As more attorneys realize that they have to get computers onto their own desktops, a good number of them will continue to choose the Macintosh because of its ease of use and reduced support requirements.
Several Macintosh-using attorneys that I have spoken to have expressed concern that the Macintosh may be dead as a choice for law office use now that Windows95, with its more Macintosh-like graphical user interface, or GUI, has arrived. Personally, I have a very optimistic view of the future of the Macintosh for law office use. (This is despite the fact that Apple has not supported this market in quite a while. However, even this may change, see below.)
There is now, and has always been, a lot of misinformation about the state of the Macintosh computer, advanced by self-proclaimed experts who, coincidentally, use only IBM-compatibles. It seems that in the United States many people are so competitive that they don't see room for more than one choice. Instead they want to see their choice "win." And winning to them seems to mean that Apple and its Macintosh should go out of business. What those users of IBM-compatibles don't understand is that if Macintosh goes away, Microsoft will have no incentive to improve its products, or to innovate. How much better has the picture playback quality of inexpensive VHS video tape players gotten since Beta players virtually disappeared 15 years ago? My new VHS player doesn't match the playback quality of my 15 year old Beta machine. It is in the best interest of all computer users/consumers to have strong competition among the vendors in this market.
In any case, be wary of things that you are told about the Mac by people who don't own or use one, even consultants. Where this author's observations are in conflict with what the reader has heard from non-Macintosh users, the author invites the reader to compare the facts for his or her self.
The Impact of Windows 95
I really don't think that Windows 95 will have the impact on Macintosh use that many of the pundits have suggested. Already the stories on the news services have turned to how hard it is to install Windows 95, that businesses aren't interested in making the switch, and that it really is a system for advanced home users. There are two ways that Macintosh use in the law office could be impacted by the advent of Windows 95: Former Macintosh users might decide to switch to the IBM-compatible/Win95 platform, and attorneys who might have previously decided to purchase a Macintosh might decide to purchase an IBM/Win95 machine instead. The prospect of a former Macintosh-using attorney switching platforms makes little sense. It is true that Macintosh users who switch to a PC running Windows 95 have an advantage over previous IBM-compatible users in that the Macintosh users will probably purchase all new hardware and software, with Windows 95 already installed. This means that they will avoid the installation problems, most of the incompatibility problems caused by using legacy software, and they will have the newer updated hardware necessary to take advantage of Windows95's new features. (Assuming that they have purchased intelligently.) They can also purchase all of the new software that takes advantage of Win95's new features, like multitasking. (Assuming that it is available yet.)
The downside is that the former Macintosh user, in addition to purchasing all-new hardware, will have to give up all of the Macintosh software that they already own, and will have to purchase, and learn how to use, all-new (and possibly less intuitive to use) software. This is likely to prove expensive and could keep the former Macintosh-using attorneys from being as productive as they are now on their Macintosh for quite a while.
But the two biggest downsides in switching from the Macintosh to Windows 95 have been entirely glossed over by the press. Using Windows95 eliminates the Windows/Intel advantage of price over the Macintosh, and it also results in the equivalent Macintosh having a significant advantage in speed for the price!
Macintosh Triumphs in Speed-Price Comparison
How could this be? Well, Windows 95 is a resource hog. It has been well-documented that it needs at least 16MB of RAM to run at a decent speed (it is true that it will run with less using such tricks as virtual memory, but those tricks drastically slow down the computer), and it requires a very large hard drive. The same goes for applications that run on Windows 95.
On the average, Windows95 applications take up about twice the hard drive space, and require about twice the RAM, as do equivalent Macintosh applications. Windows95 also requires a very fast processor to run decently. RAM, large hard drives, Pentium-class computers--these resources are not inexpensive. By contrast, a Power Macintosh can comfortably get by with 8MB of RAM (assuming that you don't install Quickdraw GX and PowerTalk, as few do) and a much smaller hard drive. The latest Power Macintoshes are very price competitive with equivalent Pentium-based computers, even before you take into account the extras, and extra costs, that you will incur to make Windows 95 perform at its best.
