When it comes to outfitting your attorneys with new machines, the questions that come to mind can be flat-out overwhelming. Of all the machines out there (and there are a lot out there), which are actually equipped to handle their workload? Which features are absolutely critical to have, and which will just drive cost up unnecessarily? How do you even start the selection process?
After serving the technology needs of DC’s law firm community for over two decades, we’ve lost count of how many times we’ve been asked about what kind of laptop makes the most sense for a particular firm. It’s an important question to ask, especially when your revenue is so closely tied to how effectively your attorneys are able to work.
Below we’ll walk through each key element you’ll need to consider during your selection process, and offer our recommendation for what specifically you should look for in your machine.
What to Look for in Laptops for Your Law Firm
There are three main options out there as far as platforms go:
- Microsoft Windows. Microsoft has been around the longest, and is the mainstay in the market by a longshot (we’re talking upwards of 80% of the market share for use in business).
- Mac OSX. Macs are perceived to be the “high end” of the three, and are generally used in highly graphics-oriented fields like photography or graphic design. These machines are attractive for their user-friendly interface, battery life, and low number of issues with viruses and malware.
- Chrome. These machines run on Google’s Chrome OS, and are designed to be used with an Internet connection at all times. Most applications and documents are accessed from the cloud rather than locally (think Google Drive).
For law firms, we tend to stick to Windows machines in our recommendations. The other two just don’t make as much sense—firms generally don’t do enough graphics work to justify the high cost of a Mac, nor would Chrome’s web apps be able to provide the extensive document management capabilities that you would need.
Screen Size & Resolution
What is the laptop for? Will it be a desktop replacement that will occasionally go home with the attorney member? Will it be for a partner who is constantly traveling?
Your answer to this question will dictate what screen size you’ll want to select; while this is a feature that is largely up to personal preference, going much higher than the 15” range is going to negatively impact your laptop’s portability. The larger your screen, the heavier your machine is going to be.
Resolution can be a little more complicated. There are three main categories here:
- 1366 x 786 / 1440 x 900. These two are in the same general class, and are the baseline for good quality displays. 1440 x 900 tends to be our recommendation across the board.
- 1600 x 900. This is “HD plus.” It’s not necessary, but will give you cleaner display if that is important to you.
- 1920 x 1080 and higher. Unless you happen to do any work in Illustrator or Photoshop, you don’t need this “full HD” resolution.
Processor & RAM
This piece is important, as it will determine the overall speed of your machine, its ability to perform complex tasks efficiently (such as working in multiple applications at the same time), and how quickly your applications will open.
We always (yes, always) recommend the Intel series of processors, which comes in three flavors: i3, i5, and i7. The higher the number, the higher the computing power. Given the fact that your attorneys will likely rely on using your DMS, time and billing software, and other more demanding applications, you should focus on machines with an i5 processor at a minimum.
Where Random Access Memory (RAM) is concerned, 4GB is the bare minimum and 8GB is preferred; while some machines will start at a 2GB base, this really is just plain insufficient for how applications and the web will pull on your machine.
There are three choices where storage in concerned:
- Spinning hard disk (HDD). This is the cheapest route, with the drawback being that they make noise and break down more quickly than the other options (since it is literally a moving part that is prone to overheating). Machines with this type of storage must have a fan.
- Solid state hybrid (SSHD). This is our typical recommendation. It is less expensive than a solid state drive, but still has the benefit of increased speed and ample capacity.
- Solid state drive (SSD). You won’t need a fan with this advanced storage, but you will pay the price for it. This is much lighter and faster than the other options, and makes a lot of sense when the laptop is used heavily for travel.
For law firms, our typical recommendation is a 180-256GB solid state drive—this will give you plenty of space to store all of your documents, and maximum reliability as far as your hardware goes.
Also, if your firm deals with sensitive case or client information, this is where you’ll also need to consider a drive that is inherently encrypted so that your data is safe even if your machine is lost or stolen.
Unless your firm frequently downloads by way of CDs or DVDs, you don’t need an optical drive. Plain and simple. (Especially since you can always buy a $19 external optical drive that connects via USB if you find out that you actually do need one.)
Make sure that your machine has wireless connectivity. Dual band is our standard recommendation here, with wireless AC compatibility being ideal if possible (this kind of connectivity is the “future of wireless,” if you will).
USB ports are also critical in most cases, as is an HDMI port if you’re going to connect your laptop to a monitor or TV.
This comes down to one simple question: how long will you need to be able to work without a power source? The biggest consideration here is that there’s an inverse correlation between battery life and portability; the longer your battery will keep you powered, the heavier it’s going to be.
The options are:
- 4-cell. You’ll stay charged for 4-6 hours unplugged with this type.
- 6-cell. This will give you 6-8 hours average.
- 9-cell. We’re talking all-day power here, with 9-12 hours of battery life unplugged.
Hopefully all this will give you a head start when it comes to vetting all of the options out there.
Beyond that, don’t feel that you have to go it alone when it comes to making your selection; especially if you’re looking to outfit a large portion of your firm with new machines, it’s important to get some expert guidance so that you can make sure your people will be able to stay productive and efficient.