I remember when SEPTA discontinued tokens. I loved the convenience of tokens, how they made it so easy to ride the subway. And since I had always used them, the thought of change was something to avoid. Especially to a new electronic system. The old way was fine.
Then I purchased a SEPTA Key card and discovered that it was more convenient than my beloved tokens. I didn’t have to go to a SEPTA outlet to refill it and I could store the card in my wallet. I realized that no longer having tokens was not a negative, it was a positive.
I felt the same way many years ago when I gave up my beloved Olympia Report De Luxe typewriter and switched to a word processor, which at the time was one of those new-fangled computerized typewriters. In time, a computer replaced my word processor, and newer computers replaced slower, older ones.
In other words, I learned that change isn’t per se bad, and that if I didn’t adjust to and adopt newer technology, life was going to pass me by. There was also the possibility that my employment prospects could be diminished if my tech skills weren’t good. As a result, I tried things and discovered that if I tried newer technology, there might be some great ways to be a better lawyer.
The pattern of trying and adopting new technology has repeated itself countless times as I discover new types of technology that make my life, and my practice, easier and better. Not impersonal, just easier. There is a big difference.
Nowadays, we still meet clients at a large wooden conference table. No computers, just the clients, us and pads of paper. Clients only care about our services, not our technological infrastructure.
But we care about our technological infrastructure because it helps us provide our legal services as efficiently as possible. That is why whenever we have the chance, our office looks for ways to use technology to streamline our workflow and improve the services we provide. Just like we do when we try to find ways to know more about the law and to be sure we are getting the best results for our clients.
That is also why it is so hard to believe that there are still lawyers who view technology as the enemy. It’s not. It is just another way to improve client services, or your workflow, or both.
In a recent article in the Pennsylvania Law Weekly, one columnist actually claimed, clearly without any facts, that “All this modern technology does not reduce the cost of practicing law. In fact, the cost because of technology is rising immensely.” He is wrong.
Let me give you a few examples.
For over a decade, I have attended ABA Techshow, the American Bar Association Law Practice Division’s annual conference and trade show for lawyers, legal professionals and anyone else interested in the intersection of law, technology and ethics. I have been fortunate to have been invited to speak at the event. This year, Techshow is scheduled from Wednesday through Saturday at the Hyatt Regency Chicago and I will speak at two sessions: “Paperless 3.0: Making Your Paperless Workflow Work” and “The Frugal Litigator: DIY Trials.” These are practical programs designed to show lawyers and their firms how to accomplish more while reducing costs, not raising their overhead.
But what I love most about Techshow is exploring the expo hall, where I almost always find new ways to improve my practice. Last year was perhaps the best example yet because I found a service called Benchly that has saved me and my office a ton of time, and thus saved our clients money.
Here’s why. My office handles a large number of appeals. Whenever I prepare for oral argument, the first thing I do is go online and download every case cited in every brief so that I can review them. Doing so takes an inordinate amount of time. We generally try not to download cases that only relate to procedural subjects or other topics not relevant to the substance of the appeal. This can take me, or an associate, or a law clerk, a lot of time, sometimes an hour or two, at times more.
Then I happened upon the Benchly booth in a back corner of the Techshow exhibit hall, and saw the sign for ezBriefs. The service sounded too good to be true. All I had to do was upload a brief, motion or other legal document, and the service would add hyperlinks to the cases cited in the briefs. Even more important, I could download the brief with every case cited included in the file. In other words, what took me a lot of time to do took minutes, and I had a PDF containing every case cited, and could print all the cases, or just those I deemed relevant.
The cost is incredibly reasonable too. The ezBriefs service is available on a per brief/upload or a monthly fee. The monthly fee is far less than my hourly fee would be just to download documents for one case, so we save clients money, and we can review the files more efficiently than any other way. I cannot think of a reason that anyone wouldn’t use the service.
I have discovered other services and software at Techshow that have improved our workflow and, we believe, enhanced the quality of the services we provide. For example, we now can offer clients the ability to answer estate planning “interview” questions online or in fillable PDFs so that when we meet with them to prepare their documents, we have much of the relevant information we need. In addition, we do not have to worry about spelling errors because the information is typed, not handwritten by clients or us. We have reduced the time spent in our initial meetings, allowing us to focus those meetings on our clients’ needs, not just obtaining information such as names and phone numbers.
Exploring the Techshow expo always yields some pleasant surprises. Whether it’s software, a service or some other way to use technology, I have found it. But of course, at its core, Techshow is a conference filled with continuing education programs with topics from the basics to the advanced. For example, many law offices use Office 365, so there is “Office 365: Enhancing Its Value to Your Practice.” For those concerned about bias, there is a program on “Implicit Bias: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You.” There are of course cybersecurity programs, programs about artificial intelligence, as well as lots of “tips” programs that appeal to everyone.
My point is not that everyone needs to attend Techshow, only that you cannot learn what is out there without exploring. One of the most informative programs I ever attended was about disaster preparedness, based on how law firms prepared for Hurricane Katrina. The program was extremely informative and I gained some tips that helped my small suburban office.
Not everyone can attend Techshow, and there are many other ways to be informed about new technology to learn what is going on generally and to discover ways to help your practice. For example, ALM publishes an email newsletter, Legaltech News, that contains information and articles about everything from cutting-edge technology to strategies for improving workflow. For example, a recent newsletter discussed AI, how 5G cellular systems will revolutionize law offices, and takeaways from Legalweek.
Legalweek is a weeklong conference and expo sponsored by ALM. During Legalweek 2020, which took place in early February, lawyers and other legal professionals network, attend educational conferences, visit hundreds of exhibit booths, and have an opportunity to explore and learn about topics relevant to their jobs, whether they are lawyers, technology managers, computer network personnel or have some other technology-related role at their offices.
There are many other ways to stay informed. For example, there is TechnoLawyer, which published a series of newsletters relating to various aspects of the practice of law. The main TechnoLawyer newsletter combines reporting on current tech events and information with information about new products, law office management, legal research, legal marketing and more. It is a great way to discover what is available.
There are also numerous blogs and podcasts—almost all free—to provide information so that lawyers and legal support professionals can stay informed about changes in the industry.
It is unfair to say that technology is bad and that changes in law office technology destroy the practice of law. What would you say about your doctor if she refused to adopt and use newer technology that improves her ability to diagnose and treat you? You would probably say goodbye. You certainly wouldn’t be thankful that your doctor doesn’t use those new-fangled MRIs just because they did not exist when she was in medical school 35 years ago.
Blanket statements about technology, or about almost any subject, are rarely accurate. As Isaac Asimov said, “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”
Lawyers need to open their windows to technology and let the light in. Or, at a minimum, open their windows to discover that the world is different, and like SEPTA tokens, sometimes something new is an improvement from the past. You won’t know if you don’t try.
Practicing in darkness will not help our clients or our firms. Let in some light, look around, you might discover something new and better.
Daniel J. Siegel, principal of the Law Offices of Daniel J. Siegel, provides ethical guidance and Disciplinary Board representation for attorneys and law firms; he is the editor of “Fee Agreements in Pennsylvania” (6th Edition) and author of “Leaving a Law Practice: Practical and Ethical Issues for Lawyers and Law Firms” (Second Edition), published by the Pennsylvania Bar Institute. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.