Many bloggers including Dennis Kennedy at The Dennis Kennedy Blog have been evangelizing the role which technology will play in bringing efficiency and focus to legal practice. Being a paperless office, I see those efficiencies every day. I have to provide a response to a settlement offer in an injury case and I know that I want to leverage key medical records as an attachment to the letter. In the old paper file world, I would have had to have file pulled from the shelf, riffled through a mountain of medical records all in attempt to find the several that would be helpful. In a high-tech world, I simply draft an email response to the offer and attach the files directly from my file server which are already categorized in a 'Key Medical' folder. I did this all without leaving my desk.
Did I save time? You bet. I took what would have been a forty-five minute task and turned it into one that took fifteen minutes. As importantly, I also made that task more accessible and thus removed the barriers from actually preforming it. How many tasks do we leave undone simply because we do not want to go through the pains of doing it? Pulling a file of the shelf and riffling through it is a chore which is often avoided. What if the paralegal has pulled the medical records from the file and has them stowed somewhere in his or her office? What if an associate has pulled the file as part of the associates effort to prepare a motion? Now my forty five minute activity just became an hour and half long activity. More likely, as soon as I found the records missing, I would have simply abandoned the task and come back to it sometime later.
So technology not only allows us to do more in less time. Technology also allows for tasks to be assigned and completed with allot less effort. We are removing the barriers for completing the tasks that move our cases forward and achieve our clients interests.
Not enough could be said about the ability of technology and the role of technology in revolutionizing the legal practice. However, as with almost everything else, technology can be used for both good and evil. For many firms, technology just creates an ability to bill more. The increase in email between attorney and client creates another six minute billing activity for those law firms that actually bill for status or update information by email. The ability to access a file off of the file server creates the ability for the lawyer to waste time by accessing such information purely for billing purposes.
If technology is truly going to have the positive effect that many lawyers expect, it must be buttressed by new practice and billing standards which all work to deliver value to the client and discourage wasted activity. I again implore law firms to stop billing for basic email and phone correspondence with their clients. I encourage law firms to go to a task and project based approach to their legal matters which specifically define deliverables and maintain constant focus on client goals. Without changing he mentality of the lawyer and the law firm which provides service, there is no doubt in my mind that technology will just be used as another tool to increase billing.