GPSolo Magazine - June 2005
Macs on the Internet
During the past decade, the development of the World Wide Web has radically changed the way we use personal computers—in the world of work and in people’s homes and personal lives. Macs have been at the forefront of these changes.
Use of E-Mail to Communicate
Small law offices increasingly use e-mail and other methods of communication that rely on the written word rather than face-to-face communication. The creation of documents leads to sharing them with clients, co-counsel, opposing counsel, or the clerk of court’s office in digital form. Drafts are exchanged and final documents are filed electronically. I use AppleWorks as my word processor and, at times, Microsoft’s Office 2004 for Macintosh. With either, I can attach the document to an e-mail and send it to someone else for review; they frequently respond by e-mail with either commentary or a marked-up attachment. I save my AppleWorks document as an RTF (rich text format) or DOC (Microsoft Word) file or “print” it within OS X/Panther to a PDF (portable document format) file, which is easily opened by anyone on any computer platform. In fact, many courts now require you to file documents as PDFs, rather than or in addition to hard- copy printouts.
Lawyers can now spend days in silence, sending and receiving text messages. Whether this is desirable is another question. One main concern about reducing communications to written e-mails is the risk of a loss of confidentiality or a lost privilege through erroneous disclosure. Obviously, this is no different from the days when secretaries mistakenly mailed or faxed letters, memos, or internal communications to opposing counsel. Only, this time it’s the lawyer’s own fault. (For a further discussion of the ethical issues involved, see www.abanet.org/scitech/eblast/may00/4may00.html and www.abanet.org/genpractice/magazine/march2004/brotherskeeper.html.) In order to minimize mistakes or temper the results of them, it is not enough to have a three-inch, 150-word disclaimer at the foot of your e-mail. You need to take positive and careful steps to guard against inadvertent disclosure.
For instance, I use my e-mail programs (e.g., Apple’s Mail and Eudora) to send “upon subsequent command” rather than immediately; Eudora can be set that way, and Mail allows it by selecting “save to draft” after your e-mail is finished, then sending the “drafts” later. Also, as a policy I inform clients of these risks and allow them to decide whether they wish to communicate by e-mail or the regular postal system. If the client wishes to use e-mail, in the subject line of each of our communications we put “CONFIDENTIAL - [client’s last name]” to set those e-mails apart. We also generally use the “reply” button to minimize errors in addressing communications. There is no foolproof system, but this process will, I hope, limit the risks involved in using e-mail communication with clients and other lawyers.
One of the fastest-developing Internet trends is the use of “real-time” instant messaging in place of a time-delayed, sequential series of e-mails. Now that we have progressed to “instant” responses to our thoughts, perhaps we will soon have answers arriving on our desktop before we even send out the question!
The increasing use of instant messaging (or IM-ing) is apparent in the lives of our youth. Most people who have teenagers have noted that the telephone no longer rings incessantly and late into the evening; no longer are our phone lines tied up, necessitating a “teen line” or “call hold” capability in our home telephone system. Instead, teens use their cell phones and pagers to send and receive instant text messages and avoid the entire world of oral communication. Everyone (under 30 at least) seems to be using textual shorthand to communicate. In the world of instant messaging, an answer of “k” now stands for “OK”, which used to stand for “Okay” (which itself has an interesting history; see www.answers.com/topic/ok-approval).
Increasingly, instant messaging is finding acceptance in the practice of law, as well. As part of OS X/Panther I have iChat AV, an IM application that allows instantaneous, real-time textual, audio, or video contact not only with my college-age daughter in the East, but also with lawyers who have a similar capacity, whether Mac- or Windows-based. The application works fine for either text or spoken conversations, but I have an iSight camera that also allows video conferencing. The iSight and iChat AV combination makes this whole process easy, particularly because I can have the camera plugged into my display (monitor) for use at my desk or unhook it and then plug it into my Powerbook firewire port for use in another part of my house (my office is in my home). Lawyers throughout the United States (and, just the other day, in Japan) and I can IM each other by clicking on the text, audio, or video buttons of the iChat AV window and converse about whatever topics we have to discuss. The visuals are phenomenal, and the audio is crisp and clean.
