My law firm is older than the Internet.
I hate it when I say stuff like that. It makes me sound so old. I don’t feel old. I definitely don’t act old. I’m one of those annoying old guys who overuses the word “Dude” and still tries to stay on top of the current music scene. I’m certainly not sitting back at home quagmired “with my Beatles and my Stones”, as Mott the Hoople once said. (Although THAT makes me sound old – I know.)
As for technology, I was resistant. For years I proclaimed my independence from the coming onslaught by proudly maintaining that I was a Luddite, eager to smash the machines that were out to replace me. Let’s face it; I was hiding behind that self-righteous front in order to avoid change.
But change has come. By and large, I know it’s a good thing. I mean, dude, I hyperlink my Word docs and wildly Google up any random thought I may have with the best of them. I cut and paste and migrate data and all that with ease. I do admit, which may surprise people who communicate with me via Facebook, that I hate social media. Only twits tweet if you ask me. I so couldn’t care less what even my closest friends and relatives had for dinner last night or what they think about Donald Trump. If I do care, I will arrange to have lunch or dinner with them where we can actually sit down and communicate in person over a nice meal. As it should be.
The Kardashians? Puleeeze! I actually have a life, a very busy full gratifying life, so I have no need to live vicariously through the lame lives of losers and parasites who have zero to contribute to society beyond sharing their delusional inflated views of their own self worth with the entire planet.
But where technology and computers and the Internet really hit home for me is in my work. It has turned the whole legal world upside down. For example, Word insists that I capitalize the word “internet”. Keep your thoughts to yourself, Bill Gates; I don’t think the internet deserves to be capitalized any more than the words ‘highway’ or ‘hospitals’, both of which are kinda important too, don’tcha think?
How has technology changed my work? Let me count the ways (a perfect example of how it has, since my assistant tells me that writing about lists of things to post on blogs is a great way to get people to read this stuff).
1. Briefs Are No Longer Brief
This one is a huge problem. Literally. It goes to the core of quality control in legal writing. Used to be that being concise and honing your arguments was the key to effective persuasive writing. Now, with a click or two, you can cut and paste all day long. In just a few minutes I can pull up an old brief, insert pages of new text I find online, and create giant text book worthy briefs. Only problem is, like those law books, most people don’t take the time to read them.
Quantity does not trump quality, by any means.
Moreover the entire point of creating decent legal arguments is that it requires you to focus your thinking, to actually digest, comprehend and synthesize complex legal concepts, not only so that your audience (i.e. judges and juries and other lawyers) understands them, but also so that you, the lawyer, do. With the cut and paste culture that skill is all but disappearing.
2. Everything Is So Much Faster Now
Way back when, Bob Cratchit had a full time job writing all day with a quill pen. Although he was not a law clerk per se, you get the idea. Dickens was, after all, and he drew upon his personal experiences to craft his subjects. Back then, if someone needed a will, you took a day or two to write it. Now that same will can be produced in minutes.
Good for clients, I suppose, but it means that lawyers are expected to be able to crank out twenty wills a day, not one every two days. Since we are paid for the time we spend doing things it has taken a toll on our livelihood, in much the same way that weaving machines cost Luddites their jobs.
Although that is cheaper for the clients, it makes everything different for us lawyers, and not necessarily in a good way. Wonderful concepts like the slow cooking movement will never be impacted that way (I hope). Legal work is more stressful and harried as a result, not less. Just sayin’…
3. Legal Research Is Just a Click Away
This I like. Love, in fact. In the old days, just to check whether or not a case had been overturned was a laborious tedious process, requiring multiple volumes of books called Shepherd’s Citations, page after page after page of endless citations and notations that were basically written in a form of hieroglyphic code. We all had to do it. Every decent lawyer in those days spent time in the trenches, toiling away late at night, running their fingers down those columns and rows, desperately double-checking every reference.
Now cases are only seconds away. No more roaming giant legal libraries all night, seeking out obscure texts. Now you can sit at your kitchen table in your p.j.’s and quickly scan the entire contents of the Library of Congress. Googling? Fuhgettaboudit! Every person, fact, historical reference can be accessed from an iPad instantly.
Frankly, I love this part. Anyone who says Googling is making people idiots is an idiot. That is as logical as saying that the Carnegie Library system of a century ago made people stupid. As Animal House taught us, “Knowledge is Good”! I love it!
4. Social Media Is A New Job Requirement
As noted, this I hate. Perfectly decent lawyers I know, who used to actually catch a break some nights so they could go home and see their kids, are now sitting there on their couches, with their kids next to them, doing their online homework assignments, posting on their law firms’ Facebook pages and tweeting about new cases.
I write these posts, but I do not post them. I pay someone else to do that. I want nothing to do with it. It is an enormous and pointless waste of my time. But if you ignore it you will disappear from public view. Not a good thing when you are running a business.
5. Internet Advertising Has Taken The Gloves Off Of Marketing
This is perhaps the thing I hate the most about the new world: lying online.
In the old days, at least you had to be truthful when you bragged in your yellow page ads. Now? Not so much.
