Standing Out in a PC World: Using a Mac in the Office

Volume 40 Number 2

By

About the Authors

Randall A. Juip is a trial attorney who represents professionals in complex civil litigation and provides risk/crisis management and public relations services. His firm, Foley, Baron, Metzger, & Juip PLLC, has 18 attorneys and offices in Michigan and Indiana. He is an unabashed Mac attorney, gadget geek and member of the ABA TECHSHOW Board.  

Larry Port is the CEO and chief software architect of Rocket Matter, an online legal software platform for time and billing and practice management. He also runs Rocket X1, an Internet marketing agency for professional service firms. Port often writes on technology, business and marketing topics for legal publications and speaks at legal conferences around the country.

Ben Stevens is a practicing family law attorney in Spartanburg, S.C., with The Stevens Firm Family Law Center. He is very involved with legal technology, particularly as it relates to the use of Macs in the practice of law. He has published the award-winning The Mac Lawyer blog since August 2006. 

Law Practice Magazine | March/April 2014 | The ABA TECHSHOW 2014 IssueIf we chose to reduce our Macintosh devotion to its essentials, it would be this: Attorneys who use Macs trust their computers, whereas attorneys who use Windows PCs often live in fear that their computers may fail them—especially at crucial times.

Years ago, one rarely saw a Mac in a law office. Incompatible processors, limited software choices and a lack of industry-standard options limited Macs to the creative professions and a small cadre of diehard believers. However, in recent years Mac computers have proliferated within law firms.

In fact, many law firms have now gone “all Mac,” embracing the efficiencies and ease of use for which Apple products are known. Still, most law firms are medieval in their approach to technology and are predominately PC-based. Here we address the lone wolves—those brave souls willing to forego their firms’ standard PC experience and willing to be solitary Mac users in all-PC law firms.

Using a Mac can provide an attorney with immense benefits in terms of workflow, organization and ease of use. However, being a lone Mac user in an all-PC firm presents some challenges to collaboration, document production and data access. Fortunately, many of these hurdles are easily bridged, allowing a Mac-loving attorney to continue to use the tool that he or she has grown to rely upon.

WHY BE A MAC LAWYER?

At one point in their professional lives, most Mac-using attorneys probably used PCs. After repeated exasperating experiences with slow data retrieval, nonintuitive user interfaces, printer problems, networking complications, difficult versioning and the dreaded Blue Screen of Death, they switched. While the reasons for changing platforms vary, they all tend to relate back to increased productivity and ease of use.

iPhone and iPad integration. One of the key advantages that Macs have over their PC competitors is the deep integration with Apple’s amazing iOS devices. No one questions that the iPad is the pre-eminent tablet computer on the market. While Android tablets and the new Microsoft Surface tablets show some interesting promise for the future, the iPad is the de facto 800-pound gorilla in the room when it comes to ease of use, accessibility and functionality for an attorney. As an example, incredible trial presentation apps such as Lit Software’s TrialPad (litsoftware.com) allow attorneys to organize their evidence, present their proofs and try their case using only an iPad in court—and this is only the tip of the iceberg!

Likewise, while Android phones are slowly filling the smoldering hole left by BlackBerry’s departure from the professional world, many busy attorneys consider the iPhone to be the smartphone of choice. While Android has the dominant market share for consumers, for attorneys the smartphone that rules them all is the iPhone.

Using a Mac as a primary workstation allows attorneys to easily integrate the mobile functionality of their iPads and iPhones back at their desk-based Macintosh. Many of the functions and applications in OS X, the Mac operating system, are specifically designed to work with and collaborate with the operating systems on iPads and iPhones.

Your personal life. Mac-using attorneys see benefits in their personal lives as well. Family photographs stored in iPhoto or Aperture on a Mac are easily viewed via iCloud Photo Sharing or on an iPhone or iPad. Movies and music purchased in iTunes are available across all devices. Documents stored via iCloud or in Dropbox are synced and easily accessed on a Mac computer on your desk, an iPhone in your pocket or an iPad in your briefcase.

Ease of use and workflow. The ease of use and workflow benefits of using a Mac over a PC are also significant. Mac computers were originally designed and focused on the production of beautiful visuals. Litigators trying cases should realize by now the importance of presenting complex information to the trier of fact using tools such as Keynote, Apple’s superior competitor to Microsoft’s PowerPoint.

