Thursday, March 18, 2010

Technology: Friend or Foe?

This article made me feel like a dinosaur, but it's worth talking about. In my view, the legal industry--until recently--was the last holdout against technology.  I have always been a bit more computer savvy than my old fart bosses.  When I started practicing, I found it so odd that I had to draft a letter, print it on "good paper," fax it and then send it via regular mail.  Why couldn't I just email the opposing counsel if I wanted to ask them when/if they will be complying with the court ordered discovery schedule?  I remember that we had verification issues regarding using email as evidence in court.  Judges did not trust it and thought that it could be manipulated.  I'm actually not sure if an official ruling regarding the issue ever emerged--but all of a sudden--I'm practicing as a solo and email seems to be okay by everyone.  Of course, instead of sending letters via regular mail, lawyers are still printing the letters onto good paper and scanning them and sending it via e-mail.  I guess we'll never learn.  When I first started practicing, the only way to do on-line legal research was to pay for it; Weslaw or Lexis.  So, as a lawyer, you felt like you held the key and the cure to your client's legal problems.  God knows that law school didn't actually give you any practical experience that entitled you to payment.  You were just a super, duper researcher. You had the tools at your fingertips and you would figure out how to use them to zealously advocate for your client.  In the beginning, you don't even have legal instinct. Now, everyone has those same tools, i.e. Google.
What do you think technology has to or for the legal industry?  Do you have a favorite gadget? 

Read this article for more....

At the outset, a disclaimer: In this column I sound like a grouchy old man. But, when I began practicing law in Nashua in October of 1985, we had computers (or at least the secretaries did). We also had a room full of dot matrix printers that made a lot of racket a lot of the time.

Those computers and printers certainly helped us begin our march toward greater efficiency, but it was the arrival of the fax machine that was the true harbinger of my future as a business lawyer. The fax machine made stuff go faster.

In the world of corporate and commercial law, lawyers exchange documents all the time. Before the fax machine, we regularly used the mail to transmit documents to the lawyers on the other side. That meant we had a choice: either get our drafts out early or delay the closing. And no commercial lawyer worth his or her salt ever wants to be the one holding up the parade. So we procrastinated less, and our closings proceeded at a reasonable and perhaps even civilized pace.

But the fax machine changed all that. It gave lawyers the luxury of waiting until the relative last minute to transmit documents to lawyers on the other side. One of my mentors at the time identified the fax machine as a particularly awful development. He tried to fight the battle. For weeks, he said we didn’t need one. Eventually, he had not choice but to cave in. Lawyers had started faxing everything. The pace we needed to work at to maintain a successful law practice began to accelerate. It hasn’t stopped accelerating since.

The next big development, of course, was the arrival of the Internet and e-mail. E-mail, for me, has been as insidious as my kids. Slowly but surely it has gradually taken over every aspect of my life. I broke down a few years back and got a Blackberry, so I could have the joy of reading e-mails at 2 o’clock in the morning and replying to them with six-word messages. There is a reason the device has earned the nickname “crackberry.” For the most part, clients love it.

The handy dandy nature of 24-hour-a-day e-mail tends to raise the expectations of clients when it comes to response time. I suspect most lawyers would agree clients really expect an almost immediate response to their electronic inquiries. Some lawyers have adopted the auto-reply mechanism on their e-mail – yet another application to make our lives easier – to generate a reply that tells the client not to expect a reply until certain hours of the day. I wish I had that sort of gumption; but I know it would frustrate some of my more demanding clients. I think that to be perceived as a responsive lawyer these days, I really have to hustle.

Please don’t get me wrong. My intention is not to whine about how tough life is as a lawyer. I know these technological advances impact all businesses and most workers. But is all this speed and increased access good for my relationship with my clients? Does it make me a better lawyer? Or is my enslavement to communications technology detracting from my professional development as a lawyer?
I have had a Web site for years, and I confess that most marketing professionals would deem it under utilized. For me, as with many lawyers, it really functions as an online brochure of sorts. I think it generates some business, and truthfully, it doesn’t really bother me that much. But do you know what does bother me?

Facebook bothers me. In Facebook, and its obnoxious grown-up cousins Linked In and Plaxo, we have the next phase of techno-torture for lawyers. I don’t do Facebook, at least not yet. Honestly, I don’t really see the attraction. I’m not sure I want to be connected to people from my distant past, and I’m not sure I want to share my current life with acquaintances. As for connecting with my clients, I have to wonder whether I should I be connected to my clients. Is that healthy? What about confidentiality?

As for Linked In and Plaxo, I’m guessing I’m not the only one being peppered on a daily basis by e-mails from them telling me that all sorts of people want to connect with me. These requests create a real dilemma for me. I sit at my desk and wonder: Are people’s feelings hurt when I fail to reply? What if I reject the request? Does that signal trouble in our relationship somehow? Perhaps, most disturbingly, am I passing on the networking opportunity of a lifetime by failing to Link In, and refusing to Plaxo- create? Must I Tweet to compete? I can feel the paralysis setting in.

This month’s ABA Journal says there are all sorts of incredible applications coming that I can load on to my upgraded Blackberry that will make my professional life easier still. Terrific, I can’t wait. Right now I use my cell phone for calls and e-mail. Soon, I expect to be able to participate in a six-party conference call while simultaneously driving, ordering dinner, learning to speak Guajarati, and Tweeting to all my Linked In connections about the wondrous day I’ve just had.

At that point, I expect, I will know I am truly networked and connected. As long as I don’t text, it will be perfectly legal. And best of all, I’ll be practicing law faster than ever.

Scott Flegal is a business lawyer and mediator. Visit him online at www. or

1 comment:

  1. I like how technology is phasing out the Postal Service.



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