Those stories involved sexily scandalous blunders, but they were relatively extreme scenarios. (If turning over thousands of privileged documents happens regularly at your firm, may God help you.)
More frequently, firm employees deal with little technological snafus that are just annoying, pointless, and a waste of time. In a world where attorneys might literally be working themselves to death, every second of the day counts. It’s when people can’t handle mundane, seriously easy computer tasks that daily tasks become inefficient and infuriating.
Keep reading for some true stories of the technologically challenged….
Our first anecdote comes courtesy of a staffer at a large firm in Washington, D.C.:
I send over a document to an older partner. Incredibly smart man, very accomplished.
And he says to me, “Is there any way we can take the marks off. I don’t want these to show up when it prints.”
And for a while, I’m sitting there trying to figure out what marks he’s referring to, until I realize he has his invisibles on.
So I spend the next several minutes trying to explain that there’s a button on Microsoft Word he can click to get rid of them. Of course, he can’t find it, and we’re left floundering around together on the phone until I hear his secretary come in and shout, “I can help, I can help.”
So getting rid of invisibles became a three-person project.
This is crazy. Everyone in the office has a hundred things to do that actually matter. A reasonable person might not know how to turn invisibles off. But you know what? Google F***ing Exists. Whenever you have a problem relating to your computer, your car, your cat — whatever — ask Google. It is smarter than your support staff. Chances are, there are dozens of forums where people have already asked and answered your question. It might take a few minutes to get the wording right, but it’s a lot better than the alternative.
Then there’s the problem of fundamentally misunderstanding basic — basic — technology. From an associate at a small Midwestern firm:
Several of the support staff in the office regularly do this. Our multi-function printer scans documents in pdf format, and many regard this as a preferred method for creating a pdf file. Even when the document that was printed and scanned was already a pdf. And even when the support staff all have a full version of Adobe Acrobat.
Anyhow, the idiocy goes something like this… (1) download a document (email attachment, patent, whatever) that is already in pdf form; (2) print the document; (3) walk to the printer and pick up the stack of paper; (3) use the printer to scan the printed-out document, thereby creating a pdf file; and (4) locate the scanned pdf file on the server; (5) move the pdf to an appropriate directory. Ta-da, they get their pdf file.
Words can’t express… It’s just… (Head asplodes.)
Another former support staff member at a small firm told me management would sometimes accuse him of not sending time-sensitive emails, and by proxy, not doing his job. Of course, he had sent the emails. After getting reprimanded, he would go into his “sent” folder and resend them with the original timestamp.
The lesson: Lots of people miss important emails once and awhile, but that’s why Outlook has a search bar.
But older members of the legal community aren’t the only ones who struggle to learn new computer skills, as one East Coast firm staffer points out:
You know, old folks aren’t the only ones who are technologically impaired. Those oh-so-tech-savvy millenials don’t have the slightest clue how to do anything more complicated than slap a plain English question into a Google search box, and sometimes they refuse to learn.
Our tipster’s colleague endured a summer associate who flatly refused to learn how to search in Lexis:
He used WestlawNext in law school, which doesn’t require you to know how to actually construct a search. Finding himself in a Lexis-only shop for the summer, he chose to simply do his research in Google and print the cases from Lexis. He refused every offer of training, confident that the firm would have Lexis for Dummies — er, I mean Lexis for Associates — by the time he graduated law school.
The thing is, I don’t just care about this issue because I’m (kind of) young, hip, and tech-savvy. I care about this issue because these shenanigans WASTE EVERYONE’S TIME. The whole country is overworked. Efficiency is the key to, like, everything, and computers are a big part of working efficiently. It’s easy to learn most of these skills. Just read David Pogue’s column in the New York Times. Ask questions, and don’t be afraid to learn something new.
I have a feeling there are a lot of similar horror stories floating around, so please share in the comments or send me an email at email@example.com.
Christopher Danzig is a writer in Oakland, California. He previously covered legal technology for InsideCounsel magazine. Follow Chris on Twitter @chrisdanzig or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read more of his work at chrisdanzig.com.