Editor’s note: This is an installment in the “Reference Manual of Legal Tech Lists,” an eBook set for release this spring. Read the prior installments here, and feel free to pre-register for your copy of the complete eBook using the form below.
There are lots of tropes related to lawyers and law firms that frequently show up in works of fiction.
The thing is, those tropes are tropes because they’re sort of old; they’ve been around for a long time.
Now, however, modern technology can solve a heck of a lot of those issues.
So, for this edition of the “Reference Manual of Lists,” we’re going to relay a trope, offer an example, and talk about how legal tech actually fixes the problem today. (Catch up on the first five here.)
Trope 6: Kidnapped!
Lawyers in television and film are often portrayed as targets for bad actors. They’re always getting kidnapped, or ransomed, or shot at.
Sometimes they’re *trying to do the right thing* and are targeted for that; other times, they’re bad actors themselves; and, some other times, they’re truly just collateral damage. It ain’t easy bein’ a JD.
Exemplary Scene: In “Breaking Bad,” Saul Goodman gets snatched, and brought out to the desert, so Walt and Jesse can threaten him. This is in the early stages of Walt’s burgeoning criminal enterprise, and, Saul deals in flip phones (“burner phones”), for criminals — it’s really amateur hour, all around.
But, I feel like, if Saul had a smartphone, Walt and Jesse might not even have checked for that. But, he doesn’t end up needing it, because he convinces Walt and Jesse that he’s better off alive, than dead, for their purposes.
The Modern, LegalTech Solution: Of course, if Saul was carrying a smartphone around, he could have been tracked, via location services.
Trope 7: Conflict? Check.
It’s the worst thing in the world for an attorney — you’re knee-deep in a representation, and you discover a conflict. What’s worse still is if it’s one you should have picked up on prior to signing the client. Better ring up your malpractice carrier — because it’s on, now!
Exemplary Scene: So, as you might expect, there aren’t a lot of movies or television shows that depict an attorney staring intently at a computer screen, trying to define whether a conflict exists. Let’s face it: That is kind of boring.
But, conflicts always come up in the context of divorce, within the entertainment industrial complex. Whenever characters get divorced, they’re racing to conflict out every attorney in town. This actually just happened in the second episode of the fourth season of “Succession.”
The Modern, LegalTech Solution: Now, there isn’t any tool that is an “automated” conflict checker — despite the fact that attorneys would really, really like something like that.
I think that’s probably an AI tool, down the road, but the current systems aren’t sophisticated enough to manage that, on their own. I know, it’s a bummer.
However, since most of the softwares you use in your law practice are, at some level, contact management tools, you can run a contact search within your system, to see whether your new lead shares a corporate name, last name or address with one of your existing clients.
Many systems will also automate a conflict alert, to let you know (without your having to look) whether one of those potential issues exists — then, you can make the ultimate call on the conflict, as a full-fledged human being.
Trope 8: Small Time, Big Time
Especially if you’re a new attorney — or, if you happen to be low-ranking — office space can get scarce. You may be feeling like you’re working out of a closet — because you are.
And, this is a consistent trope in film, as well — the new, wide-eyed employee has all her stuff together for her first day at the office, only to have her dreams ruptured by the opening of a door, leading into the smallest office imaginable. Or, I guess it could be worse: You could be ushered into a cubicle.
Exemplary Scene: In the cult classic 1999 movie, “Office Space,” Milton is always getting shafted by Lumberg. His office cubicle moves from the main floor, to a darkened basement. So, I guess it could always get even worse. Just don’t burn the building down, okay?
The Modern, LegalTech Solution: Both “Office Space” and office space are sort of vestiges of the pre-pandemic time, as it’s unlikely that the traditional 9 to 5 office job is going to make a comeback — at least for knowledge workers, like attorneys.
With the availability of cloud software, you can do pretty much anything you can do at your office, at home — including picking up the phone, via VoIP software. And, if you need to utilize a traditional office, hoteling (sharing office space with your coworkers, on a schedule) and coworking spaces allow you that option.
Trope 9: The Need for Speed
Lawyers are always answering to someone: bosses, clients, the corporations they work for. It never ends.
And, in the modern world, the expectation is always to get things done faster.
In the pre-Internet Age, attorneys could fiddle around, charging by the hour, and racking up the minutes, with little complaint from clients and supervisors. But, those same clients and supervisors are now aware that efficiency is the name of the game. And, it seems like, in movies and TV shows, people are always complaining about how their lawyers are not working fast enough.
The Modern, LegalTech Solution: Well, it turns out that there is a reason why people are aggressive about this stuff.
That’s because it is easier to be efficient using modern technology. You’ve just got to, you know: actually use it.
Now, putting down a full recitation of all the time-saving legal tech tools that have released over the last 20 years or so would extend past any reasonable word count, but perhaps the most immediate efficiency upgrade any law firm can make is the adoption of document assembly software, which can cut down the time you spend building documents from scratch, in dramatic fashion.
But, you don’t have to take my word for it . . . (Actually, you should. Just take my word for it.)
Trope 10: Dewey Need a Decimal System?
Back in the day, when movie lawyers needed to research a topic, it was straight to the law library they went!
That venerable old building, with impressive columns and wooden shelving, as far as the eye could see, was the bastion of all legal knowledge.
Now, those images are mostly used in graphics for law firm logos, and it is the rare attorney who stumbles into a law library these days — at least on purpose.
But, as you might have guessed, there are lots of 20th Century movies, where attorneys are hitting the research trails hard, and in-person.
Exemplary Scene: In the movie “Philadelphia,” both Tom Hanks and his lawyer, Denzel Washington, go to the law library to research together. (That’s kind of weird, honestly.) And, the law librarian is kind of a jerk — though, that does further the plot of the film.
The Modern, LegalTech Solution: Even when I was in law school (2000-03), we were moving away from books for research.
So if middle-aged lawyers like me are out here having cracked open maybe three or four legal research tomes in their entire legal careers, that probably means that the majority of attorneys have been online researching for a not insignificant portion of their own careers.
Now, the good news is that, in my opinion, legal research is probably the software that has taken the most steps toward leveraging artificial intelligence — and, that promises to continue, as AI tools keep advancing, hellbent on destroying the world.
But, hey: At least when that happens, we’ll still have those old paper texts available to rely on.
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