GPSolo Technology & Practice Guide - June 2006
A Few Thoughts on the Perils of Mobility
Welcome to another great issue of GPSolo. The theme of this Technology & Practice Guide edition is mobility, and it’s all about how today’s technology allows us to better serve clients from practically anywhere at practically any time.
One article, Jeffrey S. Krause’s “ Do You Sleep with Your BlackBerry?” (page 42), reminds us of the dangers our technology has thrust upon us. We all now have the capability of virtual 24/7/365 real-time access to courts and clients—and they to us. This “benefit” can come at a terrible price if it’s not properly managed and controlled. The fact that clients have instant access to us and us to them does not mean that we can or should provide legal services “on demand.”
We became lawyers (and took an oath) to support, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States and to practice law and provide legal services to our clients with our best learning, discretion, and good fidelity both to court and to client. We did not become lawyers to render the most instant services possible or to bill the maximum number of hours humanly possible each and every day.
Technology has revolutionized the ways in which we practice law, and drastic alterations loom ahead. My law practice began in 1981. I think it is difficult for today’s new lawyer to realize (I know it is sometimes hard for me to remember) that the practice of law 25 short years ago was more like Abraham Lincoln’s practice than today’s. We had no cell phones, no Internet, no faxes, no computers, and no word processing programs (powerful or otherwise). If you wanted to communicate with a client or another lawyer, you met face-to-face, talked on the telephone, or wrote a letter that, most likely, was transmitted by the United States Postal Service and wouldn’t be delivered for a couple of days. Things obviously moved then at a much slower pace, and a lawyer had much more time for thought, reflection, and a life outside the practice.
ABA President Michael S. Greco recognizes that, for most all lawyers, the realities of today’s practice have an adverse practical impact on idealism. He says that many of today’s young lawyers enter the practice fully expecting to engage in pro bono representation to criminal defendants, victims of domestic violence, immigrant children, elderly residents in need of affordable housing and medical treatment, and small business owners struggling with legal problems; or they may expect to render valuable public service on town councils and nonprofit boards or by running for elective office or coaching youth sports teams. But he observes that “many soon become disappointed and frustrated as the demands of their law practice severely limit the time and opportunities they have to contribute to society. For veteran lawyers as well, the pressures and pace of law practice often make it difficult to participate in the life of their communities.”
Because President Greco believes that the pressures detracting from our commitment to idealism are so serious, last August he appointed a Commission on the Renaissance of Idealism in the Legal Profession to coordinate an effort to highlight the need for lawyers to be able to strike a better balance between their lives and law practices and to have the time to volunteer their legal training to those in need, to help improve their communities, and in the process to find greater fulfillment in their legal careers. The Honorary Co-Chairs of the Commission are the Hon. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and Theodore C. Sorensen, Esq., former Special Counsel to President John F. Kennedy. The Chair is Mark D. Agrast, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C., and a member of the ABA Board of Governors.
The General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division is an active participant in and embraces the work of this Commission. A part of the Commission’s work product is now available in the form of a “Pro Bono and Public Service Best Practices Resource Guide,” which is available online at www.abanet.org/renaissance/bestpractices/home.html. I urge you to take a look at all of the Renaissance Commission’s materials and in particular this excellent resource.
More importantly, I urge you—as you enjoy this great issue of GPSolo and consider all the various aspects of the lawyer’s mobile practice—to remember from time to time to just slow down. Turn off all your mobile devices and reflect on the reasons you became a lawyer and your role in and obligations to your profession, family, friends, and community. Unplug, think, and reflect.
The ideals of our profession demand that we embrace and use technology to enhance our abilities to provide better legal services and defend liberty and pursue justice, but these ideals also demand that we not become slaves to our devices.