The Old Man’s Words of Wisdom

By William G. Schwab


I'm just a country lawyer: just not the stereotypical country lawyer you think of from the movies.

I've never taken a chicken in payment of a legal fee, although in the past I have taken some other unusual items in trade. I practice just outside a small town of about 5,000 people in rural Pennsylvania. I have found being a country lawyer does not diminish my ability to practice good law that at times may make my Philadelphia brethren envious.

In the past being a country lawyer meant that your resources were limited. You were probably a general practitioner: you did a little of this, a little of that. However, in my almost 25 years of practicing in the country, I have seen technology change the entire legal landscape. It has become a leveling factor between city lawyers and country lawyers. It has become a leveling factor between large firms and small firms. It also has become a leveling factor between new and old lawyers.

Today, I practice law differently than when I first started. Any unusual issue meant a trip to a law library in the city. Local resources were extremely limited. Today, from my desktop, I can access through CD-ROM and online services more information than was available 25 years ago at the city law library. My research today is also faster. I don't spend a half a day traveling to and fro. Instead, what I need is probably just a few keystrokes away. As an old lawyer I had to learn technology on the fly, while newer lawyers are taught the tricks of legal research right in law school. I may have experience, but you can overwelm me with computer research.

My office has changed as well. When I started out, the IBM Selectric with its interchangeable ball was the leading technology. I used carbon sets and a photocopier that used a pink paper heat transfer system. It took a tremendous amount of time to get carbonized documents out. Correcting them was a major effort. Large city firms would overwhelm us with paperwork. I couldn't respond in kind. Today, with scanners and personal computers we can trade ream for ream with a humongous firm.

Today it takes only moments to reverse documents and send them back with corrections. Forms do not have to be retyped. Cut-and-paste procedures in your word processors make for quick turnaround. Interrogatories that you used in one case can be brought up on the computer screen, changed, and reprinted. Someone else send you a good set of interrogatories? Scan them using OCR software and, viola, you can use them as a basis for your own use in the future without retyping them. What is second nature to a new lawyer is like a foreign language to many of senior lawyers.

Technology is a great leveler. As a new lawyer use it as a tool. Embrace it. It will allow you to go up against anyone—even a country lawyer like me.

—William G. Schwab, GPSolo New Lawyer Editor
(an old man who is celebrating over 25 years as a general practice lawyer)

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