Integrated visual tools are available to an attorney on a Mac, including simple keystroke screen shots (Command+Shift+4) and Instant Alpha (available in Keynote and in Preview), which allows the user to easily remove background items from images. These image editing shortcuts enable busy attorneys to create incredibly high-quality presentations for a judge, jury, client, expert witness or any other interested party. While one could accomplish these tasks on a PC, doing so on a Mac is simply much easier.

Because Apple believes in a tightly controlled or “walled garden” model of applications, software applications available to Mac users are generally higher quality, more thoroughly vetted and designed to work well together. Macs also come with a cadre of built-in security features that combine to provide users with maximum protection, including Gatekeeper, FileVault, Find My Mac and more. The sheer number of applications on a Mac is not as large as that on a PC, but the quality is higher.

USING YOUR MAC IN A PC WORLD

A decade or two ago, using a Mac and collaborating with PC users was a daunting task. Those days are over. Ever since Apple switched over to Intel processors, using a Mac in a PC environment has become especially easy. A Mac attorney who wishes to successfully exist with PC-using attorneys has a number of tools available to him or her to bridge the gap between Apple’s OS X and Microsoft’s Windows: compatible software, virtualization software, remote desktop servers and the cloud.

Compatible software. If you haven’t tried this before, run this experiment. Create a Word document on a PC. Make it as crazy as you want, with tables, illustrations, headers, footers, you name it. Then open it using Word on a Mac. There will be no difference between the two documents.

Microsoft Word is just one of many critical business applications that allow you to share documents on both Macs and PCs. Although they are technically competitors, Microsoft invested $150 million in Apple and continues to support the Mac platform with its Office suite. PowerPoint and Excel files open flawlessly on both types of computer as long as the software versions are compatible. Macs have long been able to access and take advantage of Microsoft Exchange servers, both natively in Apple’s Mail app and in Outlook for Mac by Microsoft.

Skype, the Internet communications workhorse, has mature versions for both Mac and PC. This tool allows you to communicate via voice, instant message or video with anyone in your firm, regardless of their hardware. Evernote, a note-taking application rapidly gaining in popularity, offers a client for each platform as well.

Unless you’re using very specific and non-cloud-based business-to-business software, odds are that you’ll be able to take your work from Mac to PC and back again.

Virtualization software. Simply put, virtualization software allows you to run a computer inside another computer. For those new to the idea of virtual computing, the idea sounds like something out of Inception. With virtualization software you have a full-featured PC at your disposal inside of your Mac. Virtualization software enables you to have the best of both worlds: all the benefits of a Mac and all the applications available to PCs.

The most popular virtualization software options are VMware Fusion (vmware.com/products/fusion) and Parallels (parallels.com). Both require users to reserve space on their hard drive for the creation of a Windows machine. This reserved space is called a “partition.” The virtual PC installed within this partition via the virtualization software uses your Mac’s keyboard, mouse, display and all of the other peripheral devices (such as USB hard drives, printers, network attached storage and the like). You can even copy files from your virtual Windows desktop to your actual Mac desktop.

The Mac-using attorney with a virtual PC can run any program that works on a Windows PC. Your firm’s IT specialist will be able to install any medieval, PC-only software directly onto your virtual machine. Your virtual PC will be able to access network storage, documents, billing software and the like as if you were running a PC.

How cool is that?

Virtualization software offers enormous advantages to Mac-using attorneys. First, the software is relatively affordable, usually costing between $60 and $80. Note, however, that the Mac-using attorney will need to purchase a license for a Windows operating system to install on the virtual PC. Ironically, the robust hardware offered by Apple is usually much more capable of running Windows than PCs are. In fact, Forbes declared in April 2013 that “The Best Windows PC Is an Apple Mac.”

Remote desktop servers. The other way to access a Windows computer from a Mac is to use remote desktop software, which allows you to access, control and use a computer in a different location than your own. This computer could be a real-life Windows computer sitting on your desk or it could be a virtual Windows computer existing solely on a server.

The two most popular choices for remotely running a Windows machine from a Mac are CoRD (cord.sourceforge.net) and—believe it or not—Microsoft’s own Remote Desktop (found in the Mac App Store), which is also available for the iPhone and iPad. While Microsoft’s Remote Desktop has fewer options and a less visually pleasing user interface than CoRD offers, it provides a very stable and reliable means of creating a remote desktop session between your Macintosh and a PC.

