Technology is constantly changing the way America does business in almost every industry, and the legal community is no different.
Law firms now use advanced software to sift through mountains of documents on online, reducing the time and expense needed to complete discovery. It also partly eliminates the reliance on junior associates.
Certain programs can locate key words in seconds and even distinguish what is privileged information.
“The reality is, in this day and age, people have so much information – and all of it’s stored online – that if you don’t implement some type of technology, it’s going to be exorbitant to do basic discovery in a case,” said San Diego labor and employment attorney Mitch Danzig, a member of Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo.
He did caution, however, that attorneys shouldn’t become too reliant on the discovery technology itself.
“At the end of the day, it’s only as good as the partners and associates involved in terms of addressing, on the front end, what data is being used to sift through the documents,” he said. “If done right, it precludes the need to put eyeballs on every piece of paper. But if not done right, you could be missing a lot.”
San Diego’s Roger Denning, a litigation principal with Fish & Richardson, said the benefit of the latest software is enormous.
“They help us focus our effort in litigation on things like developing legal strategies and arguments rather than on some of the more mundane tasks like reviewing documents,” he said. “So the client’s money is spent on things that really impact the case.”
One of the bigger technological advances in the practice of law is a device common throughout society – the smartphone – according to the local attorneys. Denning said his iPhone has become an invaluable part of his professional life. He not only receives email on his iPhone, but he can read a brief, edit a letter and do a patent search.
Mintz Levin’s Danzig agreed. He has an application that turns his phone into a dictation machine, typing out what he’s saying. It then provides the option to send the information as an email or a text.
“We’re at the front end of smartphone technology,” he said. Video conferencing is another area that’s taken off and changed the way lawyers conduct business.
Video conferences can be used to update a case to a client, hold a meeting with firm management or connect with staffs from different offices.
“Not a week goes by that I don’t have two or three video conferences,” said Fish attorney Denning.
Documents and exhibits needed for a video conference don’t have to be shipped by traditional mail. They can be delivered electronically almost instantly.
And consultants can watch in a different location as well. They can communicate with the attorney they’re helping via text message or instant message in real time.
Lawyers also can interface with clients via their tablet or smartphone, even taking depositions that way.
“There’s still nothing like being there,” Danzig said. “If it’s an important witness, I think being there is so much more important.
There’s nuances you can’t get on video. You have to do a cost-benefit analysis.”
He said if the person is not a party in the case, and they live in Australia or China, it might be worth it to take a video deposition.
Patent attorneys are using today’s technology to help explain complicated devices to juries and judges with advanced presentation tools. “The technology we use in the courtroom is different than 10-15 years ago,” Fish’s Denning said. “Whether it’s an illustration or animation, that can go a long way to explaining what the patent is all about.”
Time management software is available to help attorneys accurately bill their clients and make sure not a minute on the case is squandered.
Advancements in technology not only help lawyers do their job, it allows them to have a life outside of it, too.
Denning uses Skype – a video conferencing site – to see his wife and kids while he’s away for two weeks or longer on a trial.
The latest technology also increases the connectivity lawyers have to their clients.
“It’s an exciting time to be a lawyer, but it’s an exciting time to be anything related to technology,” said Danzig, the attorney from Mintz Levin. “The way technology changes my life as lawyer isn’t any different than the way technology changes how the CFO of a business performs his job or a vice president of business development. The reality is we have the ability to communicate that we didn’t have before.”