Pencil Putsches

A good lawyer, with knowledge of how and when to use the right tools, has a competitive advantage. Those tools might be varied, and are not limited to IT.

Jordan Furlong’s article “The Law of the Pencil – Innovation and Client Service in the New Millennium”, mentions the urban myth of NASA spending millions on a “space pen”, while the Soviets used a pencil. Law firms (and others) have also been known to blow millions on IT that could have been spent more wisely.

The humble pencil might be far superior to alternatives in certain circumstances, ie to record information, we need to know when to use a big screen on a desktop, a notebook computer, an iPad, or just a pencil. Three of those tools are optimised for data collection; one is optimised for consumption. Also, simply adding an external keyboard, such as the keyboard cover from Logitech, can make a lot of difference to an iPad – it enables serious typing speeds, unlike the iPad’s onscreen keyboard.

The challenge is to know what is the best tool for the job. None will do everything. Yes you can use an iPad to do many things, but in some cases a pencil is the better choice, ie if you are a swimming instructor who often writes under water. (And also, remember, not all pencils are equal – you need to understand the difference between B H and HB etc.)


Then there’s the paper for underwater writing. The electronic equivalent of paper could almost be the PDF. Sounds simple, and you can certainly do amazing things, but without the right tools, and knowhow, you can get stuck. In response to a recent call for help from a barrister-friend with a last minute overnight challenge of fixing an appeal book for court, I received this email of thanks:

I am thrilled with PDFPen Pro – have just finished a marathon effort and am so happy you put me onto it this morning – we are now in really good shape – it would have been ugly otherwise. One of the large solicitors files was in reverse chronological order – PDFPen Pro has a script to reverse the page order. Clever commands to cut to where you want to go quickly, I have been extracting PDFs, merging PDFs, reversing PDFs, it all went smoothly.

To manage PDFs in a nimble fashion, you need to know of features such as “reverse the page order”. You might also need to know that another PDF tool, such as PDF Converter from Nuance does excellent OCR.

The best time to get on top of these tools is in your day-to-day work, so when the pressure is on, you don’t have the additional stressor of learning new tools. Not everyone has the luxury of having IT qualifications and managing the IT for some large legal departments, and high profile cases before going to the Bar – as was the case with my friend.

Such skills are not really needed to deal with paper, but the new “everything electronic” high bar being set by the courts could be the retirement trigger for many experienced lawyers. It’s not helped by someone who can operate an iPad insisting that everything should be electronic because it seems so easy. Yes, it can be for some, and they will be the new elite amongst society, and particularly lawyers.

The masters of these tools have always had an advantage. Written communications have a long history of supporting elitism, and the legal profession has done well from its ability to use those writing instruments.

In the 16th Century, a special, high-quality graphite used to make pencils “was only mined for 6 weeks each year and it was escorted to London by armed guards. Export was forbidden and The English Guild of Pencilmakers had the monopoly on its sale and on the production and sale of the wooden cases”.

The lawyers in demand in the future will be masters of tools they explore in their virtual “Guilds” comprising invitation-only and self-selecting LinkedIn and Yammer collaborative groups, while meeting annually at ILTA and MILOfest etc. Our own events such as the Online Legal Services Conference, historically, have served to sustain the few, true believers in the face of disapproving partners and colleagues, for another year. Now that tech is fashionable, the new challenge is to get the IT-balance, right.

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