Copywriter, technical writer, translator (FR>EN, ES>EN, IT>EN), journalist

Lawyers who really love Macs

originally published in Lawyers Weekly Magazine

Special interest groups pop up around all sorts of things, so it isn’t surprising that about 50 lawyers spent a recent weekend in Florida talking about how to run a law office using Apple Macintosh computers.

MILOFest, named after the MILO Google group (Macs In Law Offices), welcomed a gaggle of lawyers who “think different” from their Windows-using brethren.

Victor Medina, a New Jersey family lawyer with Medina, Martinez and Castroll, LLC, spearheaded MILOFest. Medina is what Apple calls a switcher. “I used to build my own PCs,” says the Windows defector of his computer experience.

Defector may be too strong a word, since he runs Windows in emulation on his Mac in order to use the document assembly package HotDocs. “There’s no decent document assembly software for the Mac,” he admits.

Dealing with the Mac’s limitations as a legal computing platform proved as important a subject to MILOFesters as lauding its strengths. Baltimore, Maryland’s Scott Palmer, a former computer programmer aiming to start his own intellectual property practice, decries the performance of Remote Desktop on the Mac, calling its Windows sibling “screaming fast.”

In his view, the Mac-only Microsoft Entourage compares poorly with the Windows-only Microsoft Outlook. “Entourage is not an enterprise product,” he says. (Note: Several news outlets report that Microsoft will resurrect Outlook for the Mac in 2010.)

Another switcher, Nashville, Tennessee entertainment lawyer Stephen Weaver utters the most common complaint: “I still miss the more sophisticated legal-specific practice management programs,” he says.

But MILOFest was far from a gripe session. Lawyers shared tips on how best to deal with the dearth (both real and perceived) of software for the legal industry. In fact, MILOFest’s Canadian presence consisted of two practice management solution vendors: Markham, Ont.’s Marketcircle Inc. and Vancouver’s Themis Solutions Inc.

The two take different courses to delivering their systems to lawyers. Marketcircle’s Daylite software, intended as a general-purpose business management system and sold with a law office template, installs on Macs and iPhones. Its server component completes a Microsoft Exchange-type setup.

Unlike Marketcircle (a Mac-only shop), software developers tend to put off tailoring software for the Mac, so developers like Themis avoid that approach. Its product, Clio, resides on the internet (a.k.a. “the cloud”) instead of individual computers. Subscribers need only possess a standards-compatible web browser (which ships with every operating system) to use it.

This software-as-a-service (SaaS) approach makes a lawyer’s choice of computing platform irrelevant, so as SaaS grows, it erodes Microsoft’s long-held dominance of business computing.

MILOFesters have moved their practices to the cloud to varying degrees. Some lawyers share files and other information using services like BaseCamp and Google Docs. Others use cloud-based time and billing applications.

Yet others, like Woodridge, Illinois public sector and employment lawyer Kevin Camden, are moving substantial parts of their practices into the cloud. For instance, Camden claims he is moving from location-based backup to cloud-based backup. “I don’t store a lot of paper,” he says.

It also helps him stay mobile, as does the 3-lb. MacBook Air he uses in court. “It holds every file for every case I try,” he says, admitting that he gets odd looks when other people hear him say that.

Security remains the strongest argument against cloud computing, but Palmer pits security against equally weighty concerns. While admitting that a properly patched server controlled by a lawyer offers the greatest level of security, “we don’t live in that world. I’m a lawyer. I have stuff to do. I don’t want to think about network security, virus protection and so forth.”

“I either hire somebody else to do it or I do it myself,” Palmer adds, noting that the second option is more likely amongst small law firms.

The conference featured more than practice management systems and adapting to the Mac. Experts ran sessions on things like marketing a law practice, reminding MILOFesters of the Mac’s traditional strengths in creative applications.

Informal networking and tip-sharing abounded. “Any time you get a bunch of Mac users in a room, you learn about some program that you have never used before,” Palmer says of MILOFest’s continuing legal education aspect. “Before this conference, I only knew two lawyers who use Macs,” he adds.

Camden lauds the Adobe Acrobat presentation, which “made templates and other stuff look easy,” he says. “I don’t have the time to seek this knowledge myself.”

“I ask, as a solo practitioner: what is out there that I can use to increase billable time or smooth out my workflow so that I don’t have to repeat steps two and three times? To hear the answers from people who use Macs successfully on a daily basis was great.”

Medina also welcomed a few recent converts as well as lawyers considering the switch. Mac veterans claim to have held their “cult of Mac” enthusiasm in check. “You don’t want to push too hard, you don’t want to come off as a zealot,” says Medina.

“People don’t want to change once they learn a certain system,” Camden says, adding “Lawyers of a certain age believe WordPerfect is the cat’s meow.”

“I mostly evangelize Macs when I hear PC users grousing about crashes,” Weaver admits.

MILOFest primarily attracted solo and small-firm lawyers. Macs don’t appeal to larger firms, whose IT departments generally cringe at the thought of bringing different platforms into already-complex computing environments.

IT staff also try to minimize the time it takes to integrate temporary or new hires into a firm’s workflow, and given the preponderance of Windows computers in society at large, the Mac could theoretically add to that integration period.

While Weaver claims that training people to use Macs takes no time (“This is not an exaggeration”), Medina offers another take. “I screen for people who know the Mac,” he says. “Our firm is not positioned to have a lot of support. People have to be self-reliant to fit the culture of the firm.”

“The Mac lends itself to that. You don’t need to be an IT consultant to fix it.”

For a PDF of this article, click MILOFest.

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