I think about this at least twice a day – what would social distancing, the shut down, and working from home be like if it wasn’t 2020, a solid 20 years into the Information Age?
One thing I know for sure – Forrest McPadden wouldn’t be up and running as smoothly as we are had the coronavirus popped up at almost any other time in history. The convergence of so many different forms of technology all came together at exactly the right moment for us to sustain our clients, file new claims, stay on top of current cases, file with the courts, communicate with, well, everyone. Almost flawlessly.
We should take none of this for granted.
Do you recognize the image to the left?
That is a computer terminal for Lexis/Nexis circa 1990. A miracle when it came out.
I have a friend who started law school in 1990 at the second ranked school in the country for technology. They were way ahead of every other law school at the time except Yale. Starting his first year, every incoming law student was given both Lexis and Westlaw IDs and passwords – free access to the school’s dozens of terminals.
It was slow, but students could search cases, laws, decisions, statutes, law journals, and some select newspapers in minutes instead of hours.
He and his fellow OneLs could access more information, incrementally faster than any other law students in history.
But – and this is a big one – it was all of very little value aside instantly pulling up a case. It was too . . . new. There was nowhere near enough depth to the data – getting a case in a few seconds was great, but it still had to be ‘Shepardized’ (i.e., checked for cites and overrulings) the old way, by hand.
Nothing was integrated. You couldn’t cut and paste on-line findings to a Word-type program (remember Word Perfect for DOS?). You couldn’t search the Internet, all in all, you couldn’t do much with what you found except print it out – on a dot matrix printer that took a lifetime to print the average high court decision.
You still needed a legal library. You still needed to be willing to walk miles through that library to chase down a cite. There were scores of legal digests and indexes, every one of them dog earred, smudged, with spines about to fall apart. You had to weed through all the good and the bad and trust someone else’s opinion of what might be relevant, let alone on point.
Imagine searching stack after stack looking for any mention of the case you think may be the linchpin of your argument. Then think about piling volume after volume of casebooks on a solid oak table until it’s buried while you hand copy selections and cites on index cards and the ubiquitous yellow pad(s).
Thank god it changed. Slowly at first, then at light speed once we all started using handheld devices with more computing power than all the Apollo Moonshots combined.
Now, the data is complete – every case/statute/procedure manual is online, searchable by citation, case name, subject, and/or a few key words.
Everything is integrated. Everything and everyone are connected. I can pull a relevant case down, drop key parts of it into an email, and send it to my staff in seconds.
Then we can discuss it even if only one of us is in the office and everyone else is at home. We can talk face-to-face anytime we want on our phones.
We can file whatever we need to file with the courts electronically, the clerks don’t have to risk their health sitting in their offices, they can monitor cases from home. As can anyone.
All this is to say that this is the only time in history a societal/business slowdown will not become a shutdown.
We are all still connected. We still have all our legal resources – save courtroom trials – at our disposal. We can virtually do in an afternoon what most other generations of lawyers couldn’t do in a week.
Attorneys can and are working through this. We are working through this. To do anything else would be a betrayal of 30 years of technological advances.
So don’t hesitate to call us Or text. Or DM. Or Zoom. Or FaceTime. Or . . .