The Evolution of Choice: PC vs. Mac

Back in the 80s and 90s, running a law firm on a Mac was for the die-hard, “think-different” attorneys. The list of options and the maturity of legal applications was limited. As a result, the friction with sending data back and forth across platforms developed the still-held beliefs of why it is impractical to run a law firm on Apple computers. The 2000s saw an increase in Mac adoption among attorneys, as Apple soared thanks to Steve Jobs’ success. However, it wasn’t until the 2010s that the option of choosing Macs over PCs became far more manageable.

My goal is to convince you that it’s easier than ever to run a practice on Macs. We will take a stroll through the decades, covering the main phases Apple-using attorneys endured in choosing to use Macs. I hope to help lawyers realize that they no longer need to bitterly leave their beloved Macs at home while enduring PCs in their practice. During the 80s, 90s, and 2000s, thousands of Mac-loving attorneys capitulated to running their practice on PCs. Thanks to the recent advancements in technology, attorneys can now freely choose between Macs or PCs.

This article is not an attempt to convince you that Macs are better than PCs. That’s a whole other article. The problem I am addressing is that historically, attorneys didn’t have much of a choice when it came to deciding between using Macs or PCs in their law firms. Microsoft has had a constant 85-90% market share for operating systems and typical office applications, and that’s not changing anytime soon. The point I intend to make is that although the choice to use Macs was always there, only recently has it been a practical choice, without sacrifices. It is now a choice that attorneys with any level of technical competency and comfort can make.

Let’s jump through the decades to get a better understanding of how the ability to choose between using Macs and PCs has evolved:

The 80s, 90s, and 2000s

The decade of big hair, big phones, Cabbage Patch Kids, Rubik’s cubes, Air Jordans, shoulder pads, and Pac Man. And let’s not forget the Macintosh. In 1981, the Apple II became the world’s most popular computer. This was the decade that launched the personal computer. Given that it was so early, there was yet to be a clear contender for the most popular PC.

The Macintosh was widely released in 1992 and revolutionized personal computing, but soon became almost obsolete due to the popularity of inexpensive PCs. In 1998, the demand for Macs came roaring back with the invention of the sleek and trendy iMac, and Apple has been on an upward trajectory ever since. However, the release of Windows 3.0 in 1990 was seen as the downfall of the Mac in the 90s. Windows 3.0 was user-friendly and less expensive than the Mac platform. From that point on, Microsoft dominated market share and became the ubiquitous choice for businesses. This meant that software developers who wanted to survive needed to create for the Windows system, which severely limited the talent pool of developers who chose to develop software for Macs.

Because of these events, running a law firm on a Mac in the 80s, 90s, and even the early 2000s came with obstacles. These early adopters loved their Apple devices. They despised Windows and really didn’t care about the hurdles they encountered. The truth is, if you asked them, they most likely see it as having made sacrifices. In their minds, the ultimate sacrifice would have been to give up their Macs and use Windows in their firms. During the early adoption days, Mac-using attorneys banded together and found ways to make it work, but it was in no way a mainstream choice or option.

I had some uncertainty about grouping the early 2000s in with the 80s and 90s, but ultimately, I felt it was right. While the cloud experienced significant growth in the 2000s, I feel what was most impactful in the legal field was less the existence of the cloud, but the adoption of it, which did not happen until after 2009.

The 2010s

The current decade has seen the biggest shift in giving attorneys more freedom and ease of choosing Macs vs. PCs in their law firms. I link this massive shift to three key events: acceptance of the cloud, the death of the server, and Microsoft’s commitment to platform parity.

Acceptance of the Cloud

The shift of accepting the cloud within the legal field did not occur until around 2015, which I experienced firsthand, as I have worked in the legal field since 2007. Fear and lack of trust of the cloud began to dissipate, which led an increasing number of attorneys to start making a move.

