Vol. 82, No. 3, March 2009
Recently, I gave a talk in a hotel near O’Hare Airport. En route, I was happy to find that all the construction north of the airport was finished, and all the I-Pass booths were open. I couldn’t stop marveling at the I-Pass technology. An overhead message board reads and charges the credit balance on my I-Pass as I drive through. When the balance gets low, my credit card is charged to replenish my account. Maybe someday, technology will eliminate accidents and road construction so that an “easy” drive to O’Hare will become commonplace.
On the way, I used my new portable global positioning unit to help me find the hotel. My outspoken but monotone tour guide chided me for deviating from the programmed route. “Recalculating route” it intoned as I drove into the gas station to refuel. These are amazing gadgets. Satellites orbiting earth locate my reasonably priced computer wherever I may be in the world and display an icon of my car on the electronic map on the tiny screen. The calculus is refined enough to measure my speed and predict when I will arrive at my destination. Maybe someday, I will leave on time so that I can arrive on time.
Isn’t technology marvelous? It makes driving to O’Hare easy and enjoyable, even if it can’t control all the human factors. But that’s nothing compared to how technology helps me in my practice.
The State Bar has given all its members a gift of technology this year in making FastCaseTM, the online legal research service, available to members at no charge. Online legal research is not new, but it is a marvel in general, and when “free,” it is nothing short of a miracle. Wisconsin lawyers can save a considerable amount of time and money with FastCase. And to increase news coverage, in February the State Bar launched InsideTrack, a twice-monthly electronic newsletter covering issues affecting the legal community and providing information about Bar products, services, and events. These State Bar benefits are more amazing than the I-Pass, because we don’t have to touch a credit card to receive them.
In my practice, I have been working on a plan to allow the rapid sharing of documents with clients by creating a password-protected “blog” for each client. These private blogs will allow me or my staff to immediately post letters, faxes, or other documents in a special client file on the Internet. When new items are posted, an email automatically will be sent to the client. Clients will be able to instantly access their files online. Such Internet sites are secure enough that ethicists have approved their use for confidential and privileged communication. If I can post time-sensitive client material to the Internet, I won’t have to worry about the confidentiality of emailing or faxing or whether disclaimers effectively keep the wrong recipients from reading material they receive in error.
Some law offices are paperless. Paper records are scanned, digitized, and stored in hard drives and on the Internet. Law firm storage space for old client files will become a thing of the past. Digital impulses will replace tons of paper. I know that eventually, my paper files in storage will be electronically stored. When the phrase “going to storage” simply means going online or attaching a separate hard drive to the office computer, I will relish another technological miracle.
I carry my laptop computer on all my trips. It can, by use of online software, double as my office computer everywhere I go in the world. I work online every day and use Google searches regularly. Recently released Google statistics indicate that 30 billion Google searches are performed every month.
The only thing my laptop lacks is an automatic shut-off switch that locks me out when I’ve already worked too much on any given day. As marvelous as technology is, there is no online package for work-life balance. Just because we can work all the time doesn’t mean we should. In an I-Pass and GPS world, such a shut-off switch should be deliverable online, and soon.