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DTCI: Technology in the practice

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demossNo one would ever confuse me with someone with high computer literacy. My introduction to computers in 1974 consisted of hauling around large boxes of computer input cards programmed to spell out my pizza order. But I do recognize the changes in technology have had an impact and created opportunities for our profession. Over the past 20-plus years, I have seen technological changes that have enhanced our ability to practice more efficiently and effectively for our clients. Our office started with a simple IBM single terminal computer that responded only to the mysterious DOS language command I struggled to grasp. The next big thing was the addition of a fax machine with all its beeping, screeching, whirring and innate ability to run out of paper when we weren’t looking.

Technological advances soon led us to having a desktop computer connected to our office network. We had the ability to conduct legal research online through Lexis or Westlaw, although our library still bulged with various essential collections of statutes, caselaw, and a host of how-to manuals. Our case management system continued to evolve to the point where the lawyers could actually use it without conferring with a secretary or a paralegal. Oh, and the mobile phone seemed to be catching on with some zeal. You could have one installed in your car, or you could get a portable phone akin to the size of a loaf of bread. Like time, technology marched on.

Recent years have brought a host of innovations, sparking something of a revolution in the way we obtain information and communicate. The growing acceptance of electronic communication presents new challenges. Our smart phones are now smarter than we are. Cell phone use is old hat; texting or tweeting is becoming main stream. Many households have abandoned their traditional landlines and are purely cellular.

Communicating with clients may mean a cell phone, an e-mail in addition to, or in lieu of, traditional snail mail, requiring us to discover their preferences. What if your client gives you a work e-mail address? In most instances, employers warn that their computer communications may be subject to review. Using a home e-mail address does not guarantee confidentiality. Maintaining the attorney-client privilege in such communications may mean the use of encryption software. Does your practice utilize encryption or have clearly defined rules regarding what may and may not be communicated by e-mail? Has your client given informed consent to unprotected electronic communications?

The proliferation of the Internet and social networking sites has spawned a host of variations in well-established legal issues. Defamation suits and suits for intentional infliction for emotional distress over postings made on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, or in blogs are becoming more common. Does your practice include counseling individual or corporate clients on the potential liability exposure from such activities?

The rapid pace of technological development requires some measure of vigilance to determine what changes, if any, are necessary to maintain an efficient practice. In 2005 we converted our practice from a paper file to an electronic file environment. Each day’s mail is scanned and filed electronically. Laptops with aircards, wireless hot spots, or home routers have allowed our lawyers to have access to their daily mail and all of their cases from remote locations. There are other benefits too numerous to list, but from my point of view it was well worth the move. The same capacity scanners we purchased then have gone down in price by about 70 percent, making such a move even more cost effective today.

As confessed above, I am not particularly computer literate, but I will point out two pieces of software to take a look at for your practice. The first, Snagit®, is very simple screen capture software that allows you to export and import information from one source to another with great ease. The second, AutoBookmark™ plug-in for Adobe Acrobat®, is an enhancement allowing you to sort and manage Bookmarks made in Adobe® documents; very handy when dealing with large volume records you want to index or organize.

There will be a day when all of the courts in the state are electronic, web-based information exchange portals will become a normal part of the practice, and video conferencing will be a routine matter. The technology is already in place, it’s now just a matter of adoption and refinement. Continue to examine the mechanics of your practice and keep your mind and eyes open to technological advances that improve the efficiency of your office and benefit your clients in the long run. And for more technical computer “stuff,” read Stephen Bour’s column, Technology Untangled.•

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David DeMoss serves as managing attorney for State Farm Litigation Counsel in Indianapolis. He is a member of the DTCI board of directors and serves on the association’s legislative committee and as PAC treasurer. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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  1. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  2. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  3. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  4. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

  5. Brian W, I fear I have not been sufficiently entertaining to bring you back. Here is a real laugh track that just might do it. When one is grabbed by the scruff of his worldview and made to choose between his Confession and his profession ... it is a not a hard choice, given the Confession affects eternity. But then comes the hardship in this world. Imagine how often I hear taunts like yours ... "what, you could not even pass character and fitness after they let you sit and pass their bar exam ... dude, there must really be something wrong with you!" Even one of the Bishop's foremost courtiers said that, when explaining why the RCC refused to stand with me. You want entertaining? How about watching your personal economy crash while you have a wife and five kids to clothe and feed. And you can't because you cannot work, because those demanding you cast off your Confession to be allowed into "their" profession have all the control. And you know that they are wrong, dead wrong, and that even the professional code itself allows your Faithful stand, to wit: "A lawyer may refuse to comply with an obligation imposed by law upon a good faith belief that no valid obligation exists. The provisions of Rule 1.2(d) concerning a good faith challenge to the validity, scope, meaning or application of the law apply to challenges of legal regulation of the practice of law." YET YOU ARE A NONPERSON before the BLE, and will not be heard on your rights or their duties to the law -- you are under tyranny, not law. And so they win in this world, you lose, and you lose even your belief in the rule of law, and demoralization joins poverty, and very troubling thoughts impeaching self worth rush in to fill the void where your career once lived. Thoughts you did not think possible. You find yourself a failure ... in your profession, in your support of your family, in the mirror. And there is little to keep hope alive, because tyranny rules so firmly and none, not the church, not the NGO's, none truly give a damn. Not even a new court, who pay such lip service to justice and ancient role models. You want entertainment? Well if you are on the side of the courtiers running the system that has crushed me, as I suspect you are, then Orwell must be a real riot: "There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever." I never thought they would win, I always thought that at the end of the day the rule of law would prevail. Yes, the rule of man's law. Instead power prevailed, so many rules broken by the system to break me. It took years, but, finally, the end that Dr Bowman predicted is upon me, the end that she advised the BLE to take to break me. Ironically, that is the one thing in her far left of center report that the BLE (after stamping, in red ink, on Jan 22) is uninterested in, as that the BLE and ADA office that used the federal statute as a sword now refuses to even dialogue on her dire prediction as to my fate. "C'est la vie" Entertaining enough for you, status quo defender?

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