Often times, lawyers get a reputation as Luddites. Refusing to be up to date with the latest technology, it takes only the smallest set back to have attorneys running back to old fashioned ways. So, I am sure many readers, even those of you not currently taking the bar exam, probably had a visceral reaction when you heard about the extensive tech issues surrounding the July 2014 exam. Lat even called it “the most serious bar disaster I’ve ever covered in the eight years since I started Above the Law.”
Unsurprisingly, if you followed the news on Twitter, there was also a fair amount of schadenfreude from more, ahem, established lawyers crowing about how the low-tech experience of their day was obviously superior. Elie even got into the mix.
Ok old people. Let's not all make fun of the "kids" with their "fancy computing machines" all at once. Let's go one at a time. #examsoft
— Elie Mystal (@ElieNYC) July 30, 2014
But as bad as this whole debacle was (and continues to be) there are still reasons attorneys should reject the Luddite label and embrace technology.
Those of you directly affected by ExamSoftGate should probably wait until the sting wears off before reading…
1. Technology is here to stay
We can’t put the genie back into the bottle, so as much as you may want to rage against all of the problems caused by technology, you need to keep up. Just like you laughed at the partner who needed his secretary to send an email for him when you first started as an attorney, you should know that you get sideways looks when you ask why the 3 terabytes of data cannot be reviewed in Concordance. As in so many other aspects of life, it is important to recall the words of Liz Lemon, “No, technology is not cyclical.” If you take the time to learn the new review platform your case is using, you might be adding value for the client, which is always a nice layer of job security.
2. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em
This goes hand in hand with the first point, but it is important to note that there are opportunities hidden in new technologies. Yes, it is a little fearful to contemplate a world where predictive coding dominates the landscape and basics of being a lawyer are taken over by code. But see point 1. Sticking your head in the sand and ignoring our computer overlords won’t make it any less true. So perhaps focus on becoming an expert at what the computers can’t do well, such as the nuances of privilege calls. Or focus on the technology itself, as the programs need to “learn” through iterative coding the specifics of the case and the opportunities for attorneys at e-discovery vendors are only increasing.
3. The illusion of family time
Maybe I am looking at the bright side of the coin, but Blackberries (yes, far too many of you still use Blackberries) and other mobile technology have been incredibly useful in dealing with the often unreasonable demands of being an attorney. Sure, some people let the device control them, but I would much rather respond to an email over my phone while I am at a bar at 9 p.m. than have to stick around the office waiting to hear back from some associate. And yes, these unreasonable demands are also made on contract attorneys — especially if you are on a long-term project at a law firm. Too often law firms that hire swaths of contract attorneys just see them as the lowest rung on the Biglaw ladder, just without any of the financial incentives for Biglaw life.
4. High quality distractions
In last week’s column, I may have alluded to the fact that sometimes there might be television on while I was at work. And during the World Cup, there were probably rooms of people each streaming their own version of the game as responsiveness calls were made. But this doesn’t necessarily make you bad at your job. I know I coded a ton of documents while I listened to the audiobook of A Dance With Dragons. Document review (as well as a whole host of other legal tasks) is frequently so boring that you need a distraction to occupy part of your brain while you go through the mundane chore of selecting the appropriate issue tag. And when it comes to quality distractions, well, technology’s got your back.
5. Even low-tech has its problems
Yes, when technology fails it can be a spectacular disaster (see: Bar Exam, July 2014). But it’s not like low-tech is all fun and games. Folks may complain about reviewing documents while ensconced in air-conditioned cubicles, but I am old enough to remember how bad paper document review was. Forget the papercuts and the back pain from moving heavy boxes around all day, the physicality of the boxes left room for some… surprises. I was once on an insurance case where we had to review the original files from a cab company, and the leftover food, dead (fortunately) critters, and general stench was enough to get me longing for the warm glow of my computer screen.
So, yes, the ExamSoft debacle is bad. But there is no need to regress, technology is still your friend.
Alex Rich is a T14 grad and Biglaw refugee who has worked as a contract attorney for the last 7 years… and counting. If you have a story about the underbelly of the legal world known as contract work, email Alex at firstname.lastname@example.org and be sure to follow Alex on Twitter @AlexRichEsq