How to Start a Law Firm on a Mac
If you’ve recently passed the BAR exam, chances are 2-to-1that you are already an Apple owner.
Based on an unofficial, first-handcounting of Apple vs. Windows machines by a proctor with time to kill from two separate BAR exams in 2017, I found that 67% were using Apple computers!
Why Go Mac?
If you already own an Apple computer, there’s no need to convince you.
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 Macs-in-Law: The Definitive Guide for the Mac-Curious, Windows-Using Attorney published by the American Bar Association (www.macsinlaw.com).
As the saying goes, Macs just work, and they have great reliability. They are much more secure than Windows computers.
I need to add that this fact, however, has caused many Mac users to be far too lackadaisical in their approach towards security—they think they don’t need to be concerned because they are on a Mac. That’s a false belief that we will tackle in a future article.
Thankfully, in recent years there has been a dramatic 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, as well as an extreme shortage of the practice management software and other critical software needed by law firms.
The old model, which required server-based software that clients connected to, also made it far more difficult to start up a practice using Macs. The old sales model for this software made it prohibitively expensive to get up and running.
Thanks to advancement in Cloud 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 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 playing field for starting a law on a Mac, and more attorneys are making the switch.
The keyword in this article’s description is basic.
This is not a comprehensive list of everything you will ever need, but this will get you 80% of the way to starting your Apple-based law firm.
We will cover two categories: the WHAT and the HOW.
You will learn about what hardware and software (stuff) you need to get up your Apple-based law firm up and running.
After that, we will discuss some of the HOW considerations to running a law firm on Apple technology and discuss some long term considerations on how to manage your technology.
Stuff – Hardware
Which Mac should you get?
This is a common question, and thanks to Apple’s streamlined options, in my mind it is not too complicated. First, if you have an Apple computer less than 3 years old, use that one. (skip to the software section).
Why 3 years old? My wife’s MacBook Air is 6 years old and going strong. Macs last a long time. But anything over 3 years old may run too slowly for your work needs.
My wife goes on her computer 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 the 6 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 you have a current one that is reliable.
Also invest in AppleCare, which adds an additional 2 years of warranty coverage to the provided 1 year, which takes you 3 years out. If something happens (besides user-caused physical or liquid damage), they will typically fix or replace your Mac.
Your computer is an investment, because it is one of your most important tools.
A construction worker will spend $53.50 for a 16 ounce claw hammer from Snap-On tools, even though he can get one from Harbor Freight Tools for $3.95, because this tool is critical to him and will be used a LOT.
To make this even clearer, I recommend dividing the computer cost by 600 days (conservative number of days worked in 3 years) to get an idea of the cost. This will help when considering certain add-ons or options to get.
If you don’t have computer yet, or need to buy some for your staff, here is a decision tree to work through.
Desktop or Laptop?
If you or the user will always work from one location and you will not expect to work outside of the office, a desktop may be appropriate. This tends to be for paralegals and receptionists. If you expect to do any work outside the office and to be mobile, a laptop is the obvious way to go.
Apple makes the Mac Mini and the iMac.
We 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 and a Magic Mouse or Magic Trackpad, and a camera, built-in speakers, and microphone for video conferencing. It’s everything you’ll need in a computer in one sleek package.
The budget choice Mac Mini seems tempting at first, but the base model is very limited and we recommend anyone who gets one to get a few basic upgrades when purchasing it, which almost doubles the price.
You will also need a monitor, keyboard, mouse, microphone (if it will ever be used for that), and an eternal camera (maybe) and most likely a set of external speakers. It comes with a tiny speaker built-in, but it is really not made for music or to listen to webinars, conference calls, etc.
By the time you add up these additional items and plug them all together, you’ll have a rats’ nest of cables, with peripherals that likely aren’t of the best quality. The price of an iMac is often comparable, plus the look and footprint on your desk are all things worth considering.
For laptops, Apple offers the MacBook, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. The 12″ MacBook is underpowered for most users.
The MacBook Air has only seen minor updates since 2015, does not offer a Retina screen (display with a resolution and pixel density so that a person is unable to discern the individual pixels at a normal viewing distance), 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 a27″ iMac. I have since switched to the next laptop as my only computer, the 13” MacBook Pro with TouchBar.
The MacBook Pro is the preferred choice by attorneys. They come in a 13″ and 15″ size, and the base models with Touch Bar are enough to satisfy the majority of users.
Other Hardware Items
One often-overlooked item by laptop users is an external monitor.
To save yourself from a visit to the chiropractor for back pain, you MUST invest in an external monitor to put in your primary workplace, which is set up at eye level so you have proper posture when working.
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 foot print and can make light work of your big scanning jobs.
For the printer, you want to go laser, as you will spend a fortune in ink costs on inkjets. Options here are extensive, so make sure the one you invest in has Mac drivers.
