Practicing law today is not exactly the same as when I started my career in 1998. Don’t get me wrong. The technical legal work is similar. I mean if a client hires a lawyer to draft a will, contract, or patent application, the lawyer delivers a will, contract or patent application that doesn’t look all that different today than in 1998.
Nevertheless, the practice of law has changed. How that contract is drafted…how lawyers communicate with clients…the impact of the Internet and technology on your law practice…well that’s a different story. A story that I wish to share with you.
In the spirit of the season, I’m going to take a page from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. As you may recall, a grumpy old man named Ebenezer Scrooge loved one thing, money. He basically hated every one and every thing else. On one fateful Christmas Eve night, he was visited by a series of ghosts (The Ghosts of Christmas’ Past, Present, and Future) to show him the error of his ways.
Well, today may I present to you, A Lawyer’s Carol. In order to see where we are headed, it is important to understand where we’ve been. I will start my story at the beginning of my legal career, the late 1990’s, which would be the beginning of the end of the “Good Old Days”. Let’s take a walk down memory lane with Ghost of Lawyers Past, shall we?
Way back at the start of my legal career in 1998, many practicing lawyers thought that 21st century law practice would look pretty similar to 1990’s law practice. We would use our computers to draft documents in a word processing program like Microsoft Word. Documents our clients would (happily) pay for in 6-minute blocks of time. (They would also pay for things like copies, faxes, paper clips, etc.)
A lot of our day-to-day work was time-consuming to complete. (A good thing when you’re billing by the hour.) We would do our research in physical law libraries using actual books. Firms would hire armies of young attorneys to do grunt work like document review and discovery so partners could work on the “important” legal matters.
The way we communicated with our clients was starting to change. Email was pretty common, but we sent actual paper letters printed on fancy letterhead. We also still had our trusty fax machine in the office.
The Internet was new. It didn’t seem all that “professional” and most of us had no idea where it fit into our law practice. Most law firms didn’t even have websites. They were expensive and we were dubious of their marketing value. Who the heck would look us up on line when they could just look in the Yellow Pages?
Attorneys ignored the World Wide Web and technology without major consequence. Having a cell phone was enough. We loved calling our friends and clients on our flip-phones. (Seriously, what else could you do with a phone?)
Our Internet connection was dial-up. Our computers were big, bulky machines that sat on desks. Wi-Fi what? It was still cool to have an AOL email address. There was no social media. No YouTube. Amazon was a small company that sold a few books online. I’m pretty sure you bought the latest Harry Potter novel at a bookstore. We bought our music on CDs. The newspaper industry was booming. I still watched network television to get my news.
In 2000, you didn’t worry about privacy, data protection or hackers. There was no cloud or e-commerce. Your clients paid by check, a check your assistant took to the bank.
And everyone thought it couldn’t get any better. These were the best of times. (I know it’s from a different Dickens’ novel, but it works here.) It was good to be a lawyer. Money grew on trees.
We were fat, dumb and happy, and that’s why no one saw the storm coming. It was the perfect storm that changed everything…