ILNews

Technology levels the legal playing field

Marilyn Odendahl
November 6, 2013
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Indiana Lawyer Focus

Not until his third year of law school in 1979-1980 did Bill Jonas sit down at a computer and research opinions and caselaw. Up to then, Jonas had pulled books, digests, compendiums and journals from the library shelves.

So new was the big red LexisNexis terminal Jonas sat in front of as a student that he did not trust the technology. While he searched the computer databases, he also continued to pull books from the shelves to make sure the answers were correct.

jonas-lawyers-1314-sharpened-15col.jpg Hammerschmidt Amaral & Jonas, where Bill Jonas, left, and Ben Jonas practice, has moved most of its law books to the basement.
The office now relies on Casemaker.  (IL Photo/Mark Shepard)

Not until his third year of law school in 2012-2013 did Ben Jonas take a book from the library shelves and shuffle through its pages. Like his dad, Ben did parallel research by calling up the Internal Revenue Service code on his computer to aid his search in finding the key passages in the printed text.

The experiences of the father and son attorneys illustrate the rise of technology in the legal profession. Hardware like laptops and tablets, along with software that can manage cases, sort through piles of electronic documents, take dictation and clip articles, are continuing to roll into law schools and law firms and change how lawyers do their jobs.

As a sign of the growth of technology, the American Bar Association in August 2012 adopted several amendments to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct in regard to a lawyer’s responsibility for understanding and using technology.

“You don’t really have a choice in terms of adapting to technology,” Ben Jonas said. “If something comes out that makes you more efficient, you don’t have a choice” but to use it.

Other attorneys agree that the technology is enabling them to be more efficient and effective in serving their clients.

Solo practitioner Stephen Terrell no longer keeps his computer desktop cluttered with electronic file folders for the cases he is handling. Instead he relies on a cloud-base case management system that stores and organizes all the documents, notes, emails and phone numbers related to any particular case.

Admitted to practice in 1980, Terrell’s interest in technology goes back to law school when, like the elder Jonas, he started learning how to do computer research. He continued honing his electronic skills on the job, as did many fresh graduates, since many partners at law firms did not want to use LexisNexis or Westlaw.

Terrell has seen more lawyers adopting gadgets and computer programs into their practices, possibly pushed by clients who expect electronic communication and access. At a recent conference, he said more than half the attorneys attending his presentation had tablets rather than the once ubiquitous paper notebooks.

At South Bend firm of Hammerschmidt Amaral & Jonas, most of the law books have been moved to the basement. The office now relies on Casemaker, a program provided through membership to the Indiana State Bar Association that not only does legal research but also proofreads briefs.

“I’m not sure that law graduates today could do (research) through the book the way we did,” Bill Jonas said. “I’m not sure why they would.”

Drudgery

Ben Jonas uses a laptop with an external monitor and his smartphone as a part of his practice. He also makes use of a Facebook page started by former classmates at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law to share tips and advice.

His father uses Casemaker frequently but no longer does parallel research. The elder Jonas has become so comfortable with technology that he believes computer-assisted research is much more likely to highlight all the major cases than the traditional book method.

Technology’s biggest benefit, Bill Jonas said, is that it levels the playing field between small and large firms. The lawyers have the same access to resources, so winning a case is not determined by who has done better research but by who has the better insight.

Chuck Schmal, attorney at Woodard Emhardt Moriarty McNett & Henry LLP in Indianapolis, made a similar observation.

Technology, he said, is removing some of that drudgery from the practice of law and enabling attorneys to spend more time on doing substantive work. However, lawyers still have to know where to find information, how to analyze it and what to do with it.

“Technology is neither good nor bad,” Schmal said. The important thing is “how it’s used.”

As a patent attorney, Schmal remembered the excitement he felt when patent applications could be accessed online. Prior to that, he had to physically go to the U.S. Trademark and Patent Office, look up the citation, then search by hand through stacks of paper to find the document he wanted.

Schmal regularly uses a variety of programs and devices as part of his work. Billing is tracked by time management software; emails are dictated directly into the computer via a voice-recognition program; an app enables legal research to be done on his smartphone; and remote desktop technology means he can access his office computer from home.

Foundation in print

When Indiana University Maurer School of Law built an addition onto its library in 1986, several people wondered if the new space would be needed since all the talk was about society becoming paperless.

On a recent Monday, Linda Fariss, director of the Maurer Law Library, stood on the main floor surrounded by shelves of books and students seated at tables hunched over laptop computers. While the use of electronic databases and materials continues to grow, paper is still available and widely used.