I was recently in court when a young lawyer I had never seen before was sitting next to me, toiling away over filling out a standard Omnibus Hearing form. Don’t tell my clients, but a monkey could do this. It is basically a matter of ticking boxes. True, you have to know which boxes to tick and why, but hey. If you don’t know that you have no business being there in the first place.
This young lawyer was having trouble. He looked up at me pleadingly, and the dad in me took over as I explained to him basic concepts he had apparently missed during his Crim Pro class in law school (while he was no doubt posting on Facebook.) He was so grateful that he handed me his fancy schmancy card and invited me to have lunch sometime. Of course I know he was probably just looking for more free help.
When I got back to the office I googled him (what else?). There he was. The New Sheriff in Town, proclaiming himself to be the best criminal lawyer in Seattle, complete with no doubt counterfeit client reviews about how great he was. Unless they were parking ticket clients I kinda doubt their authenticity. But potential clients read the lies and how would they know?
The Bar Association is totally asleep at the wheel on policing any of this fraud. In the old days, a deceitful Yellow Page ad cost thousands of dollars and lived on forever in old phone books. Printing blatant lies was forbidden. Now, there are literally millions of pages of this nonsense all over the Web. Monitoring it has become practically impossible, so it goes unchecked. And ethical guys like me, who avoid even bragging truthfully for fear of being tacky, get left behind.
6. Communication is Effortless
Years ago we used this stuff called carbon paper. It was slow and laborious and smelly.
Typos? Ugh. You had to painstakingly go through multiple layers of stinky blue sheets, whiting out every duplicated typo while your fingers slowly turned blue.
Then you had to pay someone to stuff all that paper into envelopes with stamps you had to buy by the thousands, and pay someone else to walk it over to the post office, where they would pick up more paper stuffed into envelopes by someone else, and bring it back to you an hour or so later. Then you had to open it up and figure out what to do with it.
Waste of time. And paper.
Now I can ‘Goog up’ a person I need to reach, find their contact info, shoot them an email and expect a reply in seconds, even if they are sitting on a toilet somewhere halfway around the world when they get my message. It is wonderful because it makes it so much easier for me to reach them. It is horrible because it makes it so much easier for people to reach me. It never ends. So, both good and bad, like so much of this.
7. Paper is Wasted More Than Ever
This is the ironic flip side of effortless electronic communication. It’s counter intuitive, but so true. Younger lawyers are the worst. They seem to think that because you can ‘click to print’, you must. It turns into a logistical (and very expensive) nightmare for those of us who are responsible for running law firms, not to mention an environmental disaster. I see young lawyers who have cases with five or six pages of original documents sitting in court with giant files filled with endless paper copies of useless downloads. I don’t get it, but there it is. I keep all my stuff on my laptop, all in one compact location, the good flip side of this revolution.
All that paper? Well, you cut down trees to begin with. Then you have to pay to print it, store it and eventually shred it. And make it into paper again. The cost is a bottomless wasteful pit. But for whatever reason, paper is being wasted at record rates.
8. Data Storage Has Exploded the Quantity of Data We Save
This is a bit of a ping-pong rally between the good and bad aspects of tech. You can easily communicate without relying on tons of paper (good), but people wind up printing tons of it anyway (bad). Ultimately you can store it all digitally, without using all the paper you just paid to buy, print and then shred away altogether.
I have 500 gigs of data stored on my laptop, mostly client files and briefs and legal research material, all of which I can access in seconds. Good. But, there is no reason for me to take time culling it of unnecessary material when it is so simple to search and store. Bad. You can go buy a 2T hard drive at Costco for pennies and add to the mess as needed. You wind up with a mountain of redundant data, all in a gadget the size of a pack of cigarettes.
9. Juries Have Access To Things They Really Shouldn’t
This is bad. A trial must be about the evidence, which is the information that is introduced in court during the trial. Social media and Google data should not be considered evidence unless it has been admitted at the trial as such. Otherwise, there is no way to check its accuracy through cross-examination – “the greatest legal engine ever invented for discovery of the truth”.
It means jurors doing their own independent research might find something that is totally invalid and wrong and convict an innocent person as a result. This is one development that has no good side. Period.
10. Making Work Product Pretty Is Easy Now
This sounds frivolous. Except it isn’t. The ability to add photographs and diagrams, and even pretty letterhead, to documents effortlessly is a dramatic improvement to a lawyer’s ability to make a point.
Showing how the house looked after the search, by including photos in the brief, speaks thousands of words that simply could not be conveyed using carbon paper.
We are still learning how to maximize this, but there is no doubt that being able to utilize photographic images and video will add enormously to improving the understanding of the basic facts involved in legal disputes in my opinion, even if this improvement too can be abused. It can be misleading, but then again so can words. However, it seems as if the use of animation and video, etc., is generally a good thing, just as words are, when viewed critically.
I could go on and on but I’ve already done that. I mean I’m not typing this on carbon paper so why not, right? :~
Long story short, like so many things in life, there are good, bad and even ugly aspects to the changes brought to the practice of law by technology. But like it or not, it is here to stay.
And the practice of law will never be the same.