TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Best Computer Monitor Setup for Lawyers

Lawyerist:  The Best Computer Monitor Setup for Lawyers:

MonitorsMost people focus on the CPU — the box that sits on or under your desk — when buying a computer. You will find regularly-updated buying guides full of specs for processor speed, memory, storage, etc., just about everywhere. But most CPUs will handle a lawyer’s basic computing needs. Specs are not what make for a good computing experience. A monitor, for example, is far more important than your computer’s processor’s clock speed.

I used to work in an outdoor store selling canoes and kayaks. Customers regularly came in planning to buy a $2,000 kevlar kayak, then went straight to the cheap paddles and PFDs (life jackets, if you prefer). But it makes much more sense to buy a $500 paddle, a high-end PDF, and a cheap kayak than it does to buy a $2,000 kayak, a $50 paddle, and a $20 PFD. The paddle will be in constant motion, and your PFD will be shifting with every movement. Cheap products mean slower progress, fatigue, sore wrists, and chafing.

Similarly, you will spend nearly all your time staring at your computer’s monitor, not pushing its CPU to the limit. You can run Microsoft Word and whatever else you use to manage your practice on a five-year-old laptop (at least). But a fuzzy picture, poor contrast, and limited adjustment will ruin your eyesight and contort your spine. Get a good monitor and cut costs on the CPU, if you have to. ...

There are good reasons to consider a second — or third or fourth — monitor. There are also some bad reasons to have extra screens.

Let’s dispense with the bad, first. It is tempting to use an extra monitor as a “dashboard” for your email and calendar (Outlook), or your social media, or whatever it is you think you might want to have visible at all times. This is a bad idea. There is no such thing as multitasking and all you will accomplish by keeping so many things visible at once is to distract yourself. In fact, at least one study found that a single 24” monitor was more productive than multiple (or larger) monitors.

If you can use your extra screens to help you work more effectively on one thing at a time, though, go for it. For example, it is harder to spread out more than one document if they are on your computer. If you can put two pages side-by-side on one monitor, you can put three or four together on two monitors — and so on. Or you can flip a monitor 90 degrees to see more of the document you are drafting or reading, or to zoom in and still see the whole page.

So, despite that study, if you are paperless and you frequently need to look at more than two pages at the same time, get a second monitor.

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Once I got a 2nd monitor I wondered how I had lived without it. The basic tasks for all lawyers, research and document drafting, are infinitely more efficient with 2 monitors. The document you are drafting on 1 screen, your source material on the 2nd screen. No more constant tabbing back and forth.

Amen to this article, if you do not have a 2nd monitor, get one!

Posted by: Todd | Jul 12, 2014 6:13:42 AM

I have just one monitor but it is installed in portrait, not landscape position. I mostly use tax software and word processing programs. I don't write horizontal letters or fill out horizontal forms.

This used to require some special software but now Windows has some setting to make the adjustment. I could probably find it if I ever wanted to rotate back 90 degrees. I did buy a special monitor mount that allows for rotation and height adjustment. It didn't cost much and was easy to install.

Posted by: Bob Kamman | Jul 12, 2014 11:16:39 AM

What sort of computer do you have driving it? I have a MacBook Air, and can only seem to drive one external monitor as well as the screen on the computer. I can't believe it, I wanted to set up 2 or 3 monitors and keep the computer shut, but cannot come close to figuring it out, which is a big drawback.

Posted by: Bill Bob | Jul 14, 2014 10:07:53 AM

I'm a contract writer, try hard to run a paperless shop, and couldn't get by without three portrait monitors. I'm also on my second high-end Bluetooth keyboard, the other end of the human-factors loop (a mouse is far less important, especially after a couple hours spent learning keyboard shortcuts).

Posted by: Jim Miller | Jul 14, 2014 10:18:43 AM

I like having three monitors--- one big one for working on, a tall skinny one for my file directories, and a third smaller one for all the app icons so I can open up a new app easily.

Posted by: Eric Rasmusen | Jul 14, 2014 10:19:11 AM

Have had several monitors that allow the user to rotate the screen 90° for a vertical viewer. A person can also purchase a wall mount that allows the monitor angle to be altered. Great for viewing public documents, or reading just about anything online.

Posted by: David Webber | Jul 14, 2014 10:19:28 AM

Bill Bob:

You can get USB display adapters that will work with a Macbook. You'd plug one monitor directly into the MB, then the others into the USB adapters. You'd probably need a USB hub and a bunch of cables, but these work well for documents. Not so good for video though.

Posted by: Melvyn | Jul 14, 2014 10:31:29 AM

Bill Bob,
Take a look at Matrox 'DualHead2Go' modules. They also make a Triple

Posted by: howardm | Jul 14, 2014 10:38:53 AM

Two monitors good, three monitors better. But I did not realize just how much better until (like Jim above) I put all three in portrait.

Posted by: Southern Man | Jul 14, 2014 11:10:25 AM

"In fact, at least one study found that a single 24” monitor was more productive than multiple (or larger) monitors."

I'm seriously not buying that study for anyone using two or more applications/windows at once to actually do work - and in turn, I can't imagine doing anything document-related without looking at two or more documents.

You can lose a lot of time swapping between them or opening/closing windows, when another monitor would simply allow you to leave them open.

Posted by: Anony | Jul 14, 2014 12:13:16 PM

I am actually so poor I write these comments down on used paper, and send them to Prof Caron via carrier pigeon.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Jul 14, 2014 1:16:41 PM

@UN, at least you can afford the pigeon. I have resorted to yodeling my comments.

Posted by: Daniel | Jul 15, 2014 5:10:48 AM

Unemployed Northeastern, I’m still laughing.

Here’s the ideal computer monitor arrangement for attorneys. It allows them to track philandering parties in divorce cases, rapidly deliver business cards at auto accidents, and deal with clients who don’t pay. >>> Law Firm Control Room

Posted by: Woody | Jul 15, 2014 8:06:01 AM