I grew up the son and grandson of a lawyer, and so I’ve been able to witness firsthand how technology has changed the practice of law through the last several decades. My granddad was part of the legal community in southwest Arkansas going back to the early 1950s, a place where iPhones wouldn’t reach until six full decades later.
Granddaddy would send 5-page letters to other lawyers by barking out the content to a secretary sitting on the corner of his desk, who scrawled out the letter in shorthand before typing it on a typewriter. Granddaddy didn’t conduct any discovery in cases – he thought that was akin to “giving your case away.” He’d rather utilize the element of surprise and rush the case into trial in hopes that he’d catch the other side flat-footed as to the theory of his case. Motion practice was non-existent, and a file back then may have only consisted of a Complaint and Answer (all on legal sized paper, of course). Office hours included a mandatory stint each Saturday morning for all staff, as many people then simply could not meet with their lawyer at any other time.
When my Dad came along in the Vietnam era, he spent time as a JAG officer serving his country as a lawyer in the war in Vietnam before coming back to Texarkana and joining Granddaddy. My dad was also an old school lawyer. He didn’t use a computer. He communicated with his staff through a Dictaphone that was hardwired to the building and connected to other desks that would receive the instructions. Each law office had a vast conference room, where the firm heated and cooled a library of books required for research. Updates would come in from the book publishers weekly (no, daily), and updates would have to be inserted as pocket parts in the back of the books. Lawyers would grumble about spending an inordinate amount of revenue on maintaining the firm law library.
Dad did manage to carry a cell phone once every one else in the country had one, and he would occasionally accept calls from clients after hours, if the need was urgent. He coveted his family time, and so he’d try to keep those calls short.
This generation is different. Lawyers have to rely on technology to move cases along. Clients expect to be able to reach their personal injury lawyer respects for advice when needed. Law firms now have apps for their clients to download on their smartphones. Most jurisdictions now accept (and even require) pleadings to be e-filed online, allowing lawyers to file motions and responses from home at 7:30 p.m. Statutes from any jurisdiction, along with caselaw, legal hornbooks, and other authority, can be accessed by the click of a button. An 80-page brief can be put together with a few clicks. So can the reply brief.
Granddaddy would be astounded at today’s frenetic pace of the law practice. And honestly, so would Dad. However, I’d still put either of them up against any other lawyer in the country when it comes to trial and courtroom presence. Because when it comes down to it, that’s still how you win cases. Preparation, persuasion, and maybe a little bit of technology to place the jury in the shoes of your client.