Q: Should I Get a Mac or a PC?

faq

A: It doesn’t matter.

Fans of each system (and let’s not leave out Linux’s rabid fan base or Chrome OS’s growing one) have a litany of reasons why their choice is the only one that makes sense. But it really doesn’t matter. You can run a law practice just fine on any computer with an Internet connection and a document editor.

That said, there are some reasons why one or the other might suit you.

I now own a Mac mini, a Lenovo ThinkPad (running either Windows or Ubuntu, depending on my mood), and a Dell Inspiron desktop. My Mac and my ThinkPad get about equal use, and I remain quite happy with both — in other words, buying a Mac did not turn me into a raving fanboy, as far as I can tell.

So I feel more qualified than ever to discuss which you ought to buy.

Windows PC: pros and cons

Like it or not, Windows is the industry standard. That means most of your clients and most of the lawyers you deal with will be using Windows. The reason that matters is that Windows and OS X are different operating systems, and not all software and hardware is compatible with both. If you require specialized software for your practice, you may have to use Windows in order for it to work properly. I’m not talking about Microsoft Office, here. I’m thinking of specialized document review software or legacy practice management software.

(Yes, you can run Windows on a Mac, or use most Windows software using Parallels. It works well, but it’s not quite as easy as just running Windows software on a Windows PC.)

Likewise, there are still printers and scanners and other things out there that don’t work well with the Mac. The reverse is also true, but you will have far fewer compatibility problems using a Windows PC. The ubiquity of Windows also means it is widely supported. If your system breaks down, you can haul it to just about any IT support shop and get it fixed.

That said, every Windows user knows the frustration of hunting down drivers and software updates and struggling to get everything working properly. Windows “just works” better than ever, but not always. If you pay someone to help you, the cost savings from buying cheaper software can be quickly swallowed by IT costs.

Plus, Windows 8 is kind of a mess, so you’ll probably want to stick with the still-very-good Windows 7. Windows is in the middle of a massive transition — or else a massive mistake. Its future is a big question mark, and while Microsoft is extremely unlikely to ever sell out its huge enterprise user base, there is a decent chance you will have to replace all your software with Windows 8–style app versions in the near future.

In the end, though, there is no glaring reason not to get a Windows PC. They are unexciting, but they will get the job done. So why do I usually recommend Macs, especially to unsophisticated users?

Mac: pros and cons

The main reason I often recommend Macs is ease of use. Macs have always been designed for consumers, and they don’t even come with a user manual. You don’t need one. Pretty much everything is either intuitive or guided. That means you can solve most problems yourself. The rest, you can get solved for you at Apple’s Genius Bar. The name may be the cause of many jokes, but the fact remains that you can walk into any Apple Store with your computer and see a real person who does not talk to you like you are a moron and who will fix your problem. They will even help you deal with a lot of software problems, and teach you basic stuff like how to set up your email.

Macs also have a well-deserved reputation for quality. If you think computers are just a collection of components, you probably do not think the “Mac tax” is worthwhile. If you believe that there is more to quality and design than shoving a bunch of components into a case, then you might be willing to pay premium prices for well-designed, high-quality hardware.

This belief and willingness to pay for design and quality are, after all, 90% of what leads people to choose a Mac. And it is well-earned. Macs generally have high-quality components in durable, well-built cases, and they last. I know plenty of people happily using 10-year-old Macs. The only people I know with 10-year-old Windows PCs hate their computers.

That said, not everything is rosy in Mac land. Mac versions of popular software like QuickBooks and Microsoft Office work fine, but kind of suck to use (in the case of QuickBooks) or just fall short (in the case of Office) in comparison to their Windows versions. And as I mentioned above, lots of highly-specialized legal software is (shortsightedly) Windows-only. You may also run into hardware compatibility problems although this is rare.

