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Thank You, Steve Jobs

by Carolyn Elefant on October 6, 2011 · 0 comments

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I bought my first Mac in August 1987. Perhaps more than anything up until the birth of my daughters, my Mac changed my life by making me realize that with my words and a means of production, anything – becoming a writer, starting a business or effecting change – was possible. My Mac gave me the courage and the confidence to turn down the safe but horrible job at biglaw after graduating law school and choose a path less traveled because if it didn’t work out, I knew that I could still find a way to build a life for myself. There are hundreds of thousands of stories just like mine, all made possible by Steve Jobs. What follows is a slightly updated version of a post that I first published in March 2007 at the now-defunct Home Office Lawyer Blog back in March 2007, entitled Me and My Mac.

Two weeks ago, after eighteen solid years of PC use, I bought a Mac, and embarked on what I hope will be (to borrow a phrase from I Heart Tech’s Adriana Linares a productive and happy bi-OS relationship. But don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not a new Mac user; to the contrary, I’m a very old one. For me, buying a Mac wasn’t about embarking on a road to new technology, instead, it’s nostalgia, a trip back to a place in time when I first opened my eyes to the power and possibility of technology.

I started using Macs (or back then, the Mac Plus) when I entered law school in 1985. (In my senior year in college, I’d dabbled with word processing systems, but they were too complicated, so at the end of the day, I resorted to my trusty electric typewriter). During my first year of law school, I’d trek over to the computer center on campus and wait my turn for a computer so that I could type up my assignment. In the early days, I’d simply type up a draft that I’d written by hand, but as I grew more adept, I learned to think and compose my documents as I sat by the screen.

The precursor of blogs

At the end of my first year of law school, I was angered that the law school student newspaper wouldn’t publish what was considered a “controversial article” (I had criticized the quality of my law school’s pass-fail legal writing program after twenty percent of the class (not me) flunked the test and had to retake the course). So I turned to the Mac to start my own competing paper. I painstakingly typeset articles on a Mac at the local Kinkos and cut and paste them to resemble newspaper columns. My little underground newspaper, the Dissent, was hardly radical (imagine, articles on adding clinical programs or basing grades on more than just one exam or increasing the diversity of law review!), but it enraged the faculty. Each time a professor sent me a nasty note or called the paper a “rag” (no lie), I realized that I had the power to affect people with just my words and a means of production – the Mac.

I also grew increasingly dependent on the Mac, and didn’t function as well without it. At the law firm where I clerked during my second summer, firm management wouldn’t let any of us summer associates use the computer. “We have secretaries, and that’s more efficient,” they said, “you’re not secretaries, you’re going to be lawyers.” So I wrote memos by long hand and endured the accompanying writers’ cramp and running commentary from secretaries (I can’t read this! This is going to take me FOREVER to type!)

The best part of that summer position, however, was the biglaw salary. Though today it’s but a fraction of what biglaw associates make, back then, my paychecks were larger than anything I’d ever seen. Since I saved rent by living at home, by the end of the summer, I had enough to pay almost all of the year’s tuition (which was also a fraction of what today’s students pay) and spend some money on myself. I didn’t even think twice; the day I returned to law school for my third year, I raced to the office that offered student discounts on Mac Plus and wrote a check for $2250, $1850 for the desktop computer and $400 for the cheesy, dot matrix printer (I know, can you believe those prices?!) Though I’m notoriously frugal, always shopping for a bargain, I never regretted the purchase.

Even better, when my third year started, I realized that I could actually use my investment in my Mac to make money. Back in 1987, most students were using Kinkos or print shops to typeset and produce professional looking resumes. And most typed letters seeking employment on a typewriter. By contrast, I’d been using my Mac to design my own professional looking resume and send out dozens of mass mailings (I used the laser printer at the computer center to produce the final copies rather than my dot matrix). So I figured that I could market the service to students. I charged bargain basement rates – $25 for a resume (undercutting Kinko’s by $10). For letters, I charged $5.00 to draft a letter based on the student’s resume and then $1 per page for each letter produced. Since many students sent out 20-40 letters, this was a real money maker.

