ILNews

Technology levels the legal playing field

Marilyn Odendahl
November 6, 2013
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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.”•

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

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  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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)

  4. "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.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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