Laptop or Desktop Computer
Your computer is the most important piece of hardware in your solo practice. As lawyers, we do not create products in the conventional sense because (in most cases) our core job function is to generate and manipulate documents. Thus, selecting the right computer is one of the most important decisions you make in your practice because your computer is the primary tool you will use to generate and manipulate documents.
When I launched my firm in Fall 2009, I grappled with whether to purchase a laptop or a desktop as my primary computer. I elected to purchase a laptop because I wanted the freedom to access my electronic files wherever I went, but I did not know how to use the Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner and Dropbox to run a paperless/digital law office at the time of purchase. The portability a laptop provides is less important now that my digital office enables me to access any document from every client file from any computer (or smartphone) with an internet connection. In fact, my laptop basically functions like a desktop, as I have rarely taken it outside my office since I implemented a mobile paperless/digital law office.
Laptops are generally slightly less powerful and more expensive than desktops, but at the end of the day the laptop/desktop choice is merely a matter of preference. I personally prefer laptops because they take up less space on your desk. Regardless of whether you decide to use a laptop or desktop, the most important consideration when purchasing a computer for your law office is speed; namely, processor speed, RAM, and hard drive RPM.
The processor (also referred to as the CPU, or central processing unit) is the brains of your computer and is the most important element of your computing system. The processor tells your computer what to do and when to do it, and decides which tasks are more important and prioritizes them to your computer’s needs. Intel and AMD are the two primary makers of processors. Intel has greater name recognition, but the quality of AMD processors is comparable. Pretty much any processor that is pre-installed on a new computer is acceptable except for “budget processors” (i.e., Celeron and Duron), which are far too slow for an office setting.
RAM is an acronym for “random access memory” and provides space for your computer to read and write data to be accessed by the CPU. The more RAM your computer has, the fewer amount of times your CPU must read data from your hard disk. In other words, the more RAM your computer has, the faster it runs. Your office computer should have at least 4.00 GB of RAM.
Hard drive RPM, in short, refers to how fast your computer can access data on its hard drive. The slower the RPM, the longer it takes your computer to access your files. A computer equipped with a 7,200 RPM, 250 GB hard drive will provide solos with sufficient performance (and storage space).
The reason why you need a speedy computer is because you need your machine to multitask (i.e., run several programs simultaneously) throughout the day. If you purchase a computer equipped with a budget processor or a computer with a configuration aimed at home users or gamers, it will run your programs agonizingly slowly, costing you time and money.
As far as computer brands, if you have heard of the brand before (e.g., Sony, Dell, Toshiba, HP, etc.) you are in the clear; any manufacturer that survived the computer hardware wars is reputable, otherwise it would have gone out of business by now.
You can purchase a computer with an appropriate configuration for a law office for about $1,000.
Everything I know about appropriate computer configurations I learned from Barron Henley of Affinity Consulting Group during a great CLE he frequently delivers at different locations across the country, “The $6,000 Law Office.” I highly recommend you attend Mr. Henley’s CLEs if he comes to your area.
The laptop I selected as my primary computer is the Toshiba Satellite L505.
Unfortunately, I purchased my Toshiba prior to attending Mr. Henley’s CLE, and my machine only has a 5,400 RPM hard drive. Accordingly, it runs a little on the slow side. The computer came pre-loaded with the Vista Operating System, and I have not upgraded to Windows 7 because Mr. Henley cautioned against upgrading operating systems. According to him, your best option is to use the operating system pre-loaded on your computer. My Toshiba’s battery life is lackluster, but because I use my laptop as a desktop replacement machine, battery life is a non-issue. Overall, I am satisfied, if not thrilled, with my Toshiba’s performance.
A final issue is whether to purchase a PC or an Apple Macintosh. I do not see the Mac v. PC debate as an important issue for solos, as either system will do what you need it to do as long as it has adequate speed and memory. In short, I do not believe there is a right or wrong choice.
PC owners may argue that Macs are not real “business machines,” but that statement has not been accurate since the Clinton Administration. In fact, every piece of hardware and software I use in my practice is Mac-compatible. Moreover, you can open and manipulate just about any file on a Mac that was originally generated on a PC and vice-versa.
Apple owners may argue that their machines are superior to PCs, but when pressed to explain why their Mac is so much better than my PC, the most articulate answer I ever get is “it just is.” It may be the case that Macs possess superior audio and video editing capabilities, but we are lawyers, not auteur music video directors, thus editing capability is not an important consideration when deciding on a computer.
I believe Macs and PCs are both appropriate in a business setting. I purchased a PC because I have used PCs exclusively since I was in high school and therefore felt comfortable with the Windows interface. Thus, if you have been using a PC up to this point, there is no need to switch to a Mac. Conversely, if you feel comfortable with Macs, there is no good reason to switch to a PC besides the fact that PCs are considerably less expensive.