Members of the legal profession recognize that today’s technology is an essential tool and enabler to the practice of law in the 21st century. Earlier on however, the perceived complexity of actually using fax machines and photocopiers was reason enough to assign information access and paper retrieval to nonlegal staff. Besides, these must have technologies weren’t typically located close by and you needed to walk down the hall or down to another floor to use them.

This inherent resistance changed rather quickly and dramatically with the emergence and rapid embracing by legal professionals of mobile devices. The arrival of the Blackberry produced a real game-changer in the legal environment, while iPhones and the like accelerated more of a “hands-on” domain particularly by self-proclaimed Luddites who were now also able to access their own personal and separated files while in parallel checking stock market and sports scores. Additionally, the cloud has played a significant role in providing on-demand digital file storage and access capability, time and expense management, e-discovery and associated cost-effective services, sometimes by just using your Blackberry or iPhone!

Wow, technology with all its utility, and bells and whistles, has finally arrived for, and been embraced by, the legal profession! But, it wasn’t always this way. Let me explain.

It was in a cubicle-size, private office in a small downtown law firm at which I first started practicing law. The year was 1969, and I’d received my call to the bar a couple of weeks earlier. A time when Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the then Federal Justice Minister and in later to become the father of a son named Justin, had delivered the oratory. I can still recall his insightful advice to our class that bad laws deserve to be broken — yes sure, good luck with that one!

On my very first day, and for at least three years after that, I was tasked with developing real estate related Statements of Adjustment.  These reflected the apportionment of purchase and sale expenses between the seller and the purchaser of homes and commercial properties.

Although the preparation was somewhat of a tedious and careful process, the firm had an available series of hard covered “Lookup Tables”.  These dark black 8 ½ x 14’ lightly bound volumes facilitated the process of manually calculating how much the hydro, water, property insurance, taxes, etc., might amount to so that the charges could be properly apportioned between the buyer and the seller.

To expedite the actual development of these Statements, I would often borrow the firm’s only 4-function adding machine. This wondrous marvel of technology resided permanently in our bookkeeper’s office. Now, it’s important to remember that this wasn’t the electric calculator that we’ve become used to, but rather one of the 1920s era contraptions. You entered the numbers by pushing down on spring loaded keys and then hand pulled the lever forwards and down. It would, in turn, allow the input to be typed out onto a paper tape – real hard copy! Using the adding machine actually facilitated and speeded up the calculations.

Consequently, after about a month or so after launching my career at that firm, I approached my assigned mentoring partner (who was also the managing partner) and inquired about whether the partnership might be interested in investing in a second adding machine. I explained that it would enable me to perform my job with more precision and accuracy. In support of that argument, I also made the point that a second machine would eliminate the challenge of scheduling availability of the device only when not in use by the bookkeeper, and running back and forth to get the silly thing.

A rather endearing and gentlemanly individual, he told me that he would take the request to the upcoming partners meeting that would be the next day or so. A couple of days later, he returned to my office and said the partners had not approved the purchase and that the shuffling back and forth between the accounting office and my own was to remain as the preferred method. Needless to say, I was somewhat disappointed, but I needed to live with the decision of the partners (at least until I could demonstrate that the firm needed to invest in that or more advanced technology).

A couple of years later, Eaton’s, the then Canada-wide department store leader and principal investor in Rapid Data, a then state-of-the-art Canadian electronic calculator company, had a sale on 4-function, plug into the wall, electronic calculators. While these typically sold in the $3,000 to $4,000 range, they had been put on sale at Eaton’s for around $1,200.

Generating some more nerve, I once again approached my assigned mentoring partner with a similar request, but this time for the purchase of brand spanking new Rapid Data 4-function electronic calculator — same response as earlier, he will take it to the partners meeting.

A couple of days later, I was told that the partners had unanimously agreed to the purchase.

We were now in the age of technology and for which I was the law firm’s key designated user — onwards and upwards!

In upcoming blogs, I hope to describe how technology has gradually evolved in the practice of law coupled with its rate of adoption (or avoidance — yes there is some of that). Stay tuned.

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