I quickly grew skilled at the art of writing job solicitation letters and picking out errors in resumes (up until then, proofing had never been my strength). One evening, a second year (who’s now a reasonably prominent figure) asked me to take a look at a resume for a federal clerkship that cost him $50 at a professional service. Immediately, I picked out two typos and the student panicked, so I offered to redo the resume for him that evening. The student was ready to pay me $75 for a rush job, but I said that my usual rate was fine (I didn’t know much about value billing or urgency fees back then!). Finally, we settled on $35. I fixed the resume, the student got the job and I realized that making money and helping others were compatible goals. By the end of the semester, I earned about $500 for my work over the course of the year which helped pay my expenses while studying for the bar.

When I started my first job out of law school in DC at a federal agency, my Apple relocated along with me, and sat on a folding table in my little efficiency apartment that I referred to as “the tenement.” Unfortunately, by 1988, most offices that used computers had already bought into PCs though at that time, most systems were in DOS, a bit more complicated, but superior (in my view) to Windows. And back then, Macs and PCs were completely incompatible, so I couldn’t bring work back and forth between office and home. I did,however, use my Mac to write a law review article criticizing the federal government’s extensive restrictions on federal employees such as myself interested in doing pro bono work (several law professors and bar organizations picked up on the article and eventually the law was changed).

And then – in the fall of 1990 – tragedy! When I returned to my apartment from a weekend trip to Boston, I discovered my apartment filled with steamy condensation, the result of a burst pipe somewhere in the building. After the manager turned off the steam, I started to assess the damage, and tried to turn on my Mac. The screen stayed black. The building’s insurer paid me damages for my couch (full value, though I continued to re-use it) and some of my clothing, but only $650 for my Mac, its depreciated value. At that time, $650 wouldn’t buy any computer, let alone an Mac, and I couldn’t afford the difference with so many outstanding loans. Plus, by then I was working at a law firm and figured that I could always use my law firm machine anyway.

Prices still remained high for Macs when I started my firm in 1993. I grew comfortable with Word Perfect and based my subsequent technology purchases on my ability to continue using Word Perfect, which eliminated Mac. And Mac prices were still too high for me to justify their use. But as time passed, I grew increasingly frustrated with my windows based computers. I could actually hear the machine creak when I loaded up documents, it crashed all the time, taking any unsaved work with it. When my hard drive fizzled a few weeks ago (yes, I had backup!), I’d had enough. Moreover, I’d seen my husband playing with his work-issued Macbook and fell in love with the look and the media features like iMovie, Garage Band and Photo Booth. These features were enough to overshadow the incompatibility with Word Perfect, which I’d started using less and less anyway because most of my clients didn’t have it.

I was so eager to get my Mac that I didn’t even shop around for price. I just walked into the Apple Store that’s a mile from my house, pointed at the MacBook and told the salesperson “I’ll have one of those.” I also purchased a version of Word for the Mac, just so that I could transition seamlessly without losing time to figure out Open Office or another word processing programs.  [update] When I bought the Mac, I planned to install a new hard drive on my PC to network the two, but that never happened.  After a week on my Mac, I don’t think I ever went back to a PC.  Instead, I figured out various work-arounds — like opening legacy Word Perfect files in Open Office or using cloud-based webinar tools to avoid compatibility problems — that forever freed me from my clunky PC.

I’ve been using my Mac for four and a half years now without any crashes or creaking. On my current Mac and its predecessor (again, the evil water damage was the culprit!), I’ve researched and drafted dozens of legal documents and white papers and birthed another law review article. I’ve churned out hundreds of blog posts (including one that got me sued for defamation ), authored two books, uploaded videos on while traveling through the Heartland and built friendships with other lawyers on social media (a task now more commonly relegated to other Apple products, the ipad or iphone).

I know that for many techies, Macs are revered because they’re regarded as more powerful, stable and elegant machines than PCs. And I do appreciate those benefits. But for me, buying a Mac was only in part, driven by technological need. My Mac returned me to a time in my life when uncertainty and possibility were things to be embraced, rather than feared and when I first realized that with nothing more than words and ideas and a trusty computer, we all have the power to change our law schools, the legal profession and even the world – so long as we’re willing to live by Steve Jobs’ lesson and stay hungry, stay foolish.

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