I often joke to younger attorneys that when I was a brand-new associate way back in 1989, it was a big deal to receive a fax – at that time, a piece of shiny paper cut from a roll in uneven sheets, and only used for emergencies. We still did most of our research in a paper library using West Digests and actual books, and because Westlaw and Lexis were so expensive, we only used them if we had no other options.
By the time I left the practice of law to raise my kids five years later, I had managed to wangle a PC that the Word Processing Department (we actually had a Word Processing Department!) had deemed too slow and out-of-date; eight years later, when I returned to the practice of law, email was sort of a thing, and desktop legal research was common.
Nowadays, most of us use email for much of our correspondence; e-filing is now either optional or mandatory in many courts; large firms have implemented document management systems that put your entire case file at your digital fingertips; paralegals spend much of their time online compiling medical records and investigating cases; and most administrative tasks (scheduling, matter diary or “tickler” systems, and time entry, for example) are done via computer – or on a smartphone. The bottom line? Nowadays, there is no room in the law for Luddites – in fact, those who refuse to embrace technology may risk ethical sanctions and malpractice claims.
Technology is everywhere, and we rely upon our digital systems for everything from e-filing to medical records retrieval to trial presentations. Consider these innovations that may make the litigation lawyer’s job easier:
In the Office
- Document management systems theoretically make it possible to go paperless by integrating digital communications and filings, internally-created documents, and “snail mail” documents into a database that can be accessed electronically from anywhere there is wifi access.
- Document database products for e-discovery/document analysis and production make it possible to search huge volumes of documents using Boolean or keyword searches, thus identifying and coding documents quickly for production or internal use.
- Document manipulation/editing solutions such as Nuance make document productions fast and easy by converting pleadings, photographs, medical records, or other documents into a PDF document that can be redacted, Bates-stamped, and marked with comments.
- Real-time streaming services allow you to read testimony as it is being spoken and recorded by the court reporter.
- Online deposition and exhibit databases provide paperless transcripts and exhibits any time, day or night, through the court reporting service portal – great for when the paper copy gets lost, or you’re working remotely and do not have access to a document management system.
- Native evidence transfer lets you record a witness’s manipulation or annotation of a document.
In the Courtroom
- Depending upon the courtroom, and your comfort level, all you need to try a case these days is an iPad and a video screen. There are a variety of trial presentation software programs that permit you to download documents and call them up via barcode scanner, keyword search, or Bates number.
- For those who don’t want to be tied to their computer, there is a whole industry of trial technology vendors who will do the same thing (and organize your documents in binders, if you like), but at considerable expense, of course.
- Time entry apps let you enter your time wherever you are, eliminating the need to keep a written log you might lose or forget your time altogether.
- Expense report apps allow you to submit invoices and receipts at the touch of a button for quick and easy reimbursement.
- On-the-go legal research (Lexis and Westlaw) are both available for iPhone and Android.
- Dropbox – if it’s saved to your computer, you can access it from your smartphone.
- Apps such as CamScanner turn your iPhone or Android into a scanner – helpful when there’s only one copy of a document and no photocopier available.
- There’s even a Black’s Law Dictionary app!
On the Horizon
It’s been suggested that in the future, jury trials may be done virtually with some or all jurors, attorneys, and witnesses participating digitally. For non-litigators, it may soon become possible to utilize artificial intelligence (AI) assistance in contract and corporate document review. AI products, such as Premonition and ROSS, analyze legal authority as applied to a particular set of facts to predict outcomes. Also, in development are software programs that skim and interpret large quantities of documents in order to pinpoint which are relevant and critical to a particular case.
However, you use technology in your practice, of course, make sure you have a good IT department – if the wifi is down, the server on the fritz, or the bandwidth at a snail’s pace, you need good people to back you up. Learn how to make technology work for you!
Wendy R.S. O’Connor is a shareholder in the Allentown office of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin where she represents clients in a wide variety of casualty and healthcare-related matters. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.