GPSolo Magazine - June 2005
Hop Aboard the Being Solo Time Machine
Come along with me on the Being Solo Time Machine as we visit key moments in the history of the Internet, then travel into the Internet’s amazing future. Yes, for the mere price of your ABA membership and Section dues, ride with me through the past, and to points in time that are yet to be.
Watch your step—and remember to buckle up.
I remember the year that I first put my e-mail address on my stationery. It was 1995, and this was a gutsy thing for any attorney to do, much less a solo attorney. I received a lot of questions about that odd thing right there at the top of my letterhead. Ironically, some of the questions came from people who eventually caught up with what was happening and went on to speak at high-priced conferences about the Internet’s latest trends. Although very few lawyers communicated via e-mail back then, I had some Internet clients who were thrilled that their attorney was hip enough to have an e-mail address—and knew how to use it.
There were lots of networking events back then in New York City, and lots of the players and up-and-coming entrepreneurs would show up at them to make connections. It was all so new; we were all still learning. There hadn’t been time for an established elite to develop yet. As an experiment at one networking event, I wrote “Cyber Lawyer” on my name tag—I was mobbed by the curious crowd.
Meanwhile, more of my clients were beginning to learn about e-mail. I began to use it more and more, and faxes and overnight services less and less, to deliver documents.
In 1997 and 1998 I wrote a series of articles for the New York Law Journal on helpful websites for lawyers. There weren’t too many of them, and not too many law firms themselves had websites. One of my articles described web resources for small business clients. Another gave a fairly complete survey of all the websites on securities law. That article was cited in a report presented to a U.S. Senate subcommittee on securities law prepared by two leading securities lawyers. (Okay, I know you’re curious. You can find the subcommittee report at http://securities.stanford.edu/research/articles/19970723sen1.html. I am mentioned in footnote 2. You didn’t think I was making this up, did you?)
It wasn’t too hard to get noticed because there simply wasn’t a lot being written about the law and the Internet back then, at least not when compared to today. But it would be difficult, if not impossible, for me to report on every website related to securities law today in a single article. The number of websites on every area of law has exploded, and they include resources beyond simple legal research. There are blogs (online journals) and new technologies such as RSS feeds that enable viewing all the varieties of information (see the article “Get Your Blog Rolling” on page 28 for more information).
Something else that I barely noticed was also changing about the way I practiced law. I had a filing cabinet full of my prized form documents, law-related articles, and other relevant documents I had collected through the years. I consulted it on an almost daily basis. But starting in the early 1990s, I went to the filing cabinet less and less. I developed documents on my computer, making it unnecessary to go back to the printed form. Exchanging documents via e-mail with other attorneys led to my saving more forms to my computer, which accelerated this process. I began collecting newspaper articles by saving them to my hard drive from each publication’s website. The final blow came when most government agencies began making their forms available online as PDF (portable document format) files. Now I rarely consult my forms filing cabinet, and my next task will be to clear out a lot of that paper I never look at anymore.
These days I feel a bit like George Jetson, except I don’t fly to work. Okay, I don’t have a robot maid, either. But my cell phone also contains my personal organizer with more than a thousand names, addresses, and phone numbers; my calendar with all of my appointments and reminders; a feature that allows me to dial phone numbers with a voice command; an MP3 player; a web browser for viewing any website on the planet; and e-mail “client” software that lets me read and respond to my e-mail. Oh, yes, it also has a memo function that allows me to type in text, draw multicolored pictures, and create voice memos. All in one compact unit that fits into my shirt pocket.
I never go to the post office to buy stamps because I use Stamps.com to order my postage off the Internet. I don’t need a fax machine tying up an office phone line because Efax.com delivers my faxes to me as PDF files via e-mail. I pay a number of bills online, and although I am not yet talking to my computer (other than occasional curses), I hear that PC voice-dictation software is an incredibly transformative tool. I have various ways of backing up my data, including low-cost external hard drives that hold enormous amounts of data and a keychain drive that works by simply plugging it into a USB port; occasionally I’ll store large documents on Gmail, a free e-mail service provided by Google that recently increased its storage limit from one to two gigabytes.
I see the Internet becoming more and more useful for the solo attorney, and prices getting better and better. More legal databases will become available as alternatives to the top-tier services, at lower costs. More general business services will become available for solo and small law firms, bringing with them functional sophistication and scope that were previously available only to large companies and at higher costs.
Several things are driving these developments. First, large technology companies in this sector are becoming more aware that they can make money from small law firms and solo attorneys as well as large law firms. The ability to automate many processes and communicate cheaply over the Internet permits them to serve much smaller businesses and serve them well at a competitive cost. Second, many small start-up companies are seeing new business opportunities in emerging technologies, such as the offsite backup business discussed below.
Third, broadband is increasing the types of services that can be provided to all kinds of businesses, small and large. One example of this is Netsuite ( www.netsuite.com), an integrated web-based accounting program for smaller companies. Both the software application and your data are stored on Netsuite’s servers, not on your computer hard drives, and you access them through your web browser. Doing this would be a much slower process without broadband.
Another example is automated offsite backup of your computer data. This type of service never could have existed in the world of dial-up. But the speed of broadband connections makes this new industry, so far populated primarily by smaller companies, a reality. Take a look at Backup My Info! (at, you guessed it, www.backupmyinfo.com) as a good example of one such company.
Why are these advances so important to you? Can’t you just keep things simple, the way they have always been? Unfortunately, you cannot. As more of these services become available and adopted by your fellow solo attorneys, you will be forced to do the same just to keep up. My guess is that an application like video conferencing will one day—soon—require you to get a broadband connection. Remember my story about my clients who were thrilled by my e-mail use? After a while, potential clients were telling me that any attorney they hired must use e-mail.
The Internet lets you easily keep up with the latest developments, and the ABA’s various publications, including GPSolo magazine’s June and December “Technology & Practice Guide” issues and the quarterly GPSolo Technology eReport ( www.abanet.org/genpractice/home.html), are a good place to start.
We have arrived back at the present. Watch your step as you get off the Being Solo Time Machine. You may experience some nausea or dizziness from your time-travel journey. This is only normal and should go away quickly. Development of new technologies, however, will not.
David Leffler is a member of the New York City law firm Leffler Marcus & McCaffrey LLC, which represents clients in business matters and litigation. Prior to that he was a solo attorney for more than a dozen years. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.