Stuff – Software
At a minimum, you will need software to manage your email/contacts/calendars,word processing software, practice management software, and file management software.
Again, this is NOT meant to be comprehensive, and you’ll need other solutions depending on your field of law and the tools you want to integrate.
For email/contacts/calendars, you’d be hard-pressed to get a better value for your dollar than by going with Office 365.
The Business Premium license is $12.50/month (with annual commitment), and it gives you email/contacts/calendars PLUS 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, but if you choose this to provide your email/contacts/calendars, you will still need to invest in Office 365 separately.
You’ll also need to invest in a cloud-based file management solution. Most attorneys choose Box Sync, FileShare or Dropbox for Business. NetDocs, while popular, has limited functionality for working on a Mac.
Lastly, you must invest in a practice management solution like Clio.
Having a computer and the basic software but trying to run your practice without dedicated practice management software is, in my opinion, absurd.
You will waste so much time trying to manage it on your own, and even if you use a patchwork of less-expensive, or free, solutions, you may be losing even more money in lost time trying to wrestle with all these incomplete solutions.
Not having a streamlined workflow will reduce your office’s efficiency. This may not seem to matter when starting up and have plenty of time, but this issue will compound and grow exponentially as you grow and add both more work and more staff to your firm.
Starting your law firm on Macs does not mean you get a Hall Pass to all the security concerns you hear about.
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, here (https://www.globalmacit.com/securityreport/
One must-do is to enable FileVault. Here is a link to a step by step article on Attorney-at-Work: https://www.attorneyatwork.com/full-disk-encryption-for-your-mac/
Plan for the Future
When planning for the future, think 3, 5, even 10 years out, as you must think differently depending on which direction you intend to go.
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 from over a decade of cleaning up jobs done by these Windows-supporting I.T. folk, who figure they support computers and Macs are computers, so therefore they can support them.
In reality they spend a small percentage of their time supporting Apple, so their skill set often reflects that.
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 you are starting and feel fairly certain this is the direction you want to take.
If so, then there may not be much more you need to do on your end. If you keep your total head count to yourself plus 1-2 other assistants, you should be able to manage the technology on your own (so long as that’s something you feel fairly confident doing).
If not, find a competent hourly IT 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-tip 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, and before you know it you are 1.5 hours and 37 Google searches in, with no solution in sight.
This quickly becomes infuriating. In the startup phase, 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).
A great resource is the Apple Consultants Network (https://consultants.apple.com), which comprises independent, local companies offering IT services and solutions based around Apple products. They’re here to ensure your IT solutions are set up, configured, and supported correctly.
Growing a team with 5+ people
Maybe you are breaking away from a firm and are opening your doors with 4-5 people (or more) right out of the gate. Or maybe you’re a solo, but know that your path is to build a law firm from the ground up.
If so, you’ll want to plan for additional support. Continuing to manage the technology in-house can severely affect the efficiency of everyone on your team. (See full analysis on this topic here: https://www.globalmacit.com/hidden-cost-of-it-hat/)
If your firm is lacking the technological processes and skillset to leverage the technology in your firm, when you hit a phase of high growth, you will suffer.
An experienced consultant can recommend the solutions that will enable your firm to scale efficiently. They can implement all the right security measures you need to ensure the attorney-client privilege is protected.
As your firm grows, the complexity increases and data control and security becomes far more complicated than when it was just you and one other paralegal.
Another important reason to find good quality outsourced IT support is that the person managing it, which is typically you or your Office Manager, will also be in charge of multiple roles, and more likely, a dwindling availability of time.
This often shifts the way technology is managed and addressed to a reactive basis, meaning it often will only get attention when it is ‘boiling over’ as opposed to being proactively managed.
This leads to more downtime, and what I call “suffering in silence” by your staff. This occurs when the person in the office in charge of IT is swamped, has lots to do already, and the people with issues tell themselves, “Well, I don’t want to bother her, it’s not that big a deal. I’ll just deal with it.” Addup a few ‘small’ instances like this and you’re experiencing a silent efficiency killer.
A viable option for a growing firm are to find an hourly consultant to help when needed. This could be an Apple Consultant, as mentioned above.
You will find it is difficult to shift the use of technology from reactive to proactive, so it can be initially difficult when using an hourly consultant.
This is because since they bill hourly, you will usually wait until you have no choice but to call them—meaning there’s an issue which they are called in to ‘reactively’ resolve. 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 over the 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 exiting-user, computer set-up, project management, and more.
Whether you plan on being solo for a while or plan to grow, these are things you want to consider. You can always take a stab at doing it yourself.
Some of you may be quite tech-savvy, while others may have zero desire to deal with this stuff.
If you have 4-5 users or more, we are here to help. The only thing we do is work with growing law firms with more than 4-5 people on their staff.
There is a great deal of good information in this article, how would you like a full copy to download to your computer to read at your leisure, or come back to for reference?