From their first year in law school, the students’ education in legal research includes both printed and electronic materials, and throughout their three years they will look something up in a book as well as online, Fariss said.

The process is the same at Valparaiso University Law School with students first learning how to research in books before moving to online resources. Both Fariss and Emily Janoski-Haehlen, associate dean for law library services at Valparaiso, said learning to use the print materials gives students a strong foundation in research so, whether working in print or online, they know what to ask and where to look for the answer.

For an increasing number of students who have grown up Googling Wikipedia rather than thumbing through the Encyclopedia Britannica, the learning curve is especially steep.

At Valparaiso, the law school introduced a new research lab this year to help these tech-savvy students learn how to identify fact-patterns and figure out where to look next, Janoski-Haehlen said. A recent exercise on maneuvering indexes elicited the frustrated cry from one student, “Can’t we just go online?”

Bill Jonas is not ready to be paperless. While a lot of his younger opponents in the courtroom use tablets, he still relies on an old-fashioned notebook which holds copies of the complaint, response, motions and supporting cases.

Once he finds the opinion on the computer, Bill Jonas will hit the print button. He described himself as a tactile learner who needs to hold the hardcopy in his hands and make notes in the margin.

Ben Jonas inherited that trait. He said having a printed version to read and mark enables him to better grasp the legal concepts than if he reviewed the information on a computer screen.

Just a few years older than many of his classmates at IU McKinney, Ben Jonas was reminded of how quickly technology makes once-common practices seem outdated. Many of the other students, seeing Jonas reading a printed paper, called him “grandpa.”•

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  • schadenfreude
    Vae victis to west/Thompson/whatever the duopoly partners call themselves, who gouged lawyers and clients for decades.

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  1. This guy sounds like the classic molester/manipulator.

  2. Louis D. Brandeis was born in 1856. At 9 years of age it would have been 1865. The Brandeis family did not own slaves. My source Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, by Melvin L. Urofsky.