Overall, I think the many small tweaks Apple makes to the computing experience add up to a noticeably better product. I also think Macs are much easier to use for an unsophisticated user, which is why I usually recommend them.

If you describe yourself as someone who does not know much about computers, I think you will probably be happier with a Mac, if you are not already tied to Windows by software you just have to use. For everyone else, I think you will be at least as happy with a Mac, and probably happier. At a minimum, there is no reason not to switchi, and a lot of reasons to try.

Everything else

You can probably practice law using anything from GUI-less Unix workstation to a Chromebook to an iPad. Many lawyers do, at least some of the time. And if you are either geeky enough or adventurous enough, go ahead and do it. The vast majority of lawyers, though, should be using a Windows or Mac PC as their primary computer.

Why it doesn’t matter

In the end, though, as I said in the first place, it doesn’t matter. Windows or Mac, you will end up using pretty much the same software and peripherals. The hardware and operating system does not have much to do with your day-to-day work. Both can access the Internet and run Microsoft Word just fine, and that is 90% of what you need a computer to do, after all.

One thing, though. If you do get a Windows PC, don’t get a cheap one. They aren’t worth it.

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  • http://www.hendricksonlaw.com Todd Hendrickson

    As a plaintiff’s trial lawyer, I have never found anything I couldn’t do with my Mac. Simply put, you’ll pry my Mac out of my cold dead hands. Why? It. Just. Works. Period. End of discussion. I’ve worked and shared offices with many attorneys over the years and, except for a few, all used PCs. And every one of them had an IT guy on speed dial to deal with their computer issues. I, on the other hand, have never needed anything more than the very infrequent trip to the Apple store (and the local Apple-centric computer store before the days of Apple’s entry into the retail market.) I was dragged kicking and screaming to using Macs 19 years ago when I joined a partnership that used Macs. The partnership doesn’t exist anymore, but the best thing I got out of it was a life long appreciation for Apple computers.

  • http://www.attorneybensmith.com Ben Smith

    I bought a macbook pro about 6 months ago based on a cheap and dirty quick read on this website. I totally love it, as opposed to the “totally don’t really feel anything”, for the pc’s I’ve owned in the past.

    That being said, It’s a pain to use with government software. I’m a part time public defender. I love google chrome, but that browser doesn’t work with pub def software. I literally have to have three browsers going sometimes: Safari, Firefox, and Chrome, because there are three government internet services that won’t work on 2 of the 3. The MN court system software-odyssey-doesn’t work on a mac. I need to boot in Windows, although I’m wishing I would’ve gone with parallels at this point, I went with bootcamp. Most law enforcement proprietary media-squad videos-won’t play on a Mac, and regarding recorded statements, I suffered the tortures of the damned trying to get an olympus license for my mac without purchasing anything just to get the mac compatible software to play propriety olympus recordings from law enforcement. But now I can hear the crisp thump of a phonebook hitting flesh just fine! JK of course-kinda.

    Even given these setbacks, which took some serious time and effort to master, I would not switch from my kick ass Macbook Pro.

  • H Lime

    Windows 8 is not a mess–the media is simply doing its best to have something to say about it, and doesn’t quite know what to say.

    I’ve got a touchscreen HP all in one, a touchscreen Lenovo tablet, and a Windows 8 phone. The seamless synchronization of Word files in SkyDrive is completely effortless, and the work-usefulness of the ThinkPad is far beyond what my iPad 3 was.

    We’re all so used to Apple dominance that it’s hard to reimagine Windows actually being tablet friendly–but it is. And the dual nature of Win 8 is brilliant–I use LEXIS, Word, and Evernote in Desktop mode with keyboard, then switch to tablet for reading in bed and blogging–as I’m doing right now–before I read a book on Kindle.

    Win 8 isn’t a mess–its the best of both worlds. The media just is incapable of adequately covering transition periods. Awkward or drawn out transitions don’t make good news stories.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      No, it’s a mess.

      I do like being called “the media” though.