Little Shop of Apples
By Anthony Paonita
WHAT'S different about this picture? Tasteful prints line the walls at New Orleans's Aubert & Pajares. The cubicles of assistants are festooned with family photos and kids' drawings, while the offices of partners are decorated in ways that reflect the firm's reputation and stability. Think big, solid desks.
Sounds like any other corporate law firm, except for some unusual hardware. The computers aren't in dull beige hues. The colors are, well, fruity. Blueberry. Raspberry. Yes, this is an Apple shop. This is iMac country.
Apple Computer, Inc.'s computers may be wildly popular among consumers, and within certain professional niches like publishing, but they still aren't common in legal environments.
But Aubert & Pajares, as the Apple ads suggest, "Think Different." All of the firm's computers are Apples -- an assortment of machines, from vintage Power Macintosh 6100s to more up-to-date G3s and G4s.
Large firms have all but abandoned Apple, according to recent AmLaw Tech surveys. At law firms, as in virtually all of the corporate world, Windows rules.
But according to Apple's statistics, the company is a quiet giant in small firms with up to 20 attorneys. Apple boasts the number five spot, it says, behind Gateway, Compaq, IBM and Dell.
With 21 lawyers, Aubert & Pajares squeaks over the "small firm" hurdle, but it has a decidedly big-firm-style litigation practice. Even though it counts as clients such mainstream companies as Xerox Corp., Westinghouse Electric Co., and shipping giant Maersk Inc., the firm has not suffered from incompatibility with clients, the usual discussion-stopper whenever a law firm might consider the Mac.
"Anything we need to do, we can do with a Mac," says Christopher Aubert, who co-founded the firm in 1992. "Macs invite use, while PCs get stickies on them."
Aubert started using Apples back in the late '80s at New Orleans' McGlinchey Stafford. Mac was the computer of choice among the firm's product liability group. Other lawyers at were using IBM-compatibles, and seemed to have endless trouble.
So when Aubert and Raymond Pajares left to form their own firm, they stayed with what they knew. They started with four Macs and "LocalTalk" phone-wire networking.
As the firm expanded, so did its computer network. The simple peer-to-peer networking was soon replaced with a more powerful system. The Macs eventually gave way to the colorful iMacs.
Out of the Box
"With the iMac," says Aubert, "you pull it out of a box, and five minutes later you're using it. And it's completely networkable," he adds, alluding to such standard features as a built-in fast Ethernet networking capability, unusual in a consumer model.
There's one big problem with a law firm using Apple computers. Common wisdom dictates that there's not much Mac legal software. No heavy-duty document management programs like PC DOCS or iManage. Few if any full-featured case management programs such as ProLaw.
"Okay, I'll concede that there are no legal suites for the Mac," says Aubert. "But we can do 50 things better" with off-the-shelf software.
Myth or Reality?
Actually, the lack of software may be more myth than reality, if you believe the new 2000 update of The Macintosh Software Guide for the Law Office, by Randy Singer.
And at a recent press briefing, Apple representatives said more software and more upgrades are on the way, including pending upgrades of Amicus Attorney, by Gavel & Gown Software, Inc.; Timeslips; West Group's Premise; Open Market Folio; and PubNETic's e-transcript. Apple also has launched a legal specific Web site, www.apple.com/small business/legal.
For contact management and calendars, Aubert & Pajares uses Now Contact and Now Up-to-Date, programs popular in the Mac world. Firm lawyers and paralegals keep track of time via the Macintosh version of Timeslips.
The firm uses FileMaker Pro 5, a powerful yet relatively simple database for tracking litigation documents. On a recent large class action, Aubert & Pajares had to hire a consultant to construct the database. "It wasn't cheap," Aubert says. But the firm viewed the money spent as a good investment, as it will be able to reuse the database for other cases.
Aubert & Pajares lawyers and staff use the capabilities of the Mac operating system to substitute for a standalone document management or case management system.
Typically, they'll set up a folder on their file server for a client. Nested inside that main folder will be other folders for individual cases. Inside those are folders for correspondence, pleadings, and documents.
On the more complex matters, such as class actions, documents are usually accessed using the searchable FileMaker Pro databases. One such class action has about a million documents, says Aubert.
One of the main problems with using Macs, according to information technology officers, is the need for firms to be compatible with clients. But Aubert says that compatibility isn't all that it's cracked up to be.
The firm uses both WordPerfect 3.5 for Macintosh and the latest Mac version of Word for word processing. Migrating documents to Windows and back is usually seamless. When it's not, MacLink Plus Deluxe from DataViz, Inc., a conversion utility, takes over.
Client Steward Gisser, associate general counsel of Schindler Elevator Corp., says that he has never had difficulty communicating with the firm. "In terms of e-mails and attachments, it's not an issue," he says.
Lawyers at Aubert & Pajares become Mac road warriors when they have to: A few of them have new candy-colored iBooks and use them to write and connect to the office from the courthouse or out in the field. Partner Raymond Pajares says he used his laptop to keep track of plaintiffs' complaints in a recent multi-district mass tort case on orthopedic bone screws.
"We're able to keep pace with the big guys," he says, because of the Mac's ease of use.
The firm's third partner, David Schexnaydre, also has an iBook. When accessing the network from home or on a trip, "it's just like sitting at my desk at work." The colorful computer gets a lot of attention. "People always say, 'Wow! What a cool computer,'" he says.
Support staff members also connect with the office from home. Arleen Parker, Aubert's secretary, recently bought an iMac. Occasionally she taps into the office network to work on a document. "I'm pretty computer-illiterate," she says, "but this is great."
The firm gets by without a full-time dedicated system administrator. For major projects like expanding the network or big problems, they call in consultants.
Aubert & Pajares moved its offices last year. It would have been a perfect opportunity to shift to a Windows platform. No way. "We decided to stick with what works," says Aubert. And, he adds, "I want people to have fun."
LTN Contributing Editor Anthony Paonita is senior editor of The American Lawyer.