General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionTechnology & Practice Guide

American Bar Association
General Practice, Solo, and Small Firm Division

The Compleat Lawyer, Fall 1996, Vol. 13, No. 4

From the Editor

jennifer j. rose

jennifer j. rose, a sole practitioner in Shenandoah, Iowa, is editor-in-chief of The Compleat Lawyer. She can be reached by e-mail at

You're a Big Girl Now
While the kids of my generation slept late or studied religion on Sunday mornings, my mother took me on a weekly pilgrimage to Handyman, Southern California's mecca of power tools and do-it-yourself paraphernalia. Despite her best efforts, her mechanical savvy didn't rub off. She ended up with a klutz of a daughter who's terrorized by power tools.

Even though two state Supreme Courts and the U.S. Supreme Court have admitted me to their ranks and made me an "officer," and even though I've bought cars and real estate in foreign countries, I found the experience of committing to computers to be harrowing. Too many choices, too many options. When it was really time to "byte" the bullet six years ago, I sheepishly handed a Dell catalog to my good friend David Vandagriff and said "pick something."

One recent Sunday morning, seduced by full-page ads in living color and convinced that 44 years' residence on this planet and a law degree qualified me to buy computer peripherals and software on my own, I sallied into Fry's, a California computer megastore...the '90s version of Handyman. Visions of a new keyboard, some extra RAM, and Microsoft Office Suite danced in my head.

At the software department, I was confronted with choices I'd forgotten to anticipate: regular or competitive upgrade, disc or CD-ROM. Because the disc-filled box was much heavier than its CD-ROM alternative, I opted for the former, figuring I'd get my money's worth. Proud of my progress, I looked in vain for a copy of Netscape 1.1, figuring a purchased copy had to be far better than what might be grabbed from the net.

Venturing, now confidently, to the keyboard aisle, I took a quick poll among the customers (counting twice the votes of the bespectacled and pocket-protected) to determine which keyboard best suited my needs. Waylaid by an array of enticing laptops, it took me an hour to find laser toner.

When I finally reached the checkout line, no fewer than 2,425 shoppers were ahead of me. Traumatized by the prospect of standing in line for several hours, I abandoned my selections and walked out in complete frustration. From now on, it's mail order for me.

Never Gonna Be the Same Again
So many issues face today's solo and small firm practitioners. The work environment has become more than just hardware and there's freeware and shareware and vaporware. Book-lined walls have become denuded and pine groves reforested as those tastefully bound reporters have given way to CD-ROM libraries.

Back in the days of the Eisenhower administration, lawyers surely weren't confronted with the dizzying array of technological choices that confound today's practitioner. What did they need except a Smith Corona, some carbon paper, an adding machine, and perhaps a few books? Instead of pondering whether to load that fountain pen with blue or black ink, we have to debate Mac or PC, T-1 or ISDN, Corel or Microsoft, Lexis or Westlaw.

General practice is appealing to both lawyers and the clients they serve because of the technological tsunamis eradicating the genteel graceful delay that marked legal practice of yore. Instead of the anticipated erosion by specialization, the general practitioner's lot is now enhanced by technology.

If a simple trip to the computer store bewildered me, I could only imagine the travails inflicted upon someone looking for legal counsel. From a client's perspective, picking a lawyer used to be an easy task: the client went to Bill who handled everything from real estate to divorce and personal injury. Today, the road to redress is marked by cul-de-sacs, overpasses, and U-turns, and it's not as easy for a client to figure out which specialist might be best for an ADA, sexual harassment, or debt restructuring case.

The problem is further compounded when the client can't even read the label identifying the predicament. The general practitioner is better equipped than ever before to act as a concierge to specialized fields or even to foray as a foot soldier into uncharted territory. The millennium harks the return to the general store.

One More Cup of Coffee
And by the way, I'm still looking for a general store for my computer needs, where the clerks are all knowledgeable and friendly, the prices cheap, and the selection ample. If you know of one, let me know. It's taken me exactly one year to discover that my CD-ROM plays music in addition to its previous function as a coffee cup holder.

Copyright (c) 1996 American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.

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