First, Rocket Matter and Clio released the first cloud-based practice management solutions. For the first time, the Mac-using attorneys had access to solutions made for attorneys that ran the same on Macs as it did on Windows. Before this, Mac-using attorneys would often use a Customer Relationship Management (aka CRM) software and then customize it to fit their legal workflow or virtualize Windows on their Macs to access the full-fledged practice management solutions. These options were technically doable, but took a lot of customization work, discovery and planning to set it up the way a law firm needed it to work. The cloud-based solutions immediately gave Mac users access to better legal software. When introduced in 2008, both solutions met hesitation and apprehension, mostly over perceived deficiencies with the cloud. This is another reason that I credit not just the cloud, but the acceptance of it in the 2010s. Fast forward to 2018. Clio and Rocket Matter are celebrating their 10-year anniversaries. To show how far adoption of the cloud has come, Clio is now used by 150,000 legal professionals in 90 countries.

The Death of the Server

The next shift that impacted the evolution of choice for users happened as a direct result of the cloud: The death of the server. Historically, law firms had servers in-house. Primary roles were hosting email, contacts, calendars (typically via Exchange), file server, and line-of-business applications (PCLaw, PracticeMaster, Time Matters, etc.). The first most-widely embraced cloud solution was email. Running an exchange server required costly ongoing support and maintenance. As email adoption in the cloud increased, people shifted Exchange to the cloud, led by G-Suite and 365. Next in line was file storage. Dropbox and Box were the two most prominent players, and bit by bit, users recognized the benefits of hosting your files in the cloud. The final big item that required in-house servers was the line-of-business applications. Thanks to SaaS solutions like Clio and Rocket Matter, attorneys gained access to cloud-managed solutions. A significant number of small and medium-sized firms have been getting rid of their servers and moving all their data to the cloud. As of this writing, only 24% of our clients have an in-house server, and I expect that number to drop below 20% before the end of the year.

Microsoft’s Commitment to Platform Parity

In the 2010s, Microsoft’s CEO committed to feature-parity of the suite of 365 apps to all platforms. Microsoft shifted resources to Microsoft’s Apple development team, and I can confidently say that the current suite of Microsoft Office apps for the Mac is the best ever. A decade ago, the Office apps had significant quality problems, and platform compatibility issues also were prevalent. Today, the Mac applications are rock-solid and continue to improve with every new release. I believe this is one of the three most significant changes in this decade regarding making it easier for attorneys to choose Macs over PCs. The lingering beliefs out there that you can’t use Word on a Mac, or that it’s not the same, still holds some people back from choosing Macs.

Into the 2020s

PC or Mac? For most of the time between the 80s and today, the choice of going with PCs or Macs was an easy one. Choosing Windows was by far the easier choice for the majority of the population. Thanks to the advances in the cloud, the death of the server, and Microsoft leveling the playing field, it is now easier and safer than ever to choose Macs.

Whether you are a young attorney or a seasoned one, you are now free to choose the platform you prefer working on. If you consider yourself Mac-curious and have ever wondered whether you could run your law practice on a Mac, I am here to tell you that you can. This choice is no longer reserved for the die-hard Apple fans but is ready for the majority. You have more options than ever in terms of solutions to use to run your law firm, the majority of which truly don’t care whether you are on Windows or Macs.

Mac adoption is higher than it has ever been and will only continue to increase. To leave you with a current example, I want to bring you back to taking the bar exam. My service manager on my team proctors the exam once or twice a year. His duties are relatively straightforward: help people with computer issues. At the 2016 summer bar exam in Buffalo, New York, he did a head count, and out of 1,500 people taking the bar exam, 1,008 were on Apple computers, a whopping 67%! The interesting part here is that in the past, most of these graduates had a plan to work for Big Law, meaning they left their Apple computers at home and joined the Windows world. They never had a choice. As the legal landscape continues to provide faster, cheaper, and easier tools and resources empowering solo attorneys to go out on their own, the choice to go PC or Mac will soon be irrelevant. PC or Mac. The choice is yours.

About the Author

Tom Lambotte is the CEO of GlobalMac IT, the largest managed services provider for Mac-based law firms in the world. Contact him on Twitter @LegalMacIT.

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