September 1, 2011

From The Top: Senior Lawyers Need to Be Internet Savvy

By Bruce Alan Mann

In the last issue of Experience I said that the success of our efforts to move from hard copy and snail mail to the Inter- net and email will depend on your willingness to participate. But why should you? If you’re looking for companionship, you may find the reason in Dr. Bob Gordon’s article on divorce in this issue of Voice of Experience, in which he notes that the popular dating site, Match.com, boasts 2.5 million senior listings. But what about the rest of us who aren’t looking for a date? 

The simple answer is that mental exercise, both learning how to use new technologies and interacting with others, is part of the key to maintaining good mental health. Dr. Gordon’s article in the last issue of VOE explains this in terms of its impact on various brain areas, and although I don’t know the left side of the frontal cortex from the anterior cingulated gyrus, he clearly does and concludes that human brains are in fact able to improve with age.

Many of us are comfortable using the Internet to send and receive email and to search for information for which we formerly looked in books. Remember encyclopedias anddictionaries? Google, Yahoo, and other search engines have replaced them. We also put less faith in so-called experts and rely more heavily on the views of our contemporaries. Remember Duncan Hines, Michelin, and other restaurant reviewers? Today many more people follow the reviews by other diners through sites like Zagatand OpenTable. Relyingon “bottom up” rather than “top down” information has spawned sites such as Wikipedia, Angie’s List, and Yelp.

Far fewer seniors have climbed on the social media bandwagon and use blogs, tweets, and other means of peer-to-peer communication. Nonetheless, the rapid growth of social media has been truly amazing. Facebook is only 7 years old and has over 800 million users and is adding 100 million users every 5 months. Twitter has over 200 million users who sent over 25 billion tweets in 2010 and conducted 1 billion search queries daily. Ah, but you say this is only for kids and is not of interest to mature adults. Not true! Around 60% of Americans regularly interact with companies on social media sites. As of January 2010, 65% of the Fortune Global 100 companies sponsored Twitter accounts and 54% had Facebook pages. There are 62 world leaders on Twitter, including 15 of the G20 leaders, and 19 of the 27 EU countries.

Senior loneliness and isolation are not only unhealthy, but they are unnecessary. As we age, many of us become less able to participate in outside group activities, but we have more time at home for other activities. Increasing our television watching to fill the time is no substitute for social interaction. The Internet makes it possible for us to continue to participate in society, express our views, and share thoughts with others through blogs, threaded discussions, and listservs. The problem for many of us is that to enjoy the benefits of social media participation requires learning new skills, and we need help from teachers who recognize that no matter how intelligent we are, we were not raised in the Internet basis. He ultimately graduated from Howard as a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He then received a scholarship to attend Harvard Law School, where his studies were interrupted by World War II. After serving as a decorated captain in an “all-Negro” unit in the South Pacific theater, Judge Leighton completed his Harvard Law School studies.

He chose to practice in Chicago, where he had never visited, because his research indicated that Chicago was the only city at that time with an African American in the U.S. Congress. After a career as one of the city’s top litigators in criminal law and civil rights, George was elected in 1964 to the Circuit Court of Cook County. Subsequently, he ascended to the Illinois Appellate Court, and after nomination by President Gerald Ford, he served from 1976 until 1987 on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

Since that time he has been associated with the firm of Neal & Leroy in Chicago, where he practices civil rights and appellate law. At age 97, Judge Leighton was featured in a New York Times article about his representation in court of a client in connection with a long-standing piece of major litigation. In April 2010, George provided a wonderful career review when I interviewed him at an ACLU meeting. Among his many awards are the ABA Medal (its highest award) and the first Honorable George N. Leighton Justice Award from the Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission.

The careers of these seven outstanding individuals have inspired me and convinced me that so long as I enjoy good health I should continue my Public Affairs Roundtable and Illinois ACLU activities. I hope that this recitation will have a similar effect on other members of the Senior Lawyers Division who might also be approaching a retirement-decision stage. 

Ronald S. Miller is a partner at the Chicago law firm of Miller Shakman & Beem LLP.