Technology and Law Practice: what’s changed?

andrew neel 218073There are many benefits to exposure to law students.  The use of technology in the classroom is unsurprisingly ubiquitous.  I have become accustomed to having a discussion of current events cross-chec
ked against a real time search on the internet for up to the moment verification.   Books are practically relics; if statutes and cases are available online, who needs to tote around pounds of law tomes?  This generation of law students is probably going to have more healthy backs.

Technology can make anyone over the age of 40 feel something like a bag of dinosaur bones.  But the more intriguing  and less technologically dependent phenomenon of today’s law students is their interest in collaboration.  Although their overall approach to law school is destined to remain on their own individual grades for as long as each student’s grade depends on his or her own test or essay performance, I see a difference in the approach to assignments and class participation that suggests a level of collaboration above and beyond the traditional study group from my law school era.  I think this is very positive and welcome development.

The model for practicing law that I was weaned on was entirely top down, with the input of the most senior lawyers as the most important – and there on down through the ranks to staff.  After more than 30 years of practicing law, most of that time as a sole practitioner or in very small firms, I have come to believe that this model is outdated.  I am not suggesting that it be entirely discarded.  Lawyers who have been practicing for a long time should have experience that merits respect; as a society, we should listen to our elders.  But respect is not the same thing as a dictate, an absolute instruction from on high.  I believe that the outdated model should be replaced with a collaborative one, in which every member of the team is not merely allowed input but is encouraged to actively contribute to decision-making.

Collaboration allows a team to capitalize on the strengths of each member.  It is hopelessly unrealistic to expect that every lawyer or paraprofessional has the same skill set; by focusing on strengths, the team approach concomitantly allows individual weaknesses to be minimized.  The group approach has the additional advantage of providing seamless services that accommodate schedules for holidays and family time.  If everyone on the team is more or less equally educated about the case, it is much more conducive to providing time for the other important demands of life; the need for one person who knows everything about the case evaporates.

Our firm works very closely together.  We begin most days with informal discussions about the demands of the day and the week, immediate deadlines and long-term projects.  We talk through strategy; we take the time to think before making decisions.  An added benefit of this approach is that it teaches the entire team how to effectively approach a problem and how to strategize solutions.  Knowledge is power, and our team work allows our collective knowledge to be harnessed for the benefit of our clients, cost-consciously.

I tell my law school students that clients do not walk through the door with how-to manuals; they do not come with instructions.  Every client in every case is different and the collaborative team approach to solving the problems of each individual case works well for us and our clients.