How Technology Can Make You a Better Lawyer
February 26, 2016
There is no app for being a better lawyer. There is no program that will make your arguments more logical or public speaking better or the case law in your favor. Technological tools do for the legal profession what automobiles do for industry in general: they help us do things faster and perform tasks that would otherwise be impossible or impractical.
My job is to help my clients in the most effective and efficient way possible. I can do a good job of doing that on my own, but technology can help me do a better job because I can be faster and do things that would not be possible otherwise. Technology helps me focus on what I’m doing instead of how I’m going to do it.
Technology Helps You Serve Your Clients More Efficiently
Ten years ago, I used to Bates-label documents with printer labels and I would redact privileged documents using 3M correction tape and a “redacted” stamp. The process would take forever and was ugly. Now, we use Adobe Acrobat Professional to OCR documents, electronically redact, and electronically Bates-label.
I can use Dragon Dictate to dictate a brief or an idea for a closing argument while driving to or from the office, which is often one of the few times a day when I am alone and free of disturbances.
I can use calendaring software to remind me of deadlines on my cases and give me pop-up reminders. I can use task software to organize plans for each case and have an organized way of tracking progress of various projects on each case. There’s a reason why your malpractice carrier wants to know what type of calendaring software you use.
I can use paperless depo software to prepare for depos in large cases. The most I’ve ever had to take to a depo was eight banker’s boxes of documents. In some of the mass torts cases, it’s just one to two boxes. Doing paperless depos helps you bring more with you while bringing less with you. The way it works is you have your list of potential exhibits, scanned as PDFs. No one else can see your list of potential exhibits. As you choose to use an exhibit, you publish it to the rest of the participants’ screens and a digital copy goes to the court reporter. You can bring your entire case file with you and not have to worry about making multiple copies of each document in case you want to use it as an exhibit. You reduce your prep time and increase your freedom to attach more potential documents to a deposition.
I can take remote depos via video conferencing. One time, I took three depos in three states in one day. The alternative is to space the depos out and bill the client for travel time or eat that time. Remote depos are not for every depo, but it’s nice to have that ability with certain witnesses.
I can have a more efficient note-taking system. I use OneNote. I take notes using the stylus on my phone or on my tablet and everything syncs to one system. When I’m in court and someone is lying on the stand or an expert is taking a ridiculous position, and I think of a demonstrative exhibit I want to prepare, I can do that on the one page I have for all of my demonstrative exhibits, and I never have to hunt to find the one yellow pad I used that one time when I had that one idea. I can use OneNote to record video of focus groups and take notes during the focus group, which will sync with the video and take me straight that part of the video when I double-click my note.
Technology Helps You Do Things You Couldn’t Otherwise Do
A few years ago, I was taking the train on my way to a depo that had been rescheduled three or four times. I was about an hour into my trip (which caused me to wake up extra early), when I got an e-mail from opposing counsel. I could see on my phone that the subject line was something about how the depo was going to have to be postponed. I was furious. I open the e-mail to find out that the reason the depo needed to be postponed was because the location where the depo was to be taken, at opposing counsel’s office, had burned down during the night. As far as excuses go, that was pretty good. The important thing was that every file and every e-mail they had was backed up on remote servers. The only setback was that each of the 280 attorneys had to cancel all of the appointments they had scheduled for their office for the next two weeks while they got settled into a new office. Imagine if that happened 15 years ago and files were stored in filing cabinets or in on-site servers. Without the benefits that we have today for file storage and redundancy, along with the ability to work remotely if needed, the fire would have destroyed the whole firm, not just their leased office space.
As was showcased extensively at Legaltech earlier this month, advancements in e-discovery allow us to do things with large data that were previously not possible. Like metal detectors for finding needles in haystacks, some e-discovery platforms are allowing smaller firms to take cases that were previously not possible because they can use analytics to automate some of the searching to reduce the amount of labor you need to throw at each case.
Other software programs, like Leverage, allow firms to automate some of the tedious parts of mass torts, which means you can take cases that you would not be able to take before because it was not economically feasible.
Still other legal software programs allow you to click a button to present to the jury your impeachment video depo clips of a witness on cross-examination.
There is no future where an app on our smartwatches will present an opening statement for us, but adapting to technology — or failing to adapt to technology — can certainly affect the level of care you give your clients.
By JEFF BENNION