GPSolo Magazine - June 2005
Days of Our Lives in a Mobile World
The Internet creates its own form of mobility and expands the options of practicing lawyers. I have a friend who got bored one afternoon and decided to go online. She spent the next 12 hours traveling the world, seeing major sights, visiting the best hotels and restaurants, and shopping in the best stores. Among the places she visited on her grand tour: Paris, Hong Kong, New York, London, Rome, Sydney, and San Francisco. When I heard the story, I was impressed with her imagination and ingenuity in using the Internet to create such “virtual mobility.” I thought it clever that she could travel around the world in this way, without actually having to pack a bag or incur any costs other than that of her ISP subscription. Well, actually, it proves not quite so clearly cost-free in reality; the world changes when it comes to shopping. Many stores do online business and let you buy while browsing their wares. That can get expensive (although you do save the cost of the trip).
In addition to offering entertainment and travel mobility, the Internet also allows attorneys and others to work effectively in real time from almost any location in the world. As long as you have an Internet connection, you can obtain access to and work with your own files, court files, county records, and online law libraries that make it possible to do legal research quickly and efficiently. You can even transmit dictation to a secretarial service for transcription and finished documents to the court for filing. These developments not only allow individual lawyers to practice almost anywhere, but they also enable more and more lawyers to economize by practicing in solo or small firm environments—often from their homes, and frequently without full-time support staff. At the same time, it is easier for larger firms to establish and maintain an international presence.
When I was a young man, the business world still touted the virtue of loyalty to a company or firm. Young men and women would graduate from school and look for the job they would have for the rest of their lives. By the time I was in college, that perspective had changed. It was somewhat unusual for workers to plan on being in the same job for their entire adult lives, and even more unusual for someone to actually accomplish that feat. To be sure, some did (and still do) spend all their working years in a single firm, but this has become increasingly unusual.
Mobility has become a staple of our existence. Over the last quarter of a century, changing lifestyles throughout the United States (if not the world) have made all of us more mobile in many ways. As a people, we learned to travel farther to work and shop and for entertainment than we ever had before. A variety of factors contributed to this change in direction for our lives, and recent evolutions of technology are among the most significant. In the last 25 years, the development of information, communications, and computer technologies has opened new doors and provided new opportunities globally. Similarly, the same developments have caused more and more people to jump from one employer to another, perhaps from one position to another, and even from one career to another.
Attorneys deal with these changes at multiple levels in both our private and professional lives. In our professional lives, we face the task of dealing with the evolution and incorporation of technology into our practices and, at the same time, advising our clients how best to deal with the issues that the new technology has created—and all of this within the morass of laws, rules, and regulations that is evolving in response to the ever-evolving technology.
These developments have opened new areas of legal practice. Not too long ago, most of us knew little or nothing about intellectual property (IP) rights. As the number of lawyers whose practices focus primarily on IP has grown, so too has the average practitioner’s sensitivity to IP issues, as well as familiarity with the regulatory system impacting and protecting IP issues. Use of the Internet itself has affected expansion and adjustment of IP rules because people’s ability to use and abuse such rights has expanded.
Several years ago, most attorneys had no concept of e-discovery, its scope, or the issues it brings to the table. Now, more and more lawyers have had to deal with it firsthand, forcing them to adjust their own practices and learn new methods to cope and to be able to advise clients how to deal effectively with electronically stored information in the context of litigation. Attorneys and the companies that service our practices store more information electronically these days, but so do our clients and businesses in general. Clients must be made aware of the need to develop policies for dealing with such data—storing it, protecting it, archiving it, and retrieving it. They must develop procedures to protect them and keep them from running afoul of limitations and regulations associated with electronic data, especially if a client becomes involved in litigation. Lawyers will need to learn more than ever about clients’ operations in order to help them craft appropriate data-retention policies that comply with the law yet facilitate business operations.
New opportunities created by the Internet produce new issues for attorneys. The Internet, that great, seamless web, allows access to more information than most of us could have imagined just 15 or 20 years ago. People of all ages spend more and more time online, using and, unfortunately, sometimes abusing technological advances. Just as this creates opportunities as well as nightmares for our clients, many of the uses and most of the abuses create opportunities—or at least work—for lawyers.
On the plus side, we now have the ability to move significant amounts of information, in sophisticated presentation formats, almost instantaneously from one place to another. It can travel across the room, the office, the city, the country, or the world, simply and easily, and each communication will be identical to any other. Many lawyers thus find it increasingly simple to maintain our practices while traveling: working out of hotel rooms, airline VIP clubs, airport waiting rooms, and even coffee shops in addition to traditional locations like offices, law libraries (an almost archaic concept in terms of a brick-and-mortar location), and the courthouse.
On the minus side, the growth of the Internet, sophisticated search engines, and research ingenuity have conspired to permanently and dramatically alter our concept of privacy. To make matters worse, it is increasingly easy to acquire personal information about an individual and use it to take advantage or, in the extreme, to steal an identity.
But for good or ill, we know one absolute regarding the Internet: It is an established part of our lives and will be long into the future. We cannot hide from it. Lawyers must establish proficiency with technology and its related issues to protect themselves and their clients, and to remain competitive and affordable. At one time, lawyers could ignore technology to some extent or at least downplay its significance. That time has passed.
Jeffrey Allen is the principal in the Graves & Allen law firm in Oakland, California. A frequent speaker on technology topics, he is the special issue editor of GPSolo’s Technology & Practice Guide and editor-in-chief of the Technology eReport. He also teaches business law in the graduate and undergraduate divisions of the Business School of the University of Phoenix. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.