Denver Bar Association
October 2006
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Free Yourself with Technology

by Doug McQuiston

If I have conveyed any message to you in this series about technology and your law practice, it is this: You cannot avoid computers. They have you surrounded.

Your car now has more computing power than NASA used to fly Apollo 11 to the moon in 1969. Your cell phone is more powerful than your desktop computer was five years ago. All of those pleadings you used to file on fine bond paper are now filed electronically.

Maybe you’re one of the "holdouts." You still dictate all of your documents, then your secretary diligently types them for you. Your secretary or paralegal electronically file all of your pleadings for you because "you hate computers." You order your staff to print your e-mails, electronically served pleadings, faxes, etc., "because you have to have the paper." You refuse to use Westlaw "because you just don’t feel right without books." You’re single-handedly holding back the techno-flood, right?

Wrong. Computers are everywhere. They already dominate your law practice. All you’re doing is wasting your secretary’s time (if you can even find one who will still do all that) and contributing to global warming, clearing forests for all the paper you’re wasting. What’s worse is that you’re chaining yourself to your office, and making your practice that much harder, and your workdays that much longer. You may pride yourself on being the first one in and the last to leave everyday, but trust me — your family isn’t so keen on the idea. There will come a day, sooner than you think, when you are in your twilight years. When that day comes, you won’t be wishing you had spent a bit more time at the office.

I have come not to enslave you to technology, but to free you with it. In this last step, you can squeeze out more from your paperless office and case management software by "cutting the wire." Handheld technology can liberate you from your office. You can work smarter and do more in less time, with lower overhead.

The first "PDAs" were handy, but not very powerful — they just kept track of your calendar, address book, and tasks. The most commonly used cellular-based device, the RIM Blackberry, was a giant leap over the PDA, with its instant e-mail availability, real-time calendar synchronization, and double-duty as a cell phone. However, it could not be used to view files on your office network, view documents attached to e-mails, or otherwise "work remotely" on documents. That is rapidly changing.

Handhelds are now being deployed that will allow you remotely to view networked files and documents, view e-mail-attached items (such as Powerpoint slideshows, Word or Adobe files, image or video files, etc.), and even read faxes right on the handheld’s color screen. Many of the newer handhelds allow for easy wireless remote printing to any "Bluetooth"-enabled printer.1 Most allow handheld Web surfing.

These new solutions enable lawyers to review and edit drafts of a document, read fax attachments, view (and even file) electronic pleadings in real time, and use the Web (including sites like Westlaw) anywhere they happen to be.

Don’t worry — your handheld won’t suck up all your free time. On the contrary, it can create free time for you, by turning unproductive workday slack time into billable time. You’ll get done faster, then knock off earlier to head home for that evening bike ride or soccer practice with the kids.

You’re wasting hours every week now, you just don’t know it. Your "crazy" work schedule is full of dead time: sitting in court for an hour, waiting for your five-minute hearing; whiling away the hours in one of those windowless rooms at the mediator’s office, waiting for the mediator to come talk to you after beating some sense into your opponent; cooling your heels at the airport, waiting for your flight to that east coast meeting. Out of those 60-hour weeks, a good 20 to 30 percent is just plain lost.

Instead of sitting there like Cletus the Slack-jawed Yokel,2 you can whip out the Smartphone and:

  • catch up on all of your e-mails;
  • read file attachments or networked documents;
  • draft or edit Word documents;
  • update your Powerpoint for the presentation on the coast;
  • send work product to your clients;
  • then forward it to your legal assistant for processing or mailing.

When you’re capturing all of that wasted time and turning it into billed hours, that’s when you’ll learn to love your handheld. Instead of heading back to the office at 6 p.m. after your day out of the office, to work another four hours on all of your other cases, you will stay current throughout the day just by "using" your slack time. Then, when you get home (early now), you can turn the handheld off and stick it in its charger.

With a handheld and call-forwarding, you can be anywhere and still "be in your office" handling calls and pushing paper(less). No one but your assistant will know you’re out on the bike or the golf course instead of being at your desk! Combine a RIM (Research in Motion) Blackberry, or one of the Windows-based handhelds (the so-called "PDA/Smartphones") with your new case management software we’ve been talking about, and you will be free to practice (and bill) anywhere you can find a cellular network.

Some of you have protested: "But if I get one of those damn things, it’ll control my whole life — I’ll never be able to get away from my practice!" Associates were the most apprehensive: "If I get one of those, my partners will expect me to work 24 hours a day!"

The common fear seems to be that a handheld device will complicate your already crazy professional life, chew up your free time, and dissolve the boundary between "life" and "work." You’ll find yourself answering e-mails during dinner out with your spouse, or sneaking a peak at the movies on Friday night. To that I say, they all come with "off" switches! You control the technology — it doesn’t control you.

There you have it. From going "paperless" to cutting the wire and using a handheld, the technology is there to help you become a better lawyer, convert slack time to billable time, and even generate more free time to spend away from your practice. All it takes is a modest investment of dollars and time, and the willingness to change.

 


1. "Bluetooth" is a proprietary technology that allows wireless communication among devices, such as earpiece-mics, other computers, printers, and other peripherals. If you’re looking for a handheld, be sure it is "Bluetooth" equipped.

2. With thanks to "The Simpsons" for one of my favorite characters.

For additional information, contact Reba Nance, director of Law Practice Management, at (303) 824-5320.


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