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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. Do I have to hire an attorney to get co-guardianship of my brother? My father has guardianship and my older sister was his co-guardian until this Dec 2014 when she passed and my father was me to go on as the co-guardian, but funds are limit and we need to get this process taken care of quickly as our fathers health isn't the greatest. So please advise me if there is anyway to do this our self or if it requires a lawyer? Thank you

  2. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  3. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  4. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  5. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

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