Law Practice Today | February 2013 | Technology/ABA TECHSHOW
February 2013 | Technology/ABA TECHSHOW 2013
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Integrating Apple Products into Your Law Office with Ease

By Heidi S. Alexander

Was it that beautiful graphic display or the sleek minimalist look that caught your eye?  Have you invested in and experienced the utility of an iPhone or iPad?  Are you sick of your children nagging you for their third- or fourth-generation Apple product and figure its time for you to invest in your first?  Or, maybe you’ve just been brainwashed.  

Whatever the case, you are well on your way toward joining the Mac cult.  However, before you take the leap, you should prepare yourself and your practice by contemplating a variety of questions and forming a plan to accomplish the transition.

Taking Baby Steps

The first question you need to ask yourself is whether are you ready to ditch your PC altogether.  Many attorneys are now incorporating Apple products such as iPhones and iPads into their practices for mobile convenience, but remain tied to their PC computers.  With third-party compatibility applications, cloud-based programs, and Apple’s native configurations, you have the ability to share information between your iPhone/iPad and a PC computer.  You also don’t need to be an IT professional to set up your iPhone/iPad to exchange certain information with your PC.  Email and calendar, two of the most popular iPhone/iPad functions, can easily be set up to sync with your PC through the iPhone/iPad’s built-in settings.  If you use a law practice management program to organize your practice, many of the cloud-based practice management programs that work with both PCs and Macs now have iPhone and iPad apps that provide mobile access to your client files, allow for mobile billing and time tracking, and more functionality on the go.

Going All Out

If you are ready to go all Apple and never turn back, you should form a plan for your transition.  Your plan should contemplate your current software and systems and address any compatibility issues, backup and migration of data, timing, and IT support.    

1) Compatibility questions:

  • Are you currently using a server as your data hub and network for your office computers?  If so, is that server compatible with a Mac computer?  Many servers are indeed compatible with Macs and PCs, but may require a more sophisticated setup.  If your server is not compatible, are you prepared to upgrade your server to one that is compatible?  Apple also makes its own servers.
  • Are you using a law practice management program?  If so, is that program compatible with a Mac computer?  Many of the cloud-based practice management programs work with Macs and PCs because they are accessed via a web portal from any browser.  However, law practice management software programs that reside on your hard drive may not be compatible with Mac.
  • Which peripherals are you using?  Peripherals include USB devices, printers, scanners, digital cameras, keyboards, monitors, mice, and more.  Many peripheral devices are compatible with PC and Mac.  To be sure, check the device manual or website to ensure compatibility.  For some peripherals, such as printers, scanners, or digital cameras, all that may be required is a driver download (a program typically available for free online) to enable your Mac to communicate with the device.
  • Check other software applications that you use in your practice for compatibility.  If that particular product is not compatible with Mac, a Mac version may be available for purchase.  Due to the rise in Mac market share, many software companies now produce products for both systems.  If need be, you can run Windows (PC operating system) and PC programs on a Mac. Mac provides a built-in program called Boot Camp that allows users to install and run Windows; and some third-party applications allow you to run both PC and Mac programs at the same time.  These third-party applications work by creating a virtual machine that can run Windows on your Mac.  Because I am the sole Mac user in my office, I run a third-party virtual machine program that enables me to boot up Windows and use our practice management software, which is only compatible with a PC.  With some of the virtual machines, like the one I use, the user can run each PC program in its own window (“coherence mode”), which appears as though it is running directly from the Mac's operating system. 

2) Back up and Migration. 

Before you make the switch, be sure to back up your data (you should be doing this regularly anyhow).  Data migration is easy through Mac's built-in Windows-to-Mac migration, which will walk you through an automatic transfer of data from your PC to your Mac.  If you purchase a Mac at an Apple store, Apple support staff can help you with the migration. 

3) Timing. 

As with a transition to any new system, you must build in time for setup, troubleshooting, and a learning curve for you and your staff.  If you account for this time in your transition plan, the switch will be less disruptive to your practice. 

4) Support. 

Your transition plan should also contemplate support.  Before you transition, determine whom you will call on for assistance.  If you already have an IT professional working for you, make sure that individual or firm is familiar with Apple products.  If you purchase a Mac computer from the Apple store, it will come with a one-year warranty and 90 days telephone technical support.  You can extend this warranty at any point during the one-year limited warranty period by purchasing Apple Care.  Apple Care costs a nominal fee (the specific amount depends upon the product) for a three-year warranty extension.  With Apple Care, all software and hardware issues are diagnosed and resolved by an Apple Care technician in-store, by direct mail-in, or onsite (for desktop computers).  Without Apple Care, you can take your computer into an Apple store and a technician will diagnose the problem for no cost, but you will be required to pay for any repairs.  Apple also offers a Joint Venture program for an annual fee, which is only available at the time of the purchase of a Mac computer from the Apple store.  Joint Venture covers the set up of multiple Apple products, training for you and your employees, and in-person and telephone support. For product training, Apple also offers a one-to-one program for a nominal annual fee—only available at the time of purchase of a Mac computer from the Apple store.  Apple also provides free in-store group workshops on certain topics.  It is important to note that although Apple technicians are trained to diagnose and resolve problems associated with Apple software, they may not be able to help you with problems related to third-party applications.  It may be prudent to have an IT professional in your back pocket, as well as Apple support.

Choosing Your Mac Computer

Before you purchase your new Mac computer, you should consider your current practice and needs.  First, do you need a desktop and/or a laptop?  Apple’s laptops can be configured to be nearly as robust as a desktop.  If you have a mobile practice, you may want to purchase a laptop as your primary computer and use it with a second monitor when you are in your office, emulating a desktop computer.  Second, what is your budget for purchase of a new computer(s)?  A new MacBook Pro or iMac is pricey, while their less robust counterparts, MacBook Air and Mac Mini, are much cheaper.  Consider setting up your assistant and other employees on a MacBook Air or Mac Mini, rather than a MacBook Pro or iMac.  You can also purchase refurbished or used computers.  This can be a good option, as long as you purchase a computer that is upgradable, in terms of memory and operating system.  Many new Apple programs are now only made compatible with Apple’s newer operating system.  Third, do you often make presentations in the community and to clients?  Will you use your devices for trial presentation?  If so, you may want to consider purchasing accessories such as an Apple TV and Airport Express.  By creating a private network between your devices, Apple TV and Airport Express enable you to broadcast your Mac, iPad, or iPhone to a screen for viewing.  

The Take-Away

If you are contemplating a transition to a Mac law office, do not make haste; rather, take time to contemplate compatibility questions, seek input from other Mac-savvy practitioners and your IT professional, and design a plan for transition.  While no transition is absolutely seamless, if you take the steps that I have described above, you can anticipate certain issues before they arise and build in adequate time for trouble-shooting and learning, so as to minimize any disruption to your practice.  To learn more about transitioning from PC to Mac and using Macs in your law office, attend the Mac-track programs led by the experts at this year’s ABA TECHSHOW 2013, April 4-6 in Chicago.   

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About the Author

Heidi S. Alexander is law practice advisor with the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program (Mass LOMAP).  She can be reached at 857.383.3253.

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