I love gadgets. I freely admit that.
As a kid, I suffered through life in rural Kansas where my choice of TV stations were CBS, NBC, and PBS (later, we got an ABC affiliate, and the local community rejoiced). If we changed between CBS and NBC, we had to adjust the rabbit ears and avoid standing to the right of the TV. There was regularity to our TV watching. Every Saturday at 7PM after dinner, we’d all sit down and watch “Hee Haw.” Coming home from school, I could always count on “Scooby Doo” (The non-Scrappy ones. Scrappy pisses me off.) and “Happy Days.” Tuesdays, I always planned for the 7PM showing of “Knight Rider.”
TV was planned then. When nothing but crap was broadcast, you found other stuff to do (we didn’t get a VCR until I was in late high school). Normally, the other activities were moderately productive or engaging, at least. Now, thousands of entertaining shows are available to me on demand–on a device I carry with me all the time. It is a constant potential distraction. The benefits of convenience are balanced by the constant threat of poor productivity.
Technology seeps into every aspect of life and profession. In law, we’ve seen plenty of this. Lawyers jump at any chance to get a technological edge. Many purchase new doo-dads and resolve to somehow integrate their functions into practice. Although, I think the practice should dictate what devices are obtained to make life a little easier. Call me crazy.
I’m sure every tech device has been somehow shoehorned into a law practice by an enterprising young attorney. Likely, someone discovered how to center their practice around the first generation iPod, the PSP, and the Epilady. It’s like Rule 34, only for tech in law practice. If there has been a tech device invented, someone claims to use it as the cornerstone of law practice. It may not work well, but they are jazzed at the thought of having the most tech savvy office in town.
Others are so enthused (or so desperate) by tech that they write whole books about it. Social media, using iPads, Twitter, cloud computing (whatever the hell that is), and apps have all been treated to whole shelves of books dedicated to showing how they are the future of law practice. If you’re looking to make the ABA (I am not a member) gush all over you, just write a book about some tech-squirrely-thingie. I’ve never bought one of these books, but I’ve paged through a few. They are an excruciating read. In one night, I could write a more interesting tome about how to harvest and catalog dingleberries.
You can choose to have a tech-centric practice, but, if you do, be prepared for a short drop and sudden stop. When it goes wrong, it goes really wrong.
Now, I’m not saying you should dedicate yourself to a chaste luddite life. If you find that a piece of tech can help you to communicate, organize, and better serve your clients, go for it. Just be able to answer these questions: “Will this help me serve my clients better?” and “If this tech system craps-out, will my clients’s be hurt?” If the answer to the first question is ‘Yes’ and the second is ‘No,’ enjoy your new tech.
Just be careful.
I’ll close with an anecdote.
A fellow attorney was lauded for his use of tech (particularly PowerPoint slideshows) during closing arguments. He used pictures and music to portray a very touching scene designed to get the finder of fact to sympathize with his client. In one case, he used it in a Involuntary Manslaughter case where the client drank, drove, wrecked, and killed the passenger in the car. The case was actually a negotiated plea for 2 years. The judge sentenced his client to 4 years. So, his client did the 2 years as negotiated.
He felt like he was on a roll, and a lot of folks complimented him on using a very emotional PowerPoint in his closing. As a result, his boss encouraged everyone to find ways to incorporate technology into their openings and closings.
He got a new client. The kid faced charges for weed and passing joints. He confessed. When he pissed, it glowed. He had a problem. Everyone could see that. He was pathetic.
The lawyer chose to fight the charges before a jury of military officer and noncommissioned officers. Eight of them. Most of us recommended the judge alone. We knew he’d probably give a year of confinement, but no punitive military discharge. Just long enough to get clean.
“Cut your losses,” we said. “Military juries get pissed about this stuff. Go with the judge.”
He didn’t listen. He wanted to make music. He wanted to extract emotion. And he wanted to try it on a jury.
His client was guilty. They all knew that. For sentencing argument, the attorney rambled for 50minutes, then presented a musical powerpoint as the finale’. The lights turned on after the song, and the jury’s faces told a simple story.
They were pissed.
Not even an hour passed for deliberations. 5 years, bad-conduct discharge. It was 3 years harsher than a guy caught with 35 child pornography videos some months earlier.
PowerPoint may be an amazing program, but it lacked luster that day.
The song may have told a story, but nobody wanted to hear the plot.
All that technology made things disingenuous. It made him look desperate.
It mean’t the client lost five of his best years. For him, it was a terror.
Let those electron pushers help you, but never give them control.