Thursday, March 22, 2012

E-Lawyering: Lawyering at the Speed of Light

The exponential growth of information technology has not been lost to the legal field.  Despite being rooted in tradition, and known for moving slower than other areas, the legal field is indeed changing.  The tools used by lawyers have gone high tech.  For lawyers who embrace change, new technology can greatly increase their productivity and even untether them from their offices.

Since going nearly paperless almost a year ago, my productivity and efficiency has increased dramatically.  No more looking for buried files, no more digging for just that one piece of paper which happens to be critical--it's available and easily searchable.  If a client needs a copy of that particular document, I can email them and avoid the time spent meeting in person or waiting for the mail to be delivered.

In civil suits, litigation right before trial involves the exchanging of information quickly as settlement negotiations heat up.  The faster that documents and information can be shared, the higher the chances are that one can get a positive resolution for one's client, and the more one can save his or her client money in the process.  Before, I would have to wait for the mail to come, review them, get documents signed, and then drop them back in the mail.  Now, more and more lawyers prepare documents, scan them in pdf format and email them for immediate review.  This is especially important for last minute negotiations.

The same goes for accessing legal information.  Being able to search the entirety of case law using your computer radically enhances not only your mobility but your ability to avoid the expense of maintaining an expensive paper law library or having to make late night trips to the law library.  It means you can search the law at Starbucks on your laptop, or from your home office without dragging books around.

Many courts are beginning to make their dockets available online.  Combine this with the availability of electronic forms which are downloadable, and the law becomes much more accessible than it was before.  You still need to have the legal training to properly understand what the law and the forms actually mean, but before this availability everything was more or less cloaked in a cloud of invisibility.  After all, how many people actually go to the courthouse and ask for a file to be pulled from the public archive?  Not many.

Many municipal courts are beginning to accept fax filings.  The federal court system now uses electronic means of filing instead of paper.  The entire system is starting to move to the electronic format.

The downside of all of this is that some larger corporations are beginning to outsource.  Why pay an American lawyer money for document review when you can hire an Indian lawyer trained in U.S. law for a fraction of the price?  While this may work for large scale document review or administrative law, it won't work for state law cases which require personal court appearances by the lawyer.  Also, going to see a lawyer is something like going to see your family doctor.  Being able to know your lawyer and have a long term relationship with him or her based on your own situation helps provide a better outcome.  This is going to be more difficult if your lawyer lives in India.

Given that the law is an information based field, the growth of communications technology and the speed of information exchange has greatly impacted it.  It means lawyers have to keep adapting themselves to the use of new technology to stay at the peak of their game.  Fear of technology can really set lawyers back and keep them from realizing the full potential of their practices.  If anything, we need more continuing education classes for lawyers to become proficient in the use of new information technologies.

No comments:

Post a Comment