An updated version of this post can be found here at “Still Want an All Mac Law Office? What You Need and How to Do It.”
We’ve been talking a lot these past few weeks about how much it costs to start a solo practice from scratch. We’ve had some terrific responses, including litigator John Snyder’s checklist. This got us wondering, if you had the chance to pick all new technology, might you choose a Mac this time? We asked Brett Burney, who runs Macs in Law, for a primer on setting up a Mac law office.
There’s nothing wrong with using Windows, but some lawyers dare to be different with a Mac. Some blame the “halo effect” of the iPod, iPhone and iPad—in that once folks experience the Apple ecosystem, they want the same for their computer systems. And a lot of lawyers and their families use Macs at home and desire the same for their office.
Of course, you don’t have a lot of choices when you’re shopping for a Mac. However, many people appreciate the limited selection so they don’t have to choose among umpteen brands and wade through unlimited options.
Desktop or Laptop?
The first main decision is whether you need a desktop or laptop. I’m seeing more folks today choose a desktop because they use their iPad when they’re out of the office. But laptops are obviously more versatile if you travel and need the computing horsepower. And remember it’s easy to hook up a large external monitor to a laptop when you’re sitting at your office desk.
For a Mac desktop, I recommend the 27-inch iMac, which starts at $1,699. Some will argue for the much-less-expensive Mac Mini, which starts at $599, but you have to supply your own monitor, keyboard and mouse. The iMac has everything you need in one svelte package. You could get by with the 21-inch iMac, but I always advocate for more screen real estate.
For a Mac laptop, I used to recommend the MacBook Pro, but today’s MacBook Air is plenty powerful for anything a lawyer needs to do. Stick with the 13-inch MacBook Air, which starts at $1,199. The Retina display of the new 15-inch MacBook Pro is incredibly tempting, since it makes a huge difference in reading documents on the screen. But the Retina display will eventually make its way into every Mac laptop, so save your money for another year or two.
Do yourself a favor and also pick up a Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500M (“M” is for Mac) scanner while you’re buying hardware. The ScanSnap can be found for around $400 at some online retailers, and it comes with a full version of Adobe Acrobat Professional Version 9. (It’s not the latest version of Acrobat, but that would cost you $449 on its own.)
What About Software?
Moving on to software, the biggest hurdle for Mac-using lawyers is the limited amount of legal software available for the Mac. There used to be no legal-specific software for Macs, but that has changed over the past three to five years. However, the software lacks the maturity of the Windows applications that have been around for decades.
Here are some Mac-native legal software applications to consider:
- Daylite ($279.99) is a “business management” application that offers features similar to legal practice management systems such as Time Matters and Amicus Attorney, although Daylite is more broadly marketed for all kinds of businesses and professions.
- TimeNet Law ($279.99) is a “law firm management” suite that includes time entry, accounting and reporting modules similar to other legal practice management suites.
- qd documents ($699) is litigation software that manages discovery documents and transcripts built on top of the FileMaker database engine, similar to Summation or Concordance.
Note, too, that if you’re already using Windows software in your practice, you can actually continue using that software by running a virtual Windows system on your Mac using a program like VMware Fusion ($49.99) or Parallels Desktop for Mac ($79.99). These applications let you run a full version of Windows alongside your Mac operating system (though you’ll need to purchase a full version of Windows to install if you don’t already have a copy).
The Mac operating system comes with a free and extremely capable Mail application, a calendar (iCal) and Contacts. Many lawyers use these built-in applications just fine.
However, the main software purchase I recommend for Mac-using lawyers is Microsoft Office for Mac Home & Business 2011 (which starts at $199). Apple offers its own office suite of software called iWork ($79 for a box copy). But since the vast majority of the professional world that you interact with uses Microsoft Office, it’s worth the extra investment in MS Office. Nothing’s stopping you from using Pages from iWork ($19.99 in the Mac App store), but you’ll have to remember to always save your document in Word format before you send it out.
Lastly, there will be several small software applications that you’ll find invaluable as you start using your Mac. You might consider utilities like these:
- Hazel ($25)
- Alfred (free!)
- Circus Ponies Notebook ($49.95)
- TotalFinder ($18)
- HoudahSpot ($30)
- TextExpander ($34.95)
It’s easier today to move to a Mac, and the future looks even better. You can find a lot of help online from resources such as Ben Stevens’ The Mac Lawyer, David Spark’s MacSparky and, of course, Macs in Law.
Brett Burney is Principal of Burney Consultants LLC, an independent legal technology consulting practice. Brett provides litigation support for law firms and assists corporations with e-discovery questions. Brett also provides Mac and iPad training for lawyers seeking to learn how to use their iDevice more effectively and productively. E-mail Brett at firstname.lastname@example.org.