I wanted to wrap up the general thread of the last three posts I wrote regarding Linux in the law office, as from some of the comments posted, I believe some of the points I had made were unclear. The two most important things everyone must understand are: 1) I support Linux and am rooting for its success in the future. It has the potential of providing a huge return on investment due to the overall cost of implementation, and many of the applications written for Linux are just as good as their Windows counterparts, while being written in more efficient, less bloated, code; an 2) I am writing from the perspective of the solo and small law office and what technology is available today that will help us. I am a solo who formerly worked in small firms. I have never worked for a large firm, and so I am writing about what I know. Please take my posts in that context. That said, let me comment on how I see Linux entering the law firm market.
Larger law firms, say those with 50+ attorneys along with support staff, face a proportional cost of implementation for technology that may well make Linux a more viable option. Let’s start with just the servers. One of the comments to a previous post suggested a server-side solution to running Windows in the Linux environment, so this might be something that large firms would look at. In the Windows world, Server 2003 currently sells for $950 at PC Connection, as of this writing, and includes licenses for five users (workstations or other devices) that access that server. After that, you can buy Client Access Licenses (CALs) for roughly $35 each, whether in 5-packs or 20-packs. Now, beyond the cost of the server hardware, even if just for the 50 users, that is $2,525 plus any other server software you may want, along with the cost of the consultant to install and configure it. Many large firms have over 100 lawyers plus support staff. Assuming all users on one server, and 500 employees in a large firm, that is $18,275, assuming they all access the same server. More servers would mean even more money, because each machine would carry an initial price of $950 for the first 5 workstations or devices.
Even with different pricing from different vendors, or volume discounts, you can see where an open source software solution would make sense for large firms (even if just for the servers. The savings in software costs would offset the consulting fees, and future upgrades would be cheaper as well, which would make Linux a good initial investment. The server market would thus get Linux’s foot in the legal industry’s door, so to speak, and may well result in a migration to the desktop. Products like OpenOffice, Firefox and Thunderbird could provide much of the basic software needs. As to the “must-have” applications that lawyers require, these larger firms could drive the market for the open source development of Linux equivalents (or the testing of these programs with Wine or Cross Over). Although the switch to Linux would mean retraining, this cost is often incurred when upgrading in Windows products, but here would be an investment in the future with a cheaper upgrade path.
Once the larger firms create the market, the demand for Linux apps, and the use of Linux in general, this will filter down to the smaller firms and make it more straightforward for them to implement. Hopefully, that day will be soon, as competition is good, and it can only benefit the end user.