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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. The sad thing is that no fish were thrown overboard The "greenhorn" who had never fished before those 5 days was interrogated for over 4 hours by 5 officers until his statement was illicited, "I don't want to go to prison....." The truth is that these fish were measured frozen off shore and thawed on shore. The FWC (state) officer did not know fish shrink, so the only reason that these fish could be bigger was a swap. There is no difference between a 19 1/2 fish or 19 3/4 fish, short fish is short fish, the ticket was written. In addition the FWC officer testified at trial, he does not measure fish in accordance with federal law. There was a document prepared by the FWC expert that said yes, fish shrink and if these had been measured correctly they averaged over 20 inches (offshore frozen). This was a smoke and mirror prosecution.

  2. I love this, Dave! Many congrats to you! We've come a long way from studying for the bar together! :)

  3. This outbreak illustrates the absurdity of the extreme positions taken by today's liberalism, specifically individualism and the modern cult of endless personal "freedom." Ebola reminds us that at some point the person's own "freedom" to do this and that comes into contact with the needs of the common good and "freedom" must be curtailed. This is not rocket science, except, today there is nonstop propaganda elevating individual preferences over the common good, so some pundits have a hard time fathoming the obvious necessity of quarantine in some situations....or even NATIONAL BORDERS...propagandists have also amazingly used this as another chance to accuse Western nations of "racism" which is preposterous and offensive. So one the one hand the idolatry of individualism has to stop and on the other hand facts people don't like that intersect with race-- remain facts nonetheless. People who respond to facts over propaganda do better in the long run. We call it Truth. Sometimes it seems hard to find.

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  5. I am saddened to hear about the loss of Zeff Weiss. He was an outstanding member of the Indianapolis legal community. My thoughts are with his family.

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