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Mac to the future? Macs gaining popularity in law firms

By Jessie Ammons Rumbley

Macs are gaining a foothold in law practices. More law firms, especially small and solo firms, are using Macintosh computers by Apple than ever before. And while Windows remains by and large the preferred operating system, those switching to Apple’s OS are on the rise, spurred by increased use of Apple mobile devices.

In 2018, 14 percent and 9 percent of solo and small firms, respectively, reported using Mac OS as their primary operating system, up from the 8 percent of solo and small firms combined using Mac OS in 2016, according to the American Bar Association’s TECHREPORT.

Small firms, defined by the ABA as those having between two to nine lawyers, are squarely in the realm of Pegeen Turner’s IT expertise. Her Raleigh-based IT consulting company, Legal Cloud Technology, has offered support to solo, small, and medium-sized firms for a decade. “I have noticed an increase in Mac use just over the course of my consulting career. The platform is user-friendly and the fact is, the hardware just lasts.”

Spartanburg, South Carolina attorney Ben Stevens switched his entire small firm to Macs almost 15 years ago. He was frustrated with frequent Windows glitches requiring expensive IT support and had used Apple products in law school, he said.

“I knew what the other side was like, so it wasn’t hard to make the switch.”

Turner said a comprehensive switch can simply be too expensive for her clients to consider, especially on a small or solo firm budget. “When they can get a Windows laptop for $800 and then the equivalent Mac is $2,500, that’s a big price point difference.”

But Stevens has found the Mac transition to be a cost savings in the long run. “When we considered desktops, laptops, and other personal devices, Macs to PCs, the cost was not significantly different. But what we have found since is that the lifespan is drastically different. Our average lifespan for our machines is probably four years.” That’s double his previous computers, which Stevens said he’d needed to replace every year or two, as well as seeking IT support to integrate the new software.

Stevens is so passionate about the benefits of Macs in law that he started an online blog, The Mac Lawyer, where he posts tips and insight. Through the site, he’s gained popularity as a speaker and panelist on the topic. He said his anecdotal evidence suggests the switch to OS software and Apple products has rarely been as complicated as firms might expect, even when staff is less tech-savvy. “I’ve never had anybody come up to me and say, ‘Hey I switched to Macs and I switched back.’”

The future is cloud-y

As younger generations graduate into professional life, their constantly connected habits and favorite devices are bound to go with them. “The people who are graduating are Mac people,” said Gary Moore, assistant dean for academic technology at the University of South Carolina School of Law. That wasn’t the case even five years ago, when Moore estimates students were about evenly divided between Mac and PC users. “In the past three to five years, it’s shifted to mostly Mac use,” he said.

Moore pointed to the latest data from the school’s exam software, ExamSoft, which found that almost 70 percent of tests were submitted from Apple machines. 

It seems that the past five years has marked the pivot toward Mac use, which coincides with the rise of cloud-based platforms. Remote support paired with cloud-based software that works just as well on OS as it does on Windows gives firms flexibility to allow for personal preference.

“The increase in cloud-based technology has really spawned the Mac side of law firms,” Turner said. “Small firms have been using Macs for a long time, but they’ve always had to do workarounds for software. In a big firm, you have bigger workarounds [but] now with cloud-based software, it doesn’t matter … if people are using Macs at home, that’s what they choose.”

Small and solo firms are able to be nimble, quickly adopting new software and outsourcing IT support. But many big law firms are shifting toward fluidity, too.

“We’re always concerned about the security of our data. We have a due diligence to our clients,” said Karen Frank, IT manager at Manning Fulton, a large firm in Raleigh. Frank said her firm is adopting ever more cloud-based systems. “Now, everyone, especially our younger attorneys, wants to be more mobile and they want the mobility of these cloud-based applications.”

Office 365, an online, subscription-based version of the Microsoft Office suite of software, offers app-based flexibility, making it easier still for attorneys to make decisions based on their personal preferences. “That line between a PC and a Mac has gotten grayer and grayer,” Frank said.

Several Apples a day

But the single biggest factor driving the Macs’ slow-but-steady advance might be the popularity of its mobile devices. “For years I’ve said the iPhone is the gateway drug,” Stevens said. “When you use your phone all the time, the Apple doesn’t feel so scary anymore.”

“It’s not just the iPhone, it’s the iPad, which has gotten huge acceptance in the legal community,” said Greg Adams, professor emeritus of at USC School of Law. “It seems like two-thirds of the lawyers I talk to use an iPad as their device of choice for trying a case or going to court to file a motion—these are people who have Android phones and Windows computers.”

Research supports this trend. The vast majority of all law firms still use Windows desktop machines, but in 2017, almost 75 percent of lawyers had iPhones, compared to 23 percent with Android devices and barely more than 2 percent with Blackberries or Microsoft phones, according to the ABA. Adding an Apple computer to the mix could streamline workflow.

“I do the same things the same way on my phone and my tablet and my computer, and it just makes life easier,” Adams said.

Turner, who said that 70 to 80 percent of the attorneys she works with are Apple users on their mobile devices, cautioned that the switch isn’t seamless, however. “A Mac is not an iPhone and a Mac is not an iPad. One does not translate to the other,” she said. “You need to have the time and willingness to learn.”

And often, lawyers’ mobile devices are personal, while computers are company-issued. “We provide Windows laptops,” Frank said. “But it doesn’t mean you can’t go home and use your personal Mac if you want to do that.”

While Mac use is gaining momentum, especially in small firms, there’s not likely to be a predominant shift any time soon. If anything, the climate is more likely to be a mixed bag of options. “Ultimately it will come down to what your preference is and what kind of support your law firm can give you,” Frank said.

If a glimpse of the younger generation is any indicator, “I would bet we’re going to see the same kind of shift as we’ve seen in our students over the last 15 years in the law school,” Adams said, imagining a future where “the majority of law firms are going to be, if not entirely Mac-based, then a healthy mixture of Mac and Windows machines.”

Virginia Lawyers Weekly reporter Maura Mazurowski contributed to this story.

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