Windows95 is slow. Even though DOS is no longer a separate component of the system software, it is still in there. Windows95 was not designed from the ground up as a graphical user interface as the Macintosh's system software was. Windows95 still is held back by its DOS and Windows 3.x heritage. The Macintosh's operating system is much better optimized to work as a GUI. Windows95 appears to have been hastily written to get it on the market. The software, which is neither tightly written nor compact, does not take optimum advantage of the hardware it runs on.
Finally, since IBM-PC hardware is barely a standard, Windows 95 is nowhere near as optimized for the hardware that it runs on as is the Macintosh. (Apple has tight control over its own hardware and how third-party software interacts with it.)
All of this accounts for why the Macintosh system software is slimmer, less resource intensive, and runs faster than Windows95. I invite the reader to compare the two platforms side by side in a store. (Bring demo versions of a law office software package that runs on both platforms, such as Amicus Attorney.) Apparently, Pentium-based computers running Windows95 tested out to be significantly slower than the equivalent Power Macintosh in the respected Ingram Labs tests, according to the results published on Apple's Web site--http://www.apple.com. Tests conducted by the equally respected Byte magazine confirm the superior speed of Power Macintosh computers.
Support For Use of the Macintosh in The Law Office
Clearly, there are more than enough reasons to stick with the Macintosh, as a computer platform, if you already have one. There is, however, the question of support. Since Apple does not support the legal market directly, and the percentage of the market in general that the Macintosh holds is small, is the market for Macintosh-based legal software shrinking and will the vendors who produce law office specific applications abandon the market? If so, do you need to consider switching away from the Macintosh? The answer is an emphatic "no!"
If the law office market for the Macintosh were getting smaller, vendors would stop writing new applications for this vertical market. That is the opposite of what has been happening.
I have sitting here in my office quite a few new products for the Macintosh designed specifically for law office use. (I even have some that are in beta, but I am bound by a non-disclosure agreement, so I cannot talk about them specifically, but some of them are stunning.) I recently compiled a list of software specifically written for law office use. (Not products adaptable to the legal market, but written specifically for it.) I was surprised to find that there are close to 100 such products, and that almost all of them are superior to anything available for IBM-compatibles in their interface and ease of use. (See this author's World Wide Web site at: http://www.mother.com/~randy/index.html ) My list doesn't even include the stuff written by non-professional programmers, in such environments as Hypercard, of which there are a good number. Law office software for the Mac seems to be plentiful and of a very high quality. It just isn't as high profile as the software for IBM-compatibles because many of these companies are small and don't have a large advertising budget. I have sought to remedy this somewhat by publishing my list online in such places as the Legal forum on America OnLine. (Use Keyword: LIN and then go into the L.I.N. Software Library/Macintosh to find it.)
New Programs for Law Office Management
One of my favorite law office management programs for the Macintosh is Amicus Attorney (Gavel & Gown Software; contact person, Brian Dunkin, 184 Pearl St., Toronto, Ontario, M5H 1L5 Canada; (800) 472-2289). Amicus Attorney is an all-in-one law office management package that is not based on a commercial database engine (so it is fast, and its interface isn't funky). This application was released for Windows first, but the attorneys working at Gavel & Gown are mostly Macintosh users and they put their best into the Macintosh version. Another excellent law office manager, Trial De Novo, has just been released by De Novo Systems (3910 N.E. 42d St., Suite 100, Vancouver, Wash., 98661-3117; (360) 695-9372 or (800) 755-9744; contact person, Fred Brock). Trial De Novo is based in FoxPro.
There is even a complete law office management package entirely in Spanish now for the Macintosh: Bufete (Siscomp Inc., Siscomp Building, Suite 202, 18 Comercio St., Ponce, Puerto Rico, 00731; (809) 848-0666). Soon to be released is a new software package for personal injury litigators that takes care of everything from filings and motions to client letters and accounting. And the list goes on. There are even a couple of new entries into the extreme high-end of this market, for larger law firms.
Evidence Suggests Adoptions Continue
There is a lot of evidence that a large number of attorneys are purchasing Macintoshes as their first computer, or are switching to the Mac from other platforms. Lately I've been getting calls from bar associations that find that they need someone to present seminars on the use of the Macintosh in the practice of law. As more and more attorneys find themselves as sole practitioners, and realize they need to learn how to use a computer to compete, many of them decide that using a Macintosh is the way to go. The reasons for this are well-known: ease of setup, use and networking, low support costs.