Another benefit of talking with others on iChat, either audio-only or with video as well, is that we can easily type text and attach files and paste information into our communication. For instance, if another lawyer and I want to discuss a contract’s provisions, we could include the provisions in the body of the chat or as an attached file and ship it to the other party; we could then discuss the contents in real time, referring to the identical items. Of course, the same cautions regarding security and confidentiality are present, and it is important to have firewalls and virus protection.
The newest version of iChat AV is 2.1; it provides support for video conferencing with persons who have AOL Instant Messenger 5.5 for Windows. Lawyers who download and use AIM 5.5, which is free, can easily conduct IMs with me on iChat AV. When my iChat is open, I simply set my status (either “available” or “away”), and persons whose connections are open to receive instant messages show up on my “buddy list”.
With the advent in late April 2005 of the new Apple operating system, known officially as “Tiger,” iChat AV’s capabilities will be expanded to allow video conferences with up to three other people at a time, as well as audio chats with up to ten participants. Screenshots and videos of how those communications will operate can be found at www.apple.com/macosx.
Voice over Internet
Soon you may conduct all your verbal communications via the computer and its audio card, and not by picking up a traditional telephone handset. Issues of security (and taxation!) need to be addressed, but this technology is coming or even here, now. Because of my particular office setup and lack of DSL access, I doubt I will adopt the idea of VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) soon, but I might at some point in the future. At present I do use a great application, PageSender ( www.smileonmymac.com/pagesender), to receive and send faxes through my computer, although OS X/Panther has a built-in capability to send and receive faxes.
For a detailed listing of various types of software available to extend your OS X computing into the realm of VoIP real-time voice telephony, a good collection can be found at Pure Mac ( www.eskimo.com/~pristine/voip.html). The Pure Mac site also contains links to a variety of other recreational and business software that may be of interest to solo and small firm lawyers.
Another Internet-related feature of OS X/Panther that I use quite a bit is the ability to easily share files with clients and friends, and occasionally, with myself. I have an iDisk and an extended .Mac account, which give me approximately one gigabite of space on Apple’s servers for my own use. Some of this space is reserved for e-mail storage, but the bulk can be used for client or family documents in sharing folders or for various photographic home pages, constructed using Apple’s iPhoto. (iPhoto comes free on all new Mac computers as a part of the iLife ’05 suite, which also includes iTunes, iMovie HD, iDVD, and GarageBand; you can purchase iLife ’05 separately from Apple for less than $80.)
I use my server space to upload materials and documents too large to e-mail. People to whom I provide a password and instructions can then go to that site and download the information to their disk and read and work with the materials. Last year I used this process to provide a client with a variety of PDF files that I wanted him to review for accuracy; he was even able to tie his commentary to the Bates numbers that were on every PDF page. The only alternative would have been to print and mail paper copies—at the client’s expense—or have him come to the office to review them, which would have disrupted the client’s life and involved travel time and even greater expense.
Especially helpful is the ability to upload to my iDisk materials for my own use anywhere I can access the Internet. Rather than burning a disk before I travel, I upload information to my server space; when I get where I’m going, I can access the information either with my Powerbook or any handy computer. Plane itineraries, car rental certificates, and the like can be uploaded for easy access, as well as printed out to carry with me.
I also use my iDisk as my synchronization site. Using Apple’s iSync, the OS X-based synchronization tool, I can synchronize the calendar and address book (contacts) information on my desktop Macs, Powerbook, Palm-based cell phone, Palm PDA, and iPod. This allows me to access needed information easily and use it regardless of what tool I may bring on a trip out of my office.
The last decade’s development of the Internet has radically changed the way people communicate, both in terms of speed and ease of use. Where we used to mail letters or fax documents to people half a country or half a world away and await their response some days after that, now the information and communication comes to us speedily, frequently with an expectation of an instantaneous response. I’m not so sure this is a totally beneficial development, as some legal issues take time to be assessed and dealt with. But these instantaneous, real-time methods of communication are here and prevalent. We must make sure we are not stampeded into words or actions we will later regret simply because we received a communication in a digital form. Whatever we choose to do with the message, we must treat it safely within our professional duties as a lawyer. My Mac OS X and related applications (iChat AV, PageSender, iDisk and .Mac, etc.) are valuable tools, but it is ultimately up to me to control how these tools are used.
Victoria L. Herring practices in Des Moines, Iowa, in an office that has used only Apple/Macs since the early 1980s. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.