After last week’s visit to the Legal Expo in London I am definitely feeling my age. When I started my training contract (or articles as they were called in the dark ages) secretaries had electric typewriters which flashed one sentence across a narrow screen just above the keyboard, the firm was in the process of phasing out its telex machine in favour of this new-fangled idea called fax, the accounts team computer was the size of a small room, we all time recorded with pen and paper and bills were calculated by a costs clerk. As time went on we were all very excited if we had an important enough meeting out of the office to justify taking the office mobile phone which was truly the size of a brick.
I was reminded of this especially last week when one of our trainees asked in all innocence “what’s that?” pointing to an electric typewriter sitting on a spare table and kept for the occasional form that cannot now be completed online.
Things have moved on and now we have an array of technology designed to help us through the working week. We are continually connected to everything and everyone wherever we go. It takes a massive amount of discipline or a remote holiday location to disconnect you to the office for the two weeks rest and recuperation we all look forward to each summer and the emails and messages flow through evenings and weekends. Does this make us better lawyers or managers? I am not sure as sometimes we need to consider and contemplate rather than rush to respond. I think also it leads to a tendency for us to think we have to be in control at all times whereas we have surrounded ourselves with colleagues who are more than capable of stepping in if we are not around and for whom we would of course offer the same support and courtesy. This is what would happen of course if we fell under the proverbial bus!
However, lots of this technology is exciting and does enable the law practice today to operate in ways we would never have contemplated when we were asking switchboard to send us an urgent telex. The speed at which we can turn around work and change documents has transformed the way transactions progress now. We do not need to retype wills from scratch when there is a mistake or change of plan but can call up the draft and make alterations, we don’t use endless coloured pens to show parties changes to a lease and then spend hours deciphering handwriting and working out what was the last change before proofreading a document from cover to cover but track changes so they are clear for all to see and consider, we can find precedents on support services continually updated to take into account latest case law or legislation.
Last week at the Legal Expo in London there was an amazing and dazzling array of technology and support services. There seemed to be software to do everything but make the tea! The changes will continue to come, most of them will improve our working lives and it is inevitable that a trainee of the future will question some forgotten piece of equipment left in the corner of the office – or perhaps they won’t as we will all be working form virtual offices at home? I hope not because whilst technology can replace many of the labour intensive tasks we need to perform it cannot replace the most important part of office life the interaction between colleagues to discuss technical legal points , to provide support and to work together to provide a first class legal service to clients.