  3. My name is Matthew Lucas Major, I recently went through a jury trial in Bloomington , In. It was the week of Feb 19-21. Although I have been incarcerated since August 5, 2014. The reason I 'am writing to you sir is on the 21 of February the jury came in with a very excessive and wrongful verdict of guilty on 6 child molesting charges against my daughter who was 9 at the time I was accused. I also had 2 other Felonies one of Intimidation and 1 of Sexual Vicarious Gratification. Judge Marc Kellam on the second day of trial gave me a not guilty on those 2 felonies. The jury was sent out during that time and when brought back Judge Kellam told them to not concern themselves with the 2 Felonies that he ruled on them. They were told to not let evidence they had already heard influence there verdicts. I never in my life touched any child sexually and definitely not with my own daughter. When I was arrested Detective Shawn Karr told me I would be convicted guilty just on my daughters word even without evidence. That's just what happened. my public defender did me so wrong he never once proved to the court and jury all the lies the child told, and Jeremy Noel my public defender could of proven the lies easily. The stories in Serenity's depositions and Forensic interview changed and were not consistent as Prosecutor Darcie Fawcett claimed they were. Yet my attorney never mentioned that. The facts that the child accused me of full penetration in her vagina and rectum was proven lies. Doctor Roberta Hibbard of Riley hospital in Indianapolis confirmed Serenity's hymen intact, no scars, no tearing, no signs of rape to her. Yet my attorney didn't use that knowledge . the DNA was all in my favor. I tell you I will spend my entire life in prison going through rape and beatings etc. even Judge Kellam abused his authority by telling the jurors to listen and believe what the prosecutors side in evidence like my daughters testimony. In one interview with the detectives my daughter got flustered with her mom and said on camera " I'm saying what you told me to mom"!! Yet Mr. Noel said nor did anything to even resemble a defense attorney. Judge Kellam allowed edited version of a taped conversation between the child and her mother. Also Judge Kellam allowed the Prosecutor too bring in to my case a knife found under my seat, the knife wasn't part of my case. She was allowed by my attorney and the judge to put a huge picture of it on the screen and huge picture of my naked privates in a full courtroom and open court. Ms. Fawcett says to jury see how easy Mr. Major could reach the knife and cut his Childs throat. Even though I had no weapons charge against these cases. This gave the jurors prejudice thought against me thinking I threatened her with that knife and how scared she would of been knowing i could get it and kill her. On my sentencing court March 19, 2014 my public defender told Judge Kellam he wish to resign from being my attorney and wished for the court to give me outside council to file a error to trial or appeal. We were denied. Now after openly knowing my public defender don't want to represent me he has to. Well when as parents we make our kids clean a room when they really don't wish to, well the child will but don't mean she will do a good job, that's where I'm at with Mr. Noel. please dont ignore mine and my families pleas for your help . we have all the legal proof you could need to prove Im innocent. Please dont make my spend years in prison innocent when you can fix this wrong. Im not saying Im a perfect man or that I was a perfect dad to my 2 children none of us are. Ive made some bad choices in life and I paid for them. But I didnt ever touch or rape my daughter . I love my children with all my heart. And now through needing attention and a ex-wife who told my granny several times she wish she could put me in prison to get me out of their lives. Well my ex finally accomplished her goal. Sad part is she is destroying our daughter with all this horrific lies and things she taught my daughter to say. My daughter will need therapist to ever hope for a chance of a normal life after what she had done to her by her mom and their side of the family. My daughter told everyone even on stand she had a dream months before i supposedly molested her in this dream I was molesting her and when I finally did it matched her dream perfectly. She admitted to watching movies about little girls being molested and watching U-Tube videos about child molesting all before it happened supposedly to her. Doesn't that sound very unusual that a non molested 9 yr old would need to know so much about being molested? The only reason I could think a 9 year old would need so much information is to be prepared to know what to say and be able to say how it felt what took place etc.. So when questioned by authorities she would be prepared. And there again sir if a parent is pre grooming a 9 year old child she would need intimate details . Like telling her daughter about a couple moles on my private area. The child admitted to sneaking my cell and looking many many times at nudes of me and my girlfriend even one where my penis was entering my girlfriends vagina. In that picture my moles are obvious. Yet when prosecutor showed everyone in court my privates and pictures of the moles she said the only way the child would know about them is if she saw them for herself. My attorney once again said nothing about the pictures my child saw. Or could a ex-wife be able to describe my moles to help her case against getting rid of me? I beg you help me. This is my very existence. Ive lost everything , a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, my freedom, but worse thing Ive lost is my children. They were my reason to get up every morning and strive to be better. The wonderful bond I had with my Serenity is gone. After this I would be afraid to even hug her for fear of what next can they do to me. I'm not afraid to tell you I sit here in this cell and try to hold back my tears. Everyone knows you cant show weakness in prison. My life has already been threatened here at Wabash Valley Prison. After only 3 days of arrival. I was tricked into signing a waiver now Im in G Block General Population with 6 child molesting felony charges. Mrs. Hart as a 18 year old I almost died hooked to machines in hospital almost 1 month and now I know that fear was childish compared to this . I cant help but put emotions in this, after all Mrs. Hart Im human and God help Me I never been more afraid in my life. I didnt hurt my little girl I didnt touch her sexually. As much as it shreds me and fills my mind what Im facing I worry more about my mom and granny because of their great love for me mam they are suffering so deeply. I aint done this things but my loved ones suffering right along beside me and If you take my case you will be in essence freeing them also. I sent momma this letter and asked her to email it to you. I'm scared I have been done so unjustly by our legal system and I need you to fix this and give me freedom. I ask you please don't just ignore my pleas. Here in America its nice to be able to trust our legal justice system, well they destroyed my and my loved ones trust in our justice system . And I'm trusting in You !!! My entire family is suffering this nightmare with me. My 77 year old granny had a stroke and isn't doing so well. My single mother that raised 3 kids alone is dying from Lupus and since my arrest has stayed so sick and weary. Our lives torn to peices by a government I was taught I could trust in. my momma has tried so many innocent project and wrongfully accused and cant get anywhere. please please help me. A quote from the late Nelson Mandela: To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, But to live in a way that respects and enhances The Freedom Of Others. I have Faith in you and your clinic to cast my chains off and give me freedom I do deserve as a wrongfully accused Man, son, brother, father, friend. Matthew Major DOC# 246179 Cause # : 53c02-1308-FA-000779 God Bless you. Please contact me with your decision so I know you made a life changing decision for me , just please at least write me so I know you care enough about your citizens to respond to cries for your help. You can speak openly with my mother Charlotte Spain (828) 476-0406: 71 Lakeview Dr. Canton, NC 28716 Thank You Matthew Major I know yall get thousands of request and inmates claiming innocence, and each person who are innocent deserve to have organizations like yours willing to fight for them and I give yall so much Thanks and I thank God everyday yall are out there caring enough to help free the innocents. Since discovering firsthand how easily lives and families can be destroyed by Poor Defense attorneys not doing their job . And Prosecutors allowed to do as they please in court

  4. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  5. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

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