I often receive these questions from colleagues: “Can you look up something for me? I don’t know where to start,” or “Can you verify some information for me? I looked for hours for the book at the law library, and when I found it, the pages I needed were missing.”
Lawyers who started practicing before the mid-1990s were there when the computer was just a replacement for an electric typewriter, and research was done within the firm library, courthouse library, or nearby law school.
I remember my first encounter with computer-assisted research in college while I was trying to pass my basic computer language class, and my terror in law school, when I tried to use computer-assisted research and concluded I needed to be an engineer. Like many of my colleagues, my resolution was to leave the computer alone.
However, if you practice any federal law, you probably have to file documents online because your cases are handled electronically. Some counties like Orange and Sacramento have gone to electronic filing. Alameda County boasts one of the best systems in the country, posting all filed documents online for free retrieval and printing.
In sum, if you don’t embrace technology, you will probably be left behind. Regardless of the technology you use, when making technology decisions the following should shape your thinking:
- What can I afford?
- How can I get the most for my money or, maximize my return on investment [ROI]?
- What is available? Are there new or improved products?
- Is the technology easy to use or will it require extensive training?
- How easy is it to obtain technical support, and how do I access the technology?
The following websites and email services are helpful in making hardware and/or software decisions:
The American Bar Association
The American Bar Association has a wonderful Legal Technology Resource Center. I have used this ABA site for several years. There are many software and hardware comparison charts. Many discounts are available to ABA members. Its annual technology report is available for free download to ABA members and is a warehouse for the latest trends in legal. For the technologically-inclined, you can join a test group and provide feedback for different products, often for a discount on purchase and the ability to ask for your favorite features. Website: www.americanbar.org/groups/departments_offices/legal_technology_resources.
TechnoLawyer is an email publication providing real-life issues and solutions. It is written by lawyers from solos and small firms. It has an archive of articles which rarely miss a subject.
One archive area, called Small Law, is a tremendous resource for newly minted solo, small or large law firms. The Small Law archive examines practical tools for lawyers with respect to technology and practicing law in general. The archives are a tremendous help to practitioners for realizing practical solutions to common problems.
With the proliferation of technologies today, lawyers do not have time to try and review everything. TechnoLawyer will likely have an article addressing your issue. A great feature is that it provides the author’s contact information and they tend to respond within a day.
TechnoLawyer also provides tips and articles regarding details a lawyer should consider when buying a computer. Hardware reviews are available, and you can publish a review in connection with your experience using specific hardware and/or software. Website: www.technolawyer.com.
Law Technology News
This is a free publication in print and electronic form. While geared toward Chief Information Officer types at large law firms and corporate legal departments, it has a great annual report on the latest legal trends. This publication also regularly has articles examining the financial impact of an investment in information technology. Website: www.lawtechnologynews.com.
Accounting Technology is a free email service published by Accounting Today. It’s a great clearinghouse for accounting technology information. Accounting Technology also has an annual review of the latest software products. A great feature of this publication is its examination of the future of accounting technology, legal and financial service business models, and how technology shapes them. Website: www.accountingtoday.com.
Gregory Harper has a solo legal practice in Point Richmond, California specializing in tax and criminal law. A graduate of the University of California Hastings College of Law, before settling into his practice he held an appellate court clerkship, worked at the Contra Costa County Public Defenders’ office, had a financial planning company and served as a pro tem judge for the California Superior Court.
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