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Taking Back the Law Doesn’t Mean Going Backwards

by Carolyn Elefant on January 13, 2012 · 0 comments

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So, I’m not sure what it was about my post last week, Take Back the Law, that lead a few commenters to suggest that I favor the status quo. I mean, I suppose the fact that I didn’t use buzzwords like entrepreneur (because I’m not, really) or enthusiastically promote unbundled virtual law practice (because in my view, a pure virtual firm needs to be a volume practice to make small cases financially viable) or denounce the stodgy old dudes who can’t stand to see young lawyers succeed must have been the tip-off.

Truth is that even though I’m actually proud to be a lawyer, I’d be the last person to suggest that we turn back the clock and return to the day where female lawyers chose either family or career, lawyers had to head to the library or courthouse to research cases and file pleadings, and the only way to meet like-minded colleagues was to attend local bar events and hope for the best — instead of having the opportunity through social media and the web to expand one’s horizons . It may be hard for lawyers two decades my junior to conceive, but past generations have benefited from technology, even if we don’t talk about it all the time. In fact, were it not for email and efile and other techno-advancements that reduced the cost of running a law firm, I’d be extinct myself; a former lawyer with my daughters grown and time on my hands (not to mention, without work as an excuse for a messy house and burnt meals).

But I digress. My point in both my original post and here is that we shouldn’t let technology dictate our where the law is headed. Instead, we need to get out in front and figure out ways to harness technology to make us better, more effective lawyers – not pallid copies of Legal Zoom. In any event, rather than try to explain myself, in this post- and hopefully others – let me give some examples of how lawyers or the legal profession can use technology to take back the law.

The first example of using technology to take back the law comes from Austin, Texas lawyer, Paige Frankenberry, who came up with a neat way to show clients the potential value add of a lawyer. Paige took the concept of the Lawyer Clock, which shows how much time and money lawyer meetings can waste, and turned it on its head, with the Pro Se Clock, which shows how much money a pro se may have to fork over to correct a problem for every minute he waits to hire a lawyer. It’s a tough concept to depict, but Paige bases the calculator on facts from real cases where a pro se botched a matter and paid a price. The Pro Se Clock is far more effective than simply declaring that “only a lawyer can do that,” plus clients have an opportunity to see real examples of cases gone wrong. Sure, this may not convince a pro se to hire a lawyer – and Paige’s site acknowledges that there may be situations where it isn’t necessary. But at the very least, the pro se will come away having a better understanding of a lawyer’s value.

The second example of using tech to take back the law is found, in all places, on a court-sponsored site, Justice for All, a project of the Tennessee Supreme Court. Just the clean modern look of the home page doesn’t resemble anything like your typical institutional bar or court website. Justice for All offers an amazing number of resources – court forms, information and an opportunity to submit a question that a volunteer attorney will answer. Honestly, if every bar association had put out a site like this ten years ago, and included additional resources on small business and estate planning, would we even be talking about Legal Zoom today? By the way, Justice for All also makes it easy for lawyers to sign up for pro bono, find training as a mediator and even set up your own clinic.

Filling out forms is nothing new- lawyers have used forms, albeit on paper, then word processors and now online (and soon as mobile apps) since the beginning of time. Likewise, portals, while still gaining traction are yesterday’s news. As Sam Glover quipped in his plenary this past summer at the Minnesota Solo/Small Firm Conference, “if someone’s already doing it, you’re not being innovative. You’re just catching up.” But opportunities abound for us to use technology to improve the quality of legal services that we deliver and in so doing, expand meaningful access to justice. How are you using technology to further that goal? Please send me an email or post a comment below and you could be featured in an upcoming post.

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