebooks and generally, multiple monitors (if they had the physical space) connected to those devices through docking stations not just at the brick-and-mortar offices, but also at home for off regular office times, evenings and weekends as required, and also occasionally on work from home days as allowed by the firm. A subset of the firms were even paying their people for hardware efficiency setups beyond just mobile devices, or they were supplying the other devices directly for consistency across the firm. Even at home, their people had multiple monitors with docking stations connecting them. And these firms were paperless, and in the cloud already. (BTW – years ago Microsoft researchers reported that just adding a second monitor boosted productivity between 9% and 50%, depending on what type of work was being done. Legal work would be more toward the 50% improvement in efficiency.)

To drive all firms to the most efficient work from home environment, what should firms focus on? How do they get started? Non-hardware givens are good bandwidth, moving as much of their software tools to the cloud as possible, having clients in portals, and having an overall paperless workflow.

Now the hardware stuff

There is massive confusion in the general public about connectivity standards and rightly so. VGA, DisplayPort, HDMI (1 or2), DVI (which one)? Thunderbolt? (1,2,3, or4?) With what? USB type-C delivery? Mini-C? Theoretically, there can be eighteen distinct types of connections with your monitors! That’s a cable and docking station nightmare today. And now they’re coming out with a new HDMI, HDMI 2.0A!

In the midst of this confusion, what should firms do that want to avoid the connection nightmare, and to bring themselves to a level playing field with those progressive firms noted above?

I’ll try to simplify the confusion for you and keep things just to a small set of terms that you need to know.

There are two key questions. They are (1), what connectivity capabilities do you have on your mobile devices (laptops and other devices)? And (2), what connectivity capabilities are on your monitors? These two questions also drive your docking station requirements, which are critical to making the home office work.

Let’s start with your laptops. What type of connections are on your laptops? Thunderbolt (1,2,3, or 4??) or USB-C, which is really the new standard. Note: if it’s just USB-A which most people think of as just “USB” (can be USB 2.0 or 3.0) you won’t be able to have your docking station charge your laptop. That’s a big downside. If that is the case, I suggest upgrading your laptops.

The difference between Thunderbolt and USB-C is that Thunderbolt can support much higher bandwidth. It supports up to 40Gb/s, and USB-C is generally 10Gb/s. (If you don’t have a heavy data transfer requirement, you won’t need Thunderbolt.)

The problem with Thunderbolt and USB-C is that the ports and cables look alike. If your laptop supports Thunderbolt there will be a lightning icon next to the connection. If there is one there, then you will need a docking station that supports Thunderbolt as well.

Now monitors, and I’ll assume you don’t need a super high refresh rate. The key here is that they have both DisplayPort and HDMI. If they don’t, upgrade to avoid the multitude of connectivity combinations mentioned earlier.

So, in summary and keeping things simple, have current laptops with USB-C or Thunderbolt capability, replacing them every two to three years. It helps to have everything in the cloud or firms will need a working image that requires constant updating and installing that image on all the laptops. And have at least Windows 10 operating systems which is another given if the firm is a Windows firm. Also have newer monitors that have both HDMI and DisplayPort capability. (Just a decent refresh rate is fine.)

The docking station is critical to all of this. Be extremely cautious when selecting the standard for your firm. It should be able to support your laptop connection, Thunderbolt or USB-C, whichever you are using, both DisplayPort and HDMI (2K and 4K), multiple USB-A connections as there is a lot of that still out there, ethernet, and the other requirements for video and audio. And make sure it supports MST mode. My opinion is that only supporting extend mode for your monitors is not much help. You want to see different things on your different monitors so you can work most efficiently. Most docking station vendors will walk you through what you need, by asking what types of connections you have. And if you have other devices to support at home, like printers, scanners, etc. connect to them through home networks and not directly.

Operationally for work from home, my personal preference is:

  • A laptop operating in clamshell mode, with a fan under it, as most heat up during extended use.
  • Two monitors the same size (24″ is plenty for most) with each with DisplayPort and HDMI.
  • A docking station that supports my environment (see above).
  • Other devices would be speakers and a mic (there are other options to speakers and mic, if workers don’t have private areas and they would disturb others)
  • A webcam if the monitors don’t have one built in.

There you have it. The terms you need to know are Thunderbolt, USB-A, USB-C, HDMI, and DisplayPort. That’s really it.

And this is not difficult for self-service setup. With the proper list of hardware to start with, it’s a piece of cake. The result is a team of at the office, on the road, and at home warriors.

How can ConnectTMA help you?