In the legal world, tradition rules and old ways die hard. There are still many older attorneys who dictate into recorders and have secretaries transcribe the results to draft letters or briefs. To a college student or young professional, who have never used a fax machine and are imminent consumers of legal services, that practice is almost absurdly antiquated. Attorneys of the new generation are quickly discovering that new technologies are allowing them to compete in the marketplace by leveraging increased efficiency and efficacy, if not experience, to better serve the needs of modern clients. Those lawyers fearful of our new digital overlords prefer to remain ensconced in old-fashioned ideas about document management, legal research, client payments and trial presentation. Understandable though these views may be, the resistance to change could portend a rude awakening.
Long a traditionalist myself, I was comfortable with the endless stacks of file folders and forests’ worth of full legal pads filling increasingly cramped storage spaces in my home and office. An old soul, there is still a part of me that prefers the thought process of scribbling on a piece of yellow paper. At the same time, the advances of the last five years enthralled and energized me as I became captivated with the possibilities for evolving my personal and professional life. The prime catalyst for my relatively recent embrace of the digital revolution is my law partner Ryan. Possessing an impressive cache of high-tech knowledge and a knack for discovering new technologies before they become mainstream, Ryan was instrumental in making one of the founding principles of our new firm the use of digital systems for the benefit of our clients and our practices.
Legal practice has long been subsumed by paper. Treatises, lengthy briefs, exhibit notebooks, and the like metastasized to a point that space considerations and ecological guilt have conspired to inspire change. With almost all court systems allowing electronic filing, the need to retain paper copies of pleadings is minimal. Important documents such as wills, deeds and contracts still may require physical manifestations, but the time is nigh when electronic signatures or retina scans will make even that practice obsolete. Once the choice is made to go (mostly) paperless, there are all manner of electronic document management solutions that can integrate with email programs and calendars to create a streamlined workflow. These programs allow all documents to be stored so that they are not only accessible locally, but across persons, devices and geographies. Anecdotally, this feature proves useful frequently, allowing me to call up any document or appointment on my phone as necessary, even if out on a bike ride.
Magician or Genius?
The courtroom is the venue where the differences between Luddites and technophiles are rendered in most stark relief. Having trial exhibits and notes organized in digital form makes presentation to the judge or jury much more slick and seamless. Jury members are notoriously fickle and often swayed by appearances and other inputs that have little to do with the facts of the case. Thus, if one attorney is constantly flipping through giant exhibit notebooks while the other simply pushes a button and the exhibit is displayed in high-definition on an iPad in front of the jury member, the lawyer who uses technology is going to create a favorable impression. Advances in 3-D technology are going to push this advantage even further. The tech-savvy lawyer will have the jury virtually inspect a crime scene or allegedly defective construction project through a 3-D display. Using a 3-D printer, the attorney may create a replica of the murder weapon or the damaged product for each jury member, allowing them to explore intricacies in ways never before possible. Compared to a lawyer who uses a two-dimensional photograph, the forward-thinking attorney is going to seem like a magician or genius.
Email revolutionized legal communication, but that was just the beginning. Our firm, which has offices in Avon and Aspen and clients throughout Colorado, uses Google Hangouts to conduct conferences. This technology cuts out the inefficiencies of travel and allows us to collaborate on documents without having to be at the same table. Although we see each other frequently, the virtual visits also allow us to maintain camaraderie and to meet clients “face-to-face” when that is otherwise impractical.
The next five years are going to bring another tidal wave of advancements that will again change the face of legal practice. I am excited and poised to ride that swell of new technology.
T.J. Voboril is a partner at Reynolds, Kalamaya & Voboril LLC, a local law firm, and the owner/mediator at Voice Of Reason Dispute Resolution. For more information, contact Voboril at 970-306-6456, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.rkvlaw.com.