MIS@The Law Offices of David S. Pearson
The Joys and Perils of Running on Mac
A San Francisco Bay Area solo enjoys the operating system's stability and its occasional challenges.
By David S. Pearson
THE LAW offices of David S. Pearson opened its doors in August, 1996, when I left the insurance defense firm where I had worked since becoming a lawyer in 1991. Since opening my solo office, I have concentrated on the representation of closely held businesses -- in their corporate, real estate and litigation needs with an emphasis on mergers and acquisitions.
In addition to running my solo practice, for the past few years I have worked with my father at ASI Acquisition and Merger Intermediary, acting as a merger and acquisition intermediary and investment banker. Both businesses' clients are spread throughout northern and central California and, occasionally, northern Nevada.
When I struck out on my own, the first hurdle as a solo was how to operate my office in as efficient a manner as possible, while not appearing to operate as a solo. At the defense firm, I had become the de facto technology coordinator, as computers had been a hobby since high school.
While at the firm, I helped it modernize by putting computers onto each attorney's desk. These provided both online and network research, as well as time-and-billing tools, and helped us drastically reduce our accounting department head count.
Although my first five years of practice were at a firm based upon Wintel PCs, I had always used Apple computers in my home, and had both a desktop and a laptop Apple Macintosh when I opened my doors as a solo. I knew that to work efficiently I was going to have to be heavily computer-dependent, as I intended to work out of my home, without a support staff.
MacLaw acts as a virtual water cooler for posting both computer and legal questions.
-David S. Pearson
Although there were (and still are) far more applications -- both general and legal specific --on the Wintel side, I felt that the investment that I already had in hardware and software for the Macintosh, and the ease of use (and expansion) of the Mac would make my practice both more efficient and more enjoyable. Additionally, my law office also acts as the beta site for the investment banking office. My father uses Macs in his business, and I don't install anything in his office until I have bug tested it, as he has limited computer skills.
Trial and Error
When I first opened up shop, I had three computers: a desktop, a IIci, and a laptop computer (a 5300). I also used an old Apple Personal LaserWriter NT for printing. My software included both WordPerfect for Mac and Microsoft Word and Excel for document creation; Sage's TimeSlips for billing; Intuit's Quickbooks for accounting; and Now Up-to-Date/Contact for calendaring and contact management (along with numerous other programs that I had collected on my shelf over the years). I had a fax/modem for faxing and used Kinko's for photocopying when necessary.
I quickly discovered that I would have to add a photocopier and a fax machine to my set up. Although I had scanned my signature into the computer and was able to fax out letters from the computer, sending non-computer generated documents with my letters was problematic. At the time I decided that a decent fax machine was a better route than a sheet fed scanner.
My next problem: because computers were, and still are, a hobby, I like to acquire new programs and hardware to try out in my office, to see if they will add efficiency to my practice or otherwise prove useful (or fun). Despite the Mac's ease of use, I find that each time I add hardware and software, it takes anywhere from a few days to a week to isolate conflicts and minimize computer crashes and return a semi-stable environment to my computer.
Although I doubt that a Wintel PC would be any more stable with constant additions and subtraction of both hardware and software, Macs are far from immune to random crashes. I am looking forward to Apple's new OS X operating system, which I expect will add a significant amount of stability to my machine (although at the expense of having to learn Unix). I have yet to learn the lesson about leaving my machine alone, and my quest for greater efficiency usually results in losing as much time overcoming crashes as it does in working more efficiently, at least in the short run.
Although I am usually able to diagnose most of the problems that I have run into, I joined MacAttorney and MacLaw, two online user groups supporting Mac using attorneys. Although MacAttorney (www.macattorney.com) stopped its active mailing list changing to an irregular newsletter format, MacLaw (www. maclaw.org) continues as an active discussion group of attorneys and others in the legal community around the world who use the Mac in their offices. This list acts as a virtual water-cooler both for posting computer questions and legal questions and is invaluable for the collective knowledge of its members and their willingness to assist with problems.
I have always felt that when cash flow permits, upgrading to a faster computer is cost effective, especially with laptops. It is not uncommon for me to have seven or eight application open at the same time. When I started, I often found myself waiting for the computer to catch up to me, when it didn't crash, as I attempted to switch between applications and to print from one application while typing in another and faxing from a third, and checking e-mail.
