If you’ve recently passed the bar exam, chances are that you already own an Apple device. Based on an unofficial, first-hand counting of Apple vs. Windows machines by a proctor with time to kill from two separate bar exams in 2017, I found that 67% of those taking the exam were using Apple computers!
If you already own an Apple computer, there’s no need to convince you to try running your firm on a Mac. If you are a Mac-curious, Windows-using attorney looking for a more detailed analysis for all the reasons switching is a great idea, you can grab a copy of Macs-in-Law: The Definitive Guide for the Mac-Curious, Windows-Using Attorney published by the American Bar Association , but suffice it to say that it is entirely possible to run a law firm on a Mac, should you choose to do so (more on that below).
In recent years there has been a dramatic, positive shift in the ability to run a law firm on Macs. There used to be file conversion issues, limitations and stability issues for the Microsoft Suite on Macs, and an extreme shortage of the practice management software and other critical software needed by law firms. The old sales model for this software made it prohibitively expensive to get up and running, and near impossible to get started on Macs, since most server-based software was PC-only.
Thanks to advancements in cloud-based technology, however, and a continual move away from local, or in-house servers, it is now easier than ever to run your law practice on Macs. Practice management software used to cost thousands in up-front fees, plus thousands for the setup and installation of a server, not to mention the ongoing maintenance. Nowadays, you can easily sign up for practice management software like Clio and pay a low, per-user fee with no additional up-front costs. These advances have leveled the Mac vs. PC playing field for lawyers, and more attorneys are making the switch to a Mac-based practice.
This article will get you 80% of the way to starting your very own Apple-based law firm (for the 20%—i.e., the finer details—you may want to work with a consultant or I.T. company). You will learn about what hardware and software you need to get your Apple-based law firm up and running, along with some important considerations for starting a law firm using Apple technology.
Which Mac should you get? This is a common question, and the answer is less complicated than you might think.
If you own an Apple computer that is less than three years old, use that one for your legal practice. Why three years old? Macs last a long time, but older macs may run too slowly for your work needs.
My wife’s MacBook Air is six years old and going strong, but she only goes on her computer for 30 minutes a day to check email, kill some time on Facebook, and take care of a few tasks. If her computer performs slowly due to the six-year-old processor, or has reliability issues, it doesn’t affect her. However, you’ll be spending the majority of your working hours on your computer, so it is important that you have a reliable machine.
Also, when you buy a new Mac, invest in AppleCare. This adds an additional two years of warranty coverage to the provided one year, so you’ll be covered for three years. If something happens (besides user-caused physical or liquid damage), Apple will typically fix or replace your Mac.
Buying a new Mac might seem like a large purchase, but it’s important to think of your computer is an investment, because it is one of your most important tools. A construction worker will spend $53.50 for a good quality 16-ounce claw hammer, even though he can get a lower quality one for $3.95, because this tool is critical to him and will be used a LOT.
If you’re having difficulty stomaching the expense, I recommend dividing the computer cost by 600 days (i.e., a very conservative estimate of the number of days you’ll work in three years) to look at your computer in terms of cost-per-day.
If you don’t have your own computer yet, or if need to buy some for your staff, you’ll first need to consider whether to buy a desktop or a laptop. If you or your team member will always work from one location and will not expect to work outside of the office, a desktop may be appropriate. This tends to be the case for paralegals and receptionists. If you expect to do any work outside the office, a laptop is the obvious way to go.
In terms of desktop computer offerings, Apple makes the Mac Mini and the iMac. I recommend iMacs for the majority of users, because the base settings have more powerful processors, bigger hard drives, and more memory. In addition, Apple makes some of the best monitors in the industry, and iMacs also come with a keyboard, a Magic Mouse or Magic Trackpad, a camera, built-in speakers, and a microphone for video conferencing. It’s everything you’ll need in a computer for your law practice in one sleek package.
The budget choice Mac Mini might seem tempting at first, but the base model is very limited and I recommend that anyone who gets one also invest in a few basic upgrades when purchasing it, and these can almost double the price.
You will also need a monitor, keyboard, mouse, microphone, external camera, and most likely, a set of external speakers. Each Mac Mini comes with a tiny speaker built-in, but this is really not made for listening to webinars and conference calls.
All of these extras can add up to a rats’ nest of cables on your desk. The price of an iMac is often comparable, plus the look and footprint on your desk are all things worth considering.
In terms of laptops, Apple offers the MacBook, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. The 12″ MacBook is underpowered for the needs of most legal professionals. The MacBook Air has only seen minor updates since 2015 and is also underpowered.
Either of these could serve as backup devices or as secondary devices. I had an 11″ MacBook Air (now discontinued) which I used when I was out of the office, but when I was in the office I worked primarily on a 27″ iMac. I have since switched to a laptop as my only computer—the 13” MacBook Pro with TouchBar
In my experience, the MacBook Pro is the preferred choice by attorneys. They come in a 13″ and 15″ size, and the base models with TouchBar are enough to satisfy the needs of the majority of users.
Other hardware items
You’ll need more than just a computer or laptop to run your Mac-based office.
One often-overlooked item by laptop users is an external monitor. To save yourself from a visit to the chiropractor for back pain, it’s worth investing in an external monitor to put in your primary workplace, and to set it up at eye level so that you have proper posture when working at your desk.
In addition you will need a high-quality scanner and laser printer for your office.
Depending on your needs and the size of the firm, the options can vary widely. One staple revered by attorneys for well over a decade is the Fujitsu ScanSnap. Their current model is the iX500, which has a small footprint and can make light work of your big scanning jobs. For the printer, you will want to go laser, as you will spend a fortune on inkjets. Options here are extensive, so make sure the printer you invest in has Mac drivers.
