It’s interesting how mobile technologies, like the cell phone or Blackberry, pager or laptop can serve as a leash or as liberation, depending on context. This article, Blackberry: High tech Ball and Chain for Lawyers, Boston Globe (12/22/05) reveals that law firm Burns & Levinson uses Blackberries to keep lawyers on a tight leash, always tethered to the law firm. At least, that’s according to a memo from Bill Bixby, one of the firm’s partner’s to firm attorneys:
”[Blackberries] are not just accessories or collectors’ items,” Brian D. Bixby, cochairman of the firm’s private clients group, wrote in his memo, which became public after being sent anonymously to Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly. ”They are not to be used only when you feel like sending an e-mail. They are supposed to make you more accessible for receiving e-mails after hours and on weekends.”
Bixby’s memo perfectly captures the abyss-like gap between how large
firms and solos and small practitioners view and rely on technology. For me, wireless internet access and cell phones don’t tie me down – instead, they liberate me. Technology enables me to pack up my practice and take it to my daughters’ school so that I can meet the teachers but still talk to clients on break. Back in 2001, technology let me spend the summer with my husband and daughters in Birmingham, Alabama, where my husband was working on a contract – and allowed me to continue my law practice without my clients ever knowing that I’d left town.
For solos and small firm lawyers, technology is always a means to an end, to serving clients or to giving us more flexibility. Technology like blogs helped us reach out to the world, gave us more exposure. In short, technology empowers us solos and small firms and expands our world. By contrast, for big firm lawyers, technology at worst, de-powers, by keeping associates on a tight string or giving them tools like LEXIS so that they can endlessly research a project to death. And even at best – when used for static websites or billing records, technology simply reinforces large firm practices, like the glossy brochure or hourly rate practices. As GAL frequently points out, large firms don’t use technology to transcend and to change, but simply to hold course.
I guess I always realized that difference myself, but it took something as small as a Blackberry and a controlling partner’s memo to really drive it home.