ILNews

Technology levels the legal playing field

Marilyn Odendahl
November 6, 2013
Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
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.”•

ADVERTISEMENT

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

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Good luck, but as I have documented in three Hail Mary's to the SCOTUS, two applications (2007 & 2013),a civil rights suit and my own kicked-to-the-curb prayer for mandamus. all supported in detailed affidavits with full legal briefing (never considered), the ISC knows that the BLE operates "above the law" (i.e. unconstitutionally) and does not give a damn. In fact, that is how it was designed to control the lawyers. IU Law Prof. Patrick Baude blew the whistle while he was Ind Bar Examiner President back in 1993, even he was shut down. It is a masonic system that blackballs those whom the elite disdain. Here is the basic thrust:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackballing When I asked why I was initially denied, the court's foremost jester wrote back that the ten examiners all voted, and I did not gain the needed votes for approval (whatever that is, probably ten) and thus I was not in .. nothing written, no explanation, just go away or appeal ... and if you appeal and disagree with their system .. proof positive you lack character and fitness. It is both arbitrary and capricious by its very design. The Hoosier legal elites are monarchical minded, and rejected me for life for ostensibly failing to sufficiently respect man's law (due to my stated regard for God's law -- which they questioned me on, after remanding me for a psych eval for holding such Higher Law beliefs) while breaking their own rules, breaking federal statutory law, and violating federal and state constitutions and ancient due process standards .. all well documented as they "processed me" over many years.... yes years ... they have few standards that they will not bulldoze to get to the end desired. And the ISC knows this, and they keep it in play. So sad, And the fed courts refuse to do anything, and so the blackballing show goes on ... it is the Indy way. My final experience here: https://www.scribd.com/document/299040062/Brown-ind-Bar-memo-Pet-cert I will open my files to anyone interested in seeing justice dawn over Indy. My cases are an open book, just ask.

  2. Looks like 2017 will be another notable year for these cases. I have a Grandson involved in a CHINS case that should never have been. He and the whole family are being held hostage by CPS and the 'current mood' of the CPS caseworker. If the parents disagree with a decision, they are penalized. I, along with other were posting on Jasper County Online News, but all were quickly warned to remove posts. I totally understand that some children need these services, but in this case, it was mistakes, covered by coorcement of father to sign papers, lies and cover-ups. The most astonishing thing was within 2 weeks of this child being placed with CPS, a private adoption agency was asking questions regarding child's family in the area. I believe a photo that was taken by CPS manager at the very onset during the CHINS co-ocerment and the intent was to make money. I have even been warned not to post or speak to anyone regarding this case. Parents have completed all requirements, met foster parents, get visitation 2 days a week, and still the next court date is all the way out till May 1, which gives them(CPS) plenty of to time make further demands (which I expect) No trust of these 'seasoned' case managers, as I have already learned too much about their dirty little tricks. If they discover that I have posted here, I expect they will not be happy and penalized parents again. Still a Hostage.

  3. They say it was a court error, however they fail to mention A.R. was on the run from the law and was hiding. Thus why she didn't receive anything from her public defender. Step mom is filing again for adoption of the two boys she has raised. A.R. is a criminal with a serious heroin addiction. She filed this appeal MORE than 30 days after the final decision was made from prison. Report all the facts not just some.

  4. Hysteria? Really Ben? Tell the young lady reported on in the link below that worrying about the sexualizing of our children is mere hysteria. Such thinking is common in the Royal Order of Jesters and other running sex vacays in Thailand or Brazil ... like Indy's Jared Fogle. Those tempted to call such concerns mere histronics need to think on this: http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/a-12-year-old-girl-live-streamed-her-suicide-it-took-two-weeks-for-facebook-to-take-the-video-down/ar-AAlT8ka?li=AA4ZnC&ocid=spartanntp

  5. This is happening so much. Even in 2016.2017. I hope the father sue for civil rights violation. I hope he sue as more are doing and even without a lawyer as pro-se, he got a good one here. God bless him.

ADVERTISEMENT