Small Law Firms, Technology

Size Matters: Time For An Exposé

Yesterday I was at a local coffee shop around the lunch hour. I spotted a man that I think was Morgan Spurlock. I am not positive that it was him, but he had red hair and the Horseshoe mustache. It is possible that I saw Danny Bonaduce, a mustached Alfred E. Neuman, or some other ginger. Nevertheless, my potential sighting of the documentary filmmaker got me thinking: What embarrassing secret would Spurlock uncover if he spent 30 Days at a small law firm?

To find the answer to this question, I reached out to my network of small-firm insiders and picked what I thought was the most embarrassing secret. What was it?

Prepare to be shocked, ladies and gentleman. Many small firms still use fax machines. Yes, the devices that look like an oversized phone with a weird dial tone. Remember these?

I had assumed that the fax machine became obsolete with the advent of emails. Since I am not a tech expert, however, I Googled “are fax machines obsolete?” I found several articles from 2008 and 2009 answering this question in the affirmative. In other words, it is now obsolete to question whether fax machines are obsolete.

Indeed, in 10 Obsolete Technologies to Kill in 2010, fax machines were named one of ten “dumb technologies.”

The author explained why fax machines are so “dumb.”

The fax machine was obsolete 15 years ago. When someone says “fax it to me,” I always feel like I’m being punk’d. A fax machine is nothing more than a printer, scanner and an obsolete analog modem that work together to waste time, money, paper and electricity.

Documents that are faxed usually start out in digital format. So, to send a digital document digitally, it must be converted into a paper format. You insert the document, and the fax machine scans it back into a digital format. It then uses an analog modem from 1993 to convert the digital image into sounds!

Another article upped the ante regarding obsolete technology by identifying 21 products that should be eliminated. According to 21 Things That Became Obsolete This Decade, “with the advent of the e-fax, and considering how annoying regular faxing can be, we think it won’t be long before everyone’s taking a bat to their fax machines.” When considering that the list also included movie rental stores, public pay phones, and VCRs, fax machine usage does seem archaic.

If you are not ready to banish faxing completely, consider investing in Internet fax services or RightFax, a network fax server.

As I hear routinely from readers, many small firms aspire to be on the cutting edge of technology. And small firms should be working towards a paperless office (like this small San Diego law firm). So, throw out your old fax machines. Otherwise, I might just show up in your office undercover and expose your 1993 ways. (Yes, that new document clerk you just hired is me.)

Do you have any other embarrassing firm secrets? Email me.

When not writing about small law firms for Above the Law, Valerie Katz (not her real name) works at a small firm in Chicago. You can reach her by email at and follow her on Twitter at @ValerieLKatz.

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