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What Not Re When Not

In the mid-nineties, I was asked to demonstrate in court our evidence display system for a major prosecution. Instead of my usual script and demonstration, Senior Counsel for the Defence asked that I demonstrate by editing a document ID on our interactive system on the fly. While the system was not built to do that, particularly in court, I thought I could do it, though not quickly. Then he asked for another document to be changed, and before I had finished, another, and then half a dozen in rapid succession. In my efforts to impress the Court, I had fallen for his “cunning plan”.

“How are we going Mr Lewis?”

“Not too well” was my reply.

A smarter move on my part would have been to acknowledge the limitations of the technology, and use a pen and paper to note the requested changes to be done later with better tools.

I was reminded of this when I read the recent comment by Chris Dale, which he intends to explore further in a future article.

The theme extracted from the many comments about the recent New York Times article is one of skills, including the skill to know what tools and methods are available for use in appropriate cases, and to accept or reject them on an informed basis.

In Chris’ area of ediscovery/edisclosure, that can be a large number of programs as what is needed is a toolkit. Some firms have 30+ software tools for use in litigation. It takes a rare type of person to know when each is appropriate; and an even rarer type of lawyer. 

The most successful lawyers in the future could be those whose skills are extended by such tools. The real masters of those tools will know when not to use them.

While it is tempting to go totally IT, I have only recently started the process of retiring my paper-based Filofax. I had resisted the Palm for years, but the iPhone has finally won me over, and this week has been the first I have not carried the Filofax as a security blanket.

I had possibly been influenced by my IT-resistant brother whose habit of keeping a paper-based version of his diary was vindicated each time the firm’s practice management system was out of action. But I think it was mainly the convenience of being able to have an “instant on” platform for quickly taking notes, and checking phone numbers without the “pretentiousness” of whipping out my beloved 13” MacBook Pro. While it lives in permanent sleep mode, and is therefore readily accessible, the very act of opening the screen detracts from the conversation one is having. It also hints at a form of tech-elitism, a status easily achieved when dealing with lawyers.

However, what really convinced me to get the iPhone was the fact that Filemaker Pro runs on it, as well as the iPad. Templates I have developed over the last 20 years run on it without alteration, subject of course to making adjustments for screen size. 

The ability to find or analyse millions of items in a pocket-sized device is empowering. Filemaker is my personal secret weapon. It extends my capabilities enormously.

I can now carry that “personal enhancer” conveniently in my pocket. I am aware of it limitations such as it is not best for reading longer documents due to the screen size. For that, paper still works, along with large monitors. 

Filemaker Go is why I got the iPhone, but what surprised me is just how good the iPhone is for so many other things, such as a camera, and how clever some app developers are at taking advantage of it. Consider the impressive app that translates foreign language signs and restaurant menus etc while traveling. You use it like a debabelising magnifying glass. I could imagine it also being used to instantly translate foreign language documents you come across unexpectedly.

I now still use paper to unobtrusively and quickly take notes, then discard them after I scan it with the iPhone app JotNot Pro which uses the camera. It even corrects distortion caused by the curved pages in thick books, or scans taken at an angle. Very handy if you ever need a copy of a document or a few pages from a book James Bond-style. Not even the boffins behind Agent 86 thought to add a camera to Max’s shoe phone.

The iPhone has an advantage over the shoe phone: convenience. It is something Jordan Furlong argues “ … is the battleground where our innovative competitors are massing their troops” . Good enough, but convenient legal services will win clients.

The iPhone is “good enough” for me as a camera. 600+ photos and videos in 3 months use attest to it’s “handiness” – I have a 5 year old. Like many law firm clients, I don’t have the ability, or will, to distinguish the results from “better”, but less convenient alternatives.

I still have a “normal” video camera which was used at a recent wedding. But apart from that, it’s “inconvenience” has relegated it to special occasions.

Besides, a normal video camera is more intrusive more when it comes to personal interaction.

This negative aspect of technology was highlighted by Queensland lawyer, Robert Garvey who has become a regular speaker on multiple monitors at our conferences. It seemed that each year the number of monitors he used increased, and finally decreased in search of the optimum configuration, which BTW is 3 (a good one for your main work in the middle, and other for parking supporting applications and documents). Last year his big message was about when NOT to use a computer when conferring with clients. 

Some problems:

 1. It is a barrier to client communication, even if not a physical barrier between you and the client such as if the monitors are against a wall, you still risk appearing to interact with the computer, rather than the client.

2. Constant reference to the computer detracts from your stature as a lawyer who exudes confidence and depth of legal knowledge.

3. Constant checking of electronic devices detracts from your performance. Regardless of gender, recent studies indicate that multi-tasking is a myth.

Robert’s approach is to see clients in a meeting room away from his serious IT-centric office. 

What to do to access information and remain in touch with the world?: consider the iPad – convenient without being as “intrusive” as a notebook PC screen in client meetings. While it still risks being a personal distraction, the potential to share it with clients, witnesses and judges etc by handing it around, is worth exploring. The key word is “share”. It nicely complements “collaboration” which you should be doing with clients anyway, and extends the client’s “convenience experience”.

And you can even use a pen with it, though for now its strength remains as a casual consumption device rather than for serious work. That is best left to a desktop/laptop with large extra monitor(s). 

The iPad is a new platform whose strengths in certain areas can only mean weaknesses in others. The experience of the early adopters indicates that the platform has earned it place in most lawyers’ hardware toolkits. It joins pen and paper whose usefulness has now been extended by the iPhone’s camera.

All we need now is an app to tell us which tool and app to use, and when to use it.

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