How we want to work and spend our working days

This is the first of Canadian Lawyer’s new technology column titled “The Future Files.” The column is intended to cover technology topics of interest to the Canadian legal community. The column is written from the vantage point of the practising lawyer and his or her various unique priorities, such as features, implementation, integration, complexity, and cost.

In discussions with editor Gail Cohen, leading up to the creation of this column, I asked her what value we could provide given there already are various technology articles put out by various legal organizations, both in Canada and the U.S. The answer is we can offer the practical knowledge and experience of a practising Canadian lawyer with regard to many facets of the modern, constantly evolving technology, and in identifying what works and does not work in the day-to-day of actual practice.

Our objective is to inform lawyers and other members of the legal community about how they may go about improving their productivity, work routines, and overall use of, and access to, existing and new technology.

Lawyers, here and around the world, are risk-averse in nature, and perhaps as a byproduct, typically lag in their adoption and use of technology. Going back only a few decades, when the fax machine first came out, lawyers protested: “Why use a fax machine when I can put a cheap postage on an envelope and have the letter delivered in a few days?”

When e-mail was introduced, lawyers complained: “Why use e-mails when I can easily send a fax with instant receipt?”

When lawyers finally started using e-mail, many would print all of them and have staff keep the printouts on file in the correspondence brad. Looking back, how bizarre was that? But most of us did it and didn’t know any better.

Now with various forms of storage in the “cloud” available at a relatively low cost and in a safe form — arguably much safer than hard copies stored in any law firm — lawyers argue: “Why use the cloud if I can e-mail the document and have it delivered instantly?”

You know where this is going. . . .

If you do not, you should consider exploring what is happening with technology around us, some obvious and some not so obvious: the cloud, personal mobility, closer integration among different applications across a single platform, 3-D goggles, smart appliances, intelligent machinery and robots, private space travel, and who knows what awaits beyond. We do not have to continue lagging behind the rest of the society in which our families, our friends, and we live.

My vantage point as a “practising” lawyer in the context of this column has two different, but equally important, meanings: First, as a commercial litigator having practised law in Toronto for more than 15 years; second, as an ordinary lawyer who is keen about continuously learning, implementing, and using some of the ever-growing range of the available technology.

I am not a computer IT expert. So you will not find advice from me when troubleshooting a problem such as, “restart your computer.” (Most times before I call my own highly competent IT systems administrator, I know in advance the first question he will ask: “Did you restart your computer?” Unsophisticated response — yes, but oddly enough it works a lot of the time.)

I hope my ongoing trials and errors, successes, and pitfalls will be valuable to those who want to explore how to use new technology and better utilize existing technology. Some emphasis in this column will always be made on actual use, and its effect on productivity and efficiency as part of a work routine.

This is important for obvious practical reasons: Not all features in a piece of software are always useful or optimal for a lawyer’s or his or her staff’s efficient use. Similarly, not all technical specifications and descriptions are practical or realistic. By way of analogy, take the glossy new car brochure or review in popular magazines, addressing a car’s new braking power, being a certain number of seconds or a certain stopping distance to bring the car to a complete stop from a certain speed. Yet what about the time it takes the average driver to observe an emergency and decide to hit the brakes? That time lag, about 1.5 seconds or so at a certain speed, accounts for a significant distance travelled by the car before brakes are ever engaged. Yet, the human element in this equation is rarely discussed or taken into account.

Similar issues often arise with implementing and using technology in the law office. We often don’t take major factors into account, such as the cost of installation and network integration of the software, the cost of training, or the extent the features will be actually used by lawyers and staff. I’ll be looking at these factors, considerations, and objectives in this column.

How do we want to spend our working days? I thought to myself that, as the very first article in this monthly column, it may be helpful to outline some of the topics I would like to explore in future articles, while also giving a snapshot of what role technology should play in a typical productive workday. Some items are not so futuristic, yet are critical to practising law efficiently, indeed even in a future-oriented office:

1.    Maximize your document drafting, document conversion, note taking, and Internet searching capabilities;

2.    Designate a daily routine for using e-mails and telephone calls;

3.    Utilize the powerful features of your e-mail/calendaring program;

4.    Set up a mobility infrastructure;

5.    Keep detailed time entries — regardless of your practice area;

6.    Utilize office management and practice-specific software programs; and

7.    Make it easier to work by getting more than one monitor, using a telephone headset, and adopting a consistent file naming protocol.

I hope these issues interest readers and would love to hear from you with any and all comments, feedback, and suggestions. Speak to you soon, or see you next month, right here, in “The Future Files.”

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