At a minimum, you will need word processing software, practice management software, file management software, and software to manage your email, contacts, and calendars. Depending on your field of law, the services you’d like to provide, and your business model, you may need other solutions as well.
For email, contacts, and calendars, you’d be hard-pressed to get better value for your dollar than by going with Microsoft Office 365. The Business Premium license is $12.50/month (with an annual commitment), and it gives you tools to manage your email, contacts, and calendars, as well as the entire suite of Microsoft Office applications, which you can install on up to five devices. This includes the full suite of apps for your laptop, iPhone, iPad, and more. Another solid option is G-Suite or Google Apps, but if you choose this to provide your email, contacts, and calendars, you will still need to invest in Office 365 separately if you’d like to work with Microsoft Office, Excel, and other similar products.
You’ll also need to invest in a cloud-based file management solution. Most Mac-based attorneys choose Box Sync, ShareFile or Dropbox Business. NetDocs, while popular, has limited functionality for working on a Mac.
Lastly, you must invest in a practice management solution like Clio. Trying to run your practice without dedicated practice management software is, in my opinion, absurd.
You will waste a lot of time trying to manage all the details of your practice on your own. Even if you use a patchwork of spreadsheets, software, and other tools designed for project management but not for legal practices specifically, you may lose even more money in lost time trying to wrestle with a number of incomplete solutions.
This lack of efficiency may not seem to matter when you’re just starting out, but this issue will compound and grow exponentially as your business grows.
Think you’re safe from security concerns by virtue of running your law firm on a Mac? Not so much. Without going too much detail, most security threats these days are platform-agnostic, meaning you are at the same level of risk of being affected whether you are on a Mac or PC.
For a more in-depth security analysis and recommendations for Mac-using law firms, please download my free report, The 7 Most Critical IT Security Protections Every Mac-Based Law Firm Must Have In Place Now To Protect Themselves From Cybercrime, Data Breaches And Hacker Attacks.
One must-do in terms of security is to enable FileVault on your Mac. This will encrypt the information on your startup disk to help prevent unauthorized access. You’ll also want to make sure your phone and email are encrypted (instructions here) and take additional measures to ensure the security of your firm’s data.
Planning for the future
When planning for the future, think three, five, or, even 10 years out, as you must think differently depending on where you intend to take your firm. Will you remain solo, or do you see yourself at the head of a rapidly growing team?
Regardless of your decision, be aware that most Windows-centric I.T. consultants have limited experience with Apple computers, and while their intentions are rarely nefarious, their support may not be as helpful as you’d expect. I say this based on over a decade of experience cleaning up jobs done by these Windows-supporting I.T. folk. However, here are basic tips on getting good support depending on your growth plans:
Perhaps you left a large firm and want to keep things simple, or perhaps you’ve left a smaller firm to strike out on your own. Either way, if you’re going solo, there may not be much more you need to do on your end. If you keep your total head count to yourself plus one or two other staff, you should be able to manage the technology side of things on your own (so long as that’s something you feel fairly confident doing).
If not, find a competent hourly I.T. consultant whom you can call in times of need. It’s also a smart idea to have this consultant do yearly maintenance checks to keep your technology and security in top shape.
What you want to avoid is trying to do all things technical yourself and not knowing when to stop. You may try to fix what should be an easy issue, but before you know it, you’ll be 1.5 hours and 37 Google searches in, with no solution in sight.
In the early days of your firm, you may have plenty of time to do these things, but as your book of business increases, this will cut into your billable hour time, or cut into what should be your free time (evenings and weekends).
As Chelsea Lambert explains, “A difficult truth of running a law firm is that you need to ‘fire’ yourself from the jobs that rob your law firm of revenue. For example, when you decide to do the work of a paralegal, who can be paid $30 per hour, and your billable rate is $200, you are robbing your law firm of $170 per hour.”
An I.T. consultant likely bills less than you do, so it’s definitely worth your while to invest in a little extra help.
Growing a team of five or more people
Maybe you’re breaking away from another firm with a larger group and are opening your doors with four or five people (or more) right out of the gate. Or maybe you’re a solo, but know that your goal is to build a larger law firm from the ground up. If so, you’ll want to plan for additional support, as continuing to manage the technology in-house can severely affect the efficiency of everyone on your team. As your firm grows, the complexity increases and data control and security becomes far more complicated than when it was just you and one paralegal.
An experienced consultant can recommend the solutions that will enable your firm to scale efficiently.
A viable option for a growing Mac-based firm is to find an hourly consultant to help with I.T. requests when needed. However, this arrangement has its downsides: Since your consultant is billing by the hour you may be tempted to wait until you have no choice but to call them—meaning you’re handling issues reactively rather than proactively. In addition, hourly consultants are often solo operators, so their availability may be limited when you need them.
Another option is to find a Managed Service Provider, where you pay a flat fee per month and they take on full management of all things technology. The benefit here is that your firm can benefit by outsourcing the ongoing maintenance, security needs, new-user and existing-user computer setup, project management, and more, without worrying about hourly costs.
Whether you plan on being solo for a while, or whether you plan to grow, you’ll want to consider how you’ll handle your changing technology needs. By taking the right steps early on, you can absolutely set up a successful Mac-based law firm.
With Clio, starting a Mac-based law firm is even easier than you think. Tom and the team at GlobalMac IT can help set up everything you need—contact them today.
Tom Lambotte is an author, speaker, I.T. advisor, security expert, and the CEO of GlobalMac IT, an I.T. provider helping growth-minded, Mac-based law firms transform operations and increase efficiency by leveraging technology. The company’s unique process defines their clients’ biggest dangers, opportunities, and strengths. GlobalMac IT has been a Gold level Clio Certified Consultant since 2015.