Another factor that is often overlooked is that many of these attorneys already have a Macintosh at home. Often it is a Performa that they bought for their children. (Ironically, their children often turn out to be their support staff!) Another factor that may be causing increased law office use of the Macintosh is law office practices. Many law firms already have IBM-compatible computers, but those computers were purchased for support staff, not for attorneys desktops. Many of those machines still run DOS and are extremely unfriendly to non-computer literate attorneys. As more and more attorneys realize that they have to get a computer onto their own desktops to make the practice of law easier, and to remain competitive, a good number of them have chosen a Macintosh because of its ease of use and reduced support requirements compared to IBM-compatibles, even those that have Windows 95 installed. (A recent study, available on the Apple Web site, has shown that Macs are quite a bit less expensive to maintain each year than IBM-compatibles.) rom all accounts, the number of attorneys who use the Macintosh is growing, not shrinking. This has not gone unnoticed by Apple. In fact, Apple had a renewed and large presence at this year's Legal Tech show and is rumored to be considering mounting a new thrust into the law office market. There is talk of both a World Wide Web page for attorneys, to be run by Apple, and a first-class electronic bulletin board. The word is that California will be a test-bed for the latter.
The Ideal System Could Be Created
I have suggested to several software vendors that what is really needed is for them to make a deal with a Macintosh clone manufacturer to come up with a reasonably priced turn-key system for law office use. Such a system would be irresistible, especially for smaller and solo law practices. It could include voice-mail, dictation and automatic transcription, forms, legal research on CD-ROM, accounting, automatic billing, fax, and GUI-based Internet capabilities. Many of these capabilities are far easier to use, and perform better, on the Macintosh than on a Windows machine. A turn-key system that included everything that any law office could want, already pre-configured and personalized, would eliminate any need for an attorney to be concerned over which platform would best meet his/her needs. The components for such a system are available now, but having it come pre-configured from the manufacturer is something that I think would strongly appeal to attorneys.
Does Market Share Matter?
One last issue that needs to be addressed is the health and future of Apple as a company, without regard to the law office market. I am often asked: "Why should I purchase a Macintosh when it only holds less than 10 percent of the personal computer market?" To which I reply: "When you go to purchase a personal luxury car, and you consider a Lexus, do you ask the Lexus salesman why you should buy one when Lexus holds less than 10 percent of the market?" Of course not.
One-tenth of the huge personal computer market worldwide, though a relatively small fraction, is a large number of sales. Apple grossed $11 billion this year. They sell every single computer they make, and they have orders for quite a few more.A company for which you can make the last two statements is not a company you need to worry about. They set the technological standards for the entire personal computer industry. Look at the newest features in today's IBM-compatibles and count how many of them first showed up in the Macintosh years ago. Look at how many features appear in the Macintosh today that IBM-compatibles will not have for several years yet--for instance, RISC processors, Quicktime VR and Quicktime 3D, AppleGuide, plug-and-play networking, universal commands for certain functions. Apple will not be going away anytime soon, and there is no good reason not to purchase a Macintosh.
So, the future looks quite positive for law office use of the Macintosh. Support for the use of the Macintosh in a law office setting is strong from vendors. Though Windows 95 makes using an IBM-compatible computer easier and more Macintosh-like, there are still definite advantages to using a Macintosh. The fact that Apple does not specifically support the law office market is of no concern. (In fact, given Apple's past marketing efforts, it might be just as well that they do not.) But, Apple may even be showing a renewed interest in this market. Macintosh-users have always been able to take care of each other and create their own enthusiasm. I think that Macintosh-using attorneys can and should continue this tradition for our own niche of the market.
Randy B. Singer is a civil litigator practicing in San Francisco. One of the co-authors of The Macintosh Bible (the world's best-selling book about the Macintosh Computer) and an Apple Legal Fellow, Mr. Singer co-hosts the yearly MACLO (Macintosh in the Law Office) trade show. He can be reached at 1431 Edwards Circle, Woodland, Calif., 95776-5775; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org .
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