I also frequently work away from my office, and a powerful laptop is a must when on the road. I am on my third PowerBook since opening my office. My laptop is loaded with all of the applications on my desktop computer, as well as a complete copy of all files so that my computer environment doesn't change from office to the road.
Each night before I leave for a trip, or upon my return to the office if I have created or changed documents, I synchronize my computers using Apple's free "File Synchronization" application. If printing becomes necessary while on the road, I generally travel to Kinkos which offers laptop stations for both Mac and Wintel laptop printing.
My current hardware setup isn't much different from when I started, just significantly more powerful. I have an Apple Macintosh G4 desktop, a G3 PowerBook and an Hewlett Packard 4000N printer. All are networked in my office and connected to the Internet by a MacSense Xrouter for DSL sharing.
I use a second internal hard drive, Zip disks and a QPS Que!Fire CD-RW drive for backups with Dantz Retrospect. I have added both a sheet-fed Mitsubishi S600C scanner and a flatbed Umax Astra 2000U scanner. I use a Palm IIIc for trips when lugging a portable isn't necessary. I added the scanners last year with the goal of minimizing paper and moving to a paper free office.
While using a Macintosh in a law office is all well and good, in dealing with clients and opposing counsel, I have yet to work with any other Mac users. Thus the ability to communicate and exchange work with other platforms is a must. In this area, the Mac has been outstanding.
As a lawyer, my primary application is my word processor. As use of the Internet has climbed, I have found it more and more common to exchange documents via e-mail. When I first opened my practice, I had e-mail and Web access, but did not have any clients who used e-mail. In the past four years, this has changed completely to a point where all of my clients are wired, and I frequently work with opposing counsel using e-mail. Depending upon the type of communication, I have standardized my attachments and use either a Microsoft Office component (Word or Excel) or print the document as an Adobe Acrobat PDF.
My first introduction to e-mail exchanges came in an M&A transaction where counsel were routinely faxing 20 and 30-plus page documents to each other for review and comment. At the beginning of the transaction, each side was faxing letters back and forth describing the changes to documents. When a new attorney became involved in the transaction, all documents began to be circulated via e-mail. Even though I was using a Mac, I had no problem opening the documents and using Word's track changes command to mark up and forward the documents.
The transaction proceeded quicker and I was not tied to my office waiting for faxes but could receive and work on the documents from anywhere I could access e-mail. None of the people involved in the transaction had any problems with documents created or modified on the Mac. A side benefit of using electronic exchanges was to help build my forms library for use in future transactions.
Since completing the first merger and acquisition transaction, every M&A transaction that I have been involved in since has been handled in similar fashion over the net. I much prefer the ability to directly mark up the document and return it to counsel rather than preparing a long letter describing the changes I desire.
When altering a document is either not necessary or I do not want the recipient to alter the document, I have settled on Adobe Acrobat. Initially, I used Word to send locked files to clients. However, as the amount of e-mail grew, I ran into obstacles. More documents were either created in programs that my Mac couldn't open; or I found myself sending compilations of documents from different programs. So I purchased Adobe Acrobat. The full version works on both Macs and Wintel PCs, and prints from any application to an electronic document. A free reader is available from Adobe, and PDFs are a common Web format for exchanging documents.
We use Acrobat in the investment banking office both to e-mail confidentiality agreements and to e-mail information booklets to prospective purchasers describing our clients. I also use Acrobat, in conjunction with a scanner, to create forms that can be filled out on the computer. Examples of such forms, many with the fields already in place, are freely available from government and court Web sites.
Paper Free Office
In addition to using Adobe Acrobat for form creation and electronic document distribution, I purchased a Mitsubishi S600C scanner and Dominion Software's WorkingPapers software, to attempt to reduce the amount of paper floating around my office. WorkingPapers is a Mac only software program for scanning, archiving, and cataloguing documents and includes OCR functions. Since January 2000 I have used WorkingPapers to scan in all correspondence entering and leaving my office along with pleadings and contracts.
I do not use it to scan discovery documents as the Mitsubishi scanner can only handle about 25 pages at a time maximum. However, for light duty scanning, it works fine. I leave the scanner connected to my portable and use the portable as a scanning station while in the office. I can then copy the documents to my desktop machine for filing and backup. When I am on the road, I can access most portions of all of my files, right on the portable to answer questions from clients and counsel who may call.
David Pearson is based in Walnut Creek, Calif.