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January/February 2022

Editor's Note: The 2022 TECHSHOW Inspires Reflections on How Far We’ve Come

In 40 years, the practice of law has been transformed. We continue to grapple with the changes.

Lance G. Johnson

ABA TECHSHOW is an annual spring rite of technology working for you, enabling work where you want and when you can with new time for family and school events. This is technology that enables new conversations with more convenience and less cost. There is much to like about the future legal technologies at TECHSHOW.

It’s also a time for news of new threats to your system security and confidential client records. This last part always scares the bejeebers (a highly technical term of art) out of me and makes me think too fondly of the days when being online referred to the open dial-up connection. Everyone was air-gapped on a sneaker-net of floppy disks. The internet was something folks only had at home.

In the days of bulky monochrome monitors, data storage was a 10 MB hard drive and 360 KB floppies that were 5.25 inches in diameter. This was an upgrade from the earlier eight-inch disks used by the earliest adopters. (The typing pool at the patent office used the eight-inch diskettes.) I was jazzed when the 1.44 MB floppies in 3.5 hard cases became available. Computer shows were popular so tinkerers could assemble and build their computer rather than buy one of the commercial versions from IBM or Compaq.

My first firm-provided PC was a Compaq that was disassembled below a table in the docketing department. I asked about it and was informed that it was just taking up space because it didn’t work. If I could fix it, I could have it to use for work. It worked just fine once properly assembled. With my 15-pin, near letter quality printer and WordPerfect, I was creating documents without dictation and readily reusing content where I could. I was a bit of an outlier among associates since the firm’s rule was that they would buy the $1,500 software to connect to the firm’s mainframe if the associate brought in their own computer. Maybe one other associate had a PC under this structure.

That was until my firm’s litigation team needed to merge its portion of the final brief with the other portion from another firm. The runner had just arrived with the disk from the other firm. The clock had started.

The filing deadline to deposit the final hard copy across town was in two hours, but the documents were in incompatible formats. Our mainframe did not have a 3.5-inch floppy drive. This was not nearly enough time to retype either portion. Only one partner had a PC, but it didn’t have the right size floppy drive or software that would recognize the document. They had to figure out a way to merge my firm’s nonstandard text document with the other firm’s version without admitting that the firm’s IT infrastructure was ancient.

A somewhat desperate partner showed up at my door. (In those days, that step alone was a statement.) Fortunately, I had a solution. I had upgraded my reassembled Compaq with 5.25- and 3.5- inch floppy drives. My version of WordPerfect could import the text version of our section as well as the Word version of the other, combine the two in a hard copy with proper formatting and output a final document in a text version that could be loaded back into the mainframe for final revision and formatting.

Yes, we made the deadline. The next year, we put in a network of PCs. The secretaries even got color monitors.

Today’s prospects for the future of legal technology raise very different issues than back in the mainframe days. Our lead feature article by Nicole Black, “Q&A Roundtable: The Future of Legal Technology” is a high-level, long-term discussion of technology for the practice of law.

Whether or not you plan to attend, be sure to read Roberta Tepper’s article “TECHSHOW Pro Potpourri” with tech tips and software suggestions from past chairs and co-chairs of TECHSHOW. You may find one or more that make your daily process smoother and more efficient.

We should be aware that the benefits of technology are not evenly distributed. Those with differing abilities in sight or hearing still face daily challenges to make use of the tools geared toward the mainstream. Get an update on their efforts to open access to more in the article “Growing at a Glacial Pace.”

New technologies often bring new challenges for courts and litigators. In “Interpreting Emojis and Emoticons,” Heather King delves into the problems of divining author meaning and intent of emoji icons and other types of word-free symbols. Laura O’Bryan also shares her views on better tools for helping clients in a virtual setting in her article “Virtual Lawyering in a Pandemic and Beyond.”

Lastly, Sharon Nelson and John Simek directly address security concerns for any lawyer whose computer is connected to the Internet in their article “Zero Trust Architecture: An Imperative for Law Firms.” The door deadbolt for my old sneaker-net now looks a whole lot different.

Lance G. Johnson


Lance G. Johnson is the owner of Johnson Legal PLLC in Fairfax, Virginia, and is currently the editor-in-chief of Law Practice magazine. [email protected]

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