Looking to give her 80-year-old father the easiest entry possible into the world of cutting-edge technology, lawyer Priya Barnes took him to an Apple store.
Within minutes, Barnets’ father was swiping away on an iPad as if he’d been doing it his entire life.
“It wasn’t intimidating at all. He just did it,” Barnes said.
Lawyers looking for a world without Windows might find a similar experience.
“For attorneys who tend not to be techy, not naturally IT people, a Mac could be useful because the interface is so easy to use. It’s so intuitive. It’s sort of like an iPad,” said Barnes, who chose to have an all-Mac office when she opened her solo practice in Pewaukee three years ago.
It’s an argument Jim Lowe has been making for nearly 30 years.
He and Barnes spoke about their all-Mac operations last year as part of the State Bar of Wisconsin’s solo and small-firm conference.
Lowe first decided to go to an all-Mac practice in 1987, back when users were still becoming familiar with Macintosh’s beige-box personal computers.
For Lowe, a patent attorney since 1979, the choice required little thought. He knew that he wanted to have a computer enabling him to manage large amounts of data.
“I said, ‘I need this tool in order to make my life simpler.’”
So he went Mac.
And he’s never looked back.
Keep it simple
“One of the things that appealed to me about the Mac is its simplicity,” Lowe said.
Lowe studied nuclear engineering as an undergraduate and learned to program computers while he was still in college. Yet, despite Macs’ reputation for sometimes requiring more technical knowledge out of users than PCs, Lowe has never had to fall back on his programming knowledge while working on a Mac.
Barnes, who first worked with Macs during her years in advertising, agreed that the technical barriers to using a Mac are very low.
“You don’t have to know code, although if you do you’re that much better at it,” she said.
Macs also require little tech support, she said.
“In the three years I’ve been in practice, I’ve never needed to call anyone to fix a computer crash or something not working or some service being down. And I see messages like that being posted on a solo and small practice listserv by Windows users all the time,” Barnes said.
Lowe agreed, although he argued that freedom from support is not necessarily something all lawyers want.
“Most lawyers are not that tech-savvy; that’s not their primary interest, so they go for support,” he said. “And there isn’t a huge body of individuals who say, ‘I’m a Mac expert. Let me set you up in Mac.’ They’ve got legacy systems, and they’re all raised on Windows. They’re stuck in that mud puddle. They don’t want to go to another mud puddle; it’s something new and something different, so they just don’t.”
If they can get over working without a safety net, many attorneys still worry that Macs won’t have all the options of a Windows-based system, particularly when it comes to software.
“That was one of the things I had to look at,” Barnes admitted.
With much of her practice devoted to bankruptcy work, Barnes wondered how her Mac-only operation would align with the court’s all-electronic filing system.
She found software that let her enter and submit information with one click.
But, she said, “None of them are Mac-based.”
The situation was similar for trial-management software; she found only one product that was on the market for use on the iPad. Everything else she came across was still in development or was meant for a PC.
Barnes solved both problems by using FileMaker, a cross-platform database program that can serve Mac users as a bridge to the Windows world.
“It’s beyond an Excel spreadsheet; it’s almost three-dimensional,” Barnes said. “I use it for billing, time management, all-practice management, basically. I also run legal forms from FileMaker, so I’ve never had to go outside the Mac world.”
The program has even enabled her to set up a “pretty close to one-step upload” system for bankruptcy files.
FileMaker has also been a go-to program for Lowe. All in all, his use of a Mac seems to have closed off very few software options.
“Most legal software is browser-based, so it’s useable on a Mac,” Lowe said.
But, even if programs aren’t compatible, Lowe said some, like Outlook, have been adapted for use on a Mac. Still others, like Parallels, have made it easy — and affordable — to run Windows programs on a Mac.
“For $49 you can have a Windows operating system running on your Mac,” Lowe said. “It runs Windows 10, which is very Mac-like now — the operating systems are very similar — and anything that is Windows-only. So, all my Mac stuff is all there and I can run any Windows software I want. I never have an inability to do anything.”
But then there’s the cost …
So, if Macs are easy to use and software isn’t an obstacle, why haven’t more attorneys made the switch?
It might come down to money.
And, with Apple Macbooks running between $800 and $1,300 — and PC alternatives available for $700 to $1,100 — Barnes and Lowe acknowledge the urge to walk away simply over price.
“There’s a perception that it’s more costly,” Barnes said. “And there isn’t a Mac computer product I know of that would cost less than $500 or $600, so maybe it is more expensive. But I question that over time.”
That’s because, Lowe and Barnes argue, Macs actually save money users money long-term, since lawyers don’t have to worry about maintenance and support services.
“I don’t think I’ve paid a so-called Mac penalty,” Lowe said. “And if you’re happy with dumb, you can go cheaper. But if you want something that will respond quickly, you buy a decent amount of memory, a decent amount of CPU, and I think the price is comparable. If you value your time, the decision is easy.”
And if you’re still unsure?
“Go to the store and try it,” Barnes said.