Take a second and check what browser you are using. FireFox? Chrome, perhaps? Do you use WordPress for your blog, or use an Android-based smartphone? Like the “cloud,” you’ve probably been using open source applications without realizing it. Simply put, open source applications cost little or nothing (did you pay a vendor before downloading FireFox?) to download and use, and the source code—or the guts of the software—is freely available and accessible, so if you’re inclined to tinker, you can do so.
Here are five reasons lawyers should care about open source.
1. Platform agnostic. Mac or PC? It’s an age-old question and it doesn’t take long for either side to argue vehemently in favor of one over the other. This debate often carries over into open source discussions, too, and can lead to the misconception that open source only works on Linux machines. To the contrary, open source applications work on Linux, Macs and PCs, letting you stick with what is familiar.
2. Mix and match. Lawyers tend to think in absolutes: It is either this … or it isn’t. While that’s certainly beneficial when arguing a case, it can wreak havoc with your office technology and productivity. Staying completely proprietary gets expensive with each new set of upgrades, and switching completely to open source can mean disrupting your already familiar work flow. There’s no need for either. Instead, look at what you use every day, and see where an open source alternative makes sense. For example, save the money you’d spend on upgrading Microsoft Office yet again by downloading LibreOffice, for free. Find yourself resizing images for blog posts, maybe dabbling in some website coding? Use GIMP for photos and Nvu for coding instead of purchasing Photoshop, Dreamweaver or the entire Adobe Creative Suite.
3. Waiting room productivity. Dennis Kennedy and Rodney Dowell suggested this during their ABA TECHSHOW 2011 open source presentation, and it’s worth repeating. Why not recycle an old computer by setting it up in your waiting area with open source applications for client use? Your client can catch up on the news, check email or review a document while waiting. Granted there will need to be some security measures in place, but now you’ve offered your clients a more productive means of waiting at no additional cost. Chances are your client will appreciate the opportunity, even if it is just a few minutes to catch up on the news.
4. No 1-800 support menu maze. “You’re call is very important to us. Please stay on the line and a representative will be with you shortly.” Sound familiar? And how often have you Googled your question while waiting for support to pick up? With open source, you can skip the 1-800 support maze and go directly to the source. Be it forums, wikis or direct contact with the developer, you’ll get an answer.
5. Don’t like it? No problem! Replace at no charge. Not every application works for everyone, and finding this out with a proprietary application is costly. With open source that’s no problem. Just uninstall it, search SourceForge again and try another application. The cost of switching is merely a little bit of time to test it out instead of a few hundred dollaers—or a few thousand—for a new installation, setup and training.
Gwynne Monahan is best known by her Twitter handle: @econwriter5. She has written several articles on open source applications for lawyers and legal professionals, and has presented on open source as well as issues surrounding social media. She is currently Community Manager for Clio and is spearheading Small Firm Innovation.