I was recently hearkening back with a colleague of my vintage about the technological changes we've seen in the practice of law over the last three decades.
I remember my first job as a lawyer with an old-school, decades old law firm in downtown Kansas City, in 1985. Eighteen lawyers on the 18th floor of the iconic Power and Light Building.
Lawyers dictated all day into a microphone cabled to a bulky desktop tape recorder. Secretaries then transcribed those tapes onto paper with electric typewriters.
Many lawyers of that era wouldn't know how to type. And it was not part of the job.
There were no computers. So if you wanted to correct something that had been transcribed, it either had to be retyped, or the correction made to fit in the space created by a bottle of Wite-Out.
Our law library consisted of a room with rows upon rows of shelves filled with books.
Our runner, or law clerk, walked to the state and federal courthouses at the end of each day to hand file the pleadings in the many cases we were handling.
If you called a law firm, a court, a business, or a government office, someone actually answered the phone, and asked you who you wanted to talk to. If they weren't available, they wrote your name and telephone number on a slip of paper for them to call you back.
We didn't have a fax machine, so if documents had to be expedited across town, the runner did that too. That was some serious job security.
I remember once I got a call from a law school classmate from out of town who needed an important pleading filed in Kansas City. The deadline was that day. I said I'd be happy to help in any way, but I was not sure how. He asked if we had a “fax machine.” I wasn't sure what that was, but I was reasonably sure we didn't have one. So “no,” I told him, we didn't.
He asked if there was a Kinko's somewhere in downtown Kansas City.
I pulled out the big bulky telephone book from under my phone. Sure enough, there was, and they had a fax machine. Lo and behold.
Later that day, I was at Kinko's, picking up a fax from my out-of-town law school classmate to walk to the federal courthouse to hand file.
Modern technology, I thought. Wow. The world is changing.
Nowadays, everything has changed.
Only old codgers like me still dictate, and about the only use for an electric typewriter these days is as an anchor for a small boat. Everything is, of course, input and transcribed on computer hard drives, where it can be saved, edited, re-written, reused, and printed out as need be.
Law books on shelves now have only decorative value. They really do look stately. But law libraries are computerized. I have a complete state and federal law library, with more collections, books, and data than that room on the 18th floor, at my fingertips, both at my office and at home.
When you make a telephone call these days to a business, a court, or a government office, most of the time you'll have difficulty getting to talk to an actual person, which has always been my preferred way of communicating. Instead, oftentimes you get recordings, with prompts, which lead you to more recordings.
The days of fax machines have come and gone. Older guys like me still use them, but more and more, everything is email. Even I am substantially converted.
And, we don't hand file pleadings anymore. That is all done electronically, with the push of a button from the friendly confines of the office, and instead of mailing a copy to all other counsel in the case, like in the good old days, a copy is automatically zipped to them electronically the second it is filed. Despite all these advances, I'm still not sure things are any easier, overall. Still, I guess there is no stopping progress. So I guess I'll just try to keep up with it all.
Ken Garten is a Blue Springs attorney. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org