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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. I like the concept. Seems like a good idea and really inexpensive to manage.

  2. I don't agree that this is an extreme case. There are more of these people than you realize - people that are vindictive and/or with psychological issues have clogged the system with baseless suits that are costly to the defendant and to taxpayers. Restricting repeat offenders from further abusing the system is not akin to restricting their freedon, but to protecting their victims, and the court system, from allowing them unfettered access. From the Supreme Court opinion "he has burdened the opposing party and the courts of this state at every level with massive, confusing, disorganized, defective, repetitive, and often meritless filings."

  3. So, if you cry wolf one too many times courts may "restrict" your ability to pursue legal action? Also, why is document production equated with wealth? Anyone can "produce probably tens of thousands of pages of filings" if they have a public library card. I understand this is an extreme case, but our Supreme Court really got this one wrong.

  4. He called our nation a nation of cowards because we didn't want to talk about race. That was a cheap shot coming from the top cop. The man who decides who gets the federal government indicts. Wow. Not a gentleman if that is the measure. More importantly, this insult delivered as we all understand, to white people-- without him or anybody needing to explain that is precisely what he meant-- but this is an insult to timid white persons who fear the government and don't want to say anything about race for fear of being accused a racist. With all the legal heat that can come down on somebody if they say something which can be construed by a prosecutor like Mr Holder as racist, is it any wonder white people-- that's who he meant obviously-- is there any surprise that white people don't want to talk about race? And as lawyers we have even less freedom lest our remarks be considered violations of the rules. Mr Holder also demonstrated his bias by publically visiting with the family of the young man who was killed by a police offering in the line of duty, which was a very strong indicator of bias agains the offer who is under investigation, and was a failure to lead properly by letting his investigators do their job without him predetermining the proper outcome. He also has potentially biased the jury pool. All in all this worsens race relations by feeding into the perception shared by whites as well as blacks that justice will not be impartial. I will say this much, I do not blame Obama for all of HOlder's missteps. Obama has done a lot of things to stay above the fray and try and be a leader for all Americans. Maybe he should have reigned Holder in some but Obama's got his hands full with other problelms. Oh did I mention HOlder is a bank crony who will probably get a job in a silkstocking law firm working for millions of bucks a year defending bankers whom he didn't have the integrity or courage to hold to account for their acts of fraud on the United States, other financial institutions, and the people. His tenure will be regarded by history as a failure of leadership at one of the most important jobs in our nation. Finally and most importantly besides him insulting the public and letting off the big financial cheats, he has been at the forefront of over-prosecuting the secrecy laws to punish whistleblowers and chill free speech. What has Holder done to vindicate the rights of privacy of the American public against the illegal snooping of the NSA? He could have charged NSA personnel with violations of law for their warrantless wiretapping which has been done millions of times and instead he did not persecute a single soul. That is a defalcation of historical proportions and it signals to the public that the government DOJ under him was not willing to do a damn thing to protect the public against the rapid growth of the illegal surveillance state. Who else could have done this? Nobody. And for that omission Obama deserves the blame too. Here were are sliding into a police state and Eric Holder made it go all the faster.

  5. JOE CLAYPOOL candidate for Superior Court in Harrison County - Indiana This candidate is misleading voters to think he is a Judge by putting Elect Judge Joe Claypool on his campaign literature. paragraphs 2 and 9 below clearly indicate this injustice to voting public to gain employment. What can we do? Indiana Code - Section 35-43-5-3: Deception (a) A person who: (1) being an officer, manager, or other person participating in the direction of a credit institution, knowingly or intentionally receives or permits the receipt of a deposit or other investment, knowing that the institution is insolvent; (2) knowingly or intentionally makes a false or misleading written statement with intent to obtain property, employment, or an educational opportunity; (3) misapplies entrusted property, property of a governmental entity, or property of a credit institution in a manner that the person knows is unlawful or that the person knows involves substantial risk of loss or detriment to either the owner of the property or to a person for whose benefit the property was entrusted; (4) knowingly or intentionally, in the regular course of business, either: (A) uses or possesses for use a false weight or measure or other device for falsely determining or recording the quality or quantity of any commodity; or (B) sells, offers, or displays for sale or delivers less than the represented quality or quantity of any commodity; (5) with intent to defraud another person furnishing electricity, gas, water, telecommunication, or any other utility service, avoids a lawful charge for that service by scheme or device or by tampering with facilities or equipment of the person furnishing the service; (6) with intent to defraud, misrepresents the identity of the person or another person or the identity or quality of property; (7) with intent to defraud an owner of a coin machine, deposits a slug in that machine; (8) with intent to enable the person or another person to deposit a slug in a coin machine, makes, possesses, or disposes of a slug; (9) disseminates to the public an advertisement that the person knows is false, misleading, or deceptive, with intent to promote the purchase or sale of property or the acceptance of employment;

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