While smaller firms may opt to remotely run real-life Windows PCs from their Macs, larger firms may opt instead to set up a bank of virtual PCs on a remote desktop server (RDS). This requires a larger investment in hardware but offers significant benefits as well. While the specifics of this approach are somewhat technical, the basic concept is straightforward. In an RDS setup, a computer with a large amount of hard drive space and random access memory is instructed to virtualize a set number of PCs. Even though these virtual PCs do not exist in real life, Mac users who want to work on one can use the same remote desktop protocol (RDP) program as they would if they were remotely running a physical PC.

With an RDP setup, the “target” PC is loaded with the firm’s PC-specific software, printer profiles, user information and other environment properties. All of this is accessed by a Mac-using attorney through the RDP session; nothing aside from the RDP program is installed on the Mac. This is called a “thin installation” by the IT community and provides many advantages, chief among them being that the virtual server handles the entire computing load.

While using a remote Windows machine is excellent for tasks such as word processing, it is not good at Web browsing or graphics and video editing. Of course, if you were doing those sorts of things, you would be doing them locally on your Macintosh anyway.

Oh, the cloud! The third and most exciting option for bridging the Mac/PC divide is the cloud. The cloud refers to the use of software-as-a-service providers through a Web browser. Rocket Matter (rocketmatter.com) and other similar practice management and legal billing providers are excellent examples of cloud-based services, as are cloud-based backup solutions such as Mozy (mozy.com), and Carbonite (carbonite.com). The ever-popular Dropbox (dropbox.com) and its chief competitor, Box (box.com), are examples of cloud-based file services that are available to attorneys.

Aside from being the inevitable future of computing, the most exciting thing about cloud-based software is that it is platform agnostic. Cloud services are accessed via a Web browser and don’t care if you’re using Apple’s Safari, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (avoid anything earlier than IE 9!) or Google’s Chrome browser. Cloud resources can be accessed, literally, from anywhere, on anything.

Firms that allow attorneys to use PCs or Macs—but still wish for those two camps to play nicely together—are strongly advised to seek solutions in the cloud. You can easily have a dual Mac and PC environment and not miss a beat. Not only are cloud-computing solutions efficient in terms of workflow and accessibility from any platform from anywhere, but they also provide enormous advantages in terms of price and having the most up-to-date software available.

Regardless of whether a Mac-using attorney chooses to use compatible software, to virtualize a PC on his or her Mac, to remotely access a physical PC or a set of PCs on an RDS, or to fly into the cloud with his or her colleagues, options to collaborate with PC-using colleagues are available, rich and convenient.

RESOURCES FOR MAC-USING ATTORNEYS

Mac-using attorneys are able to access resources and assistance from others that were unavailable even half a decade ago. The infamous Mac Track (techshow.com) at the ABA’s TECHSHOW is a perfect example. Before 2008, the Mac Track did not exist. At ABA TECHSHOW 2013, Mac Track was both the fastest growing and one of the best attended tracks of the entire conference. And it will be expanded in ABA TECHSHOW 2014, with special attention provided for attorneys using iPhones and iPads in their practice.

Another incredible resource is the MILO (Macs in Law Offices) Google Group. Since its founding in February 2007, the group has developed into a robust community of Mac-loving attorneys numbering more than 4,000. Any Macintosh-using attorney who wants to drink deeply of the wisdom of fellow Mac-using attorneys can merely post a question to the group and, usually within hours, numerous experts from across the country (and even from other countries) will offer helpful advice, support and camaraderie. No discussion about Mac-loving attorneys would be complete without mentioning MILOfest (milofest.com), a three-day conference held in Orlando, Fla. every October, tailored specifically to Mac-using attorneys.

Did we mention the blogs? Oh, the blogs! From Ben Stevens’ excellent The Mac Lawyer (themaclawyer.com) to David Sparks and Katie Floyd’s insanely popular Mac Power Users podcast (macpowerusers.com) to Randy Singer’s charmingly anachronistic The Law Office Software List for the Macintosh Computer (macattorney.com), there is a great variety of incredibly high-quality content for Mac lawyers online.

CONCLUSION

The workflow, efficiency and lifestyle advantages of using a Mac in your law practice are apparent. Indeed, an increasing number of attorneys are going “all Mac” every day. However, those Mac attorneys who work in a PC firm should not despair, as a number of workflow, software and app solutions are available to help those attorneys not only exist but thrive in a PC environment. Happy Mac-ing!

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