The Virtual Lawyer
By Barry NeilShrum, Founder, Shrum & Associates
Barry NeilShrum Technological advances over the past two decades have greatly impacted every segment of business, and the practice of law is no exception. Like many fellow barristers, I am a confessed geek and lover of all gadgets, so I met these technological changes with open, albeit sometimes reluctant, arms. From that first day in 1995 when I bought my first Palm Pilot at a CompUSA in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, I have been exploring ways to make my profession as a lawyer easier through the use of technology. Now, 20 years later, it’s fashionable to be a geek.
The technology I was using then, the aforementioned Palm Pilot, is now as antiquated as the Texas Instrument 994A computer I referenced in the original article. Technology changes quickly, and now there are a plethora technology choices that are specific to or can be applied to the practice of law.
But it’s more than just technology that has advanced.
My current arsenal of hardware for document creation includes an Android smartphone and a 10-inch Windows tablet all connected to my primary desktop computer back in my “office” via the cloud. Using a combination of various cloud services, including Sugarsync, Google Drive, and OneDrive, my entire document database is online and I can create and edit documents anywhere, conducting my business at any remote location. Sugarsync’s “Magic Briefcase” folder that syncs across devices allows me to have real time access to any document on which I’m currently working.
This kind of efficient cloud-based system would not be possible if not for the advances made in scanning and OCR technologies over the past 20 years. When I was starting out in my legal career as a paralegal, I would frequently travel from Philadelphia to J. Feuerstein Systems in Parsippany New Jersey to “code” thousands of documents in a massive litigation. JFS would then enter the coded documents into a “scanned” database, encoding them with keywords – a service which our clients paid huge sums of money. That type of scanning and data entry can now be achieved just as effectively on a personal computer, or even a smartphone, using free or low-cost software.
In addition to mail, a today’s lawyer must rely on efficient systems for processing payments and invoices. Here again, cloud-based payments methods come to the rescue. I have been using Freshbooks for my invoicing for over five years now. I use it to keep track of my billable hours.
Of course, all of this cloud-based activity would not be functional without adequate hardware support. As a gadget junky, I am always integrating new toys into the mix, but have currently settled on a quadrant of items that make my life flow smoothly. It all begins with an all-in-one desktop system with dual-screen set up.
My supporting devices include the latest 10-inch Sony Vaio Window’s tablet running Windows 8, a OnePlus One smartphone and my LG-R smartwatch, but truly the smartphone is quickly becoming the central element of that equation. I also occasionally use an 8-inch LG tablet running Android, but usually just for reading. All of the main devices run versions of Microsoft Office, Evernote and Sugarsync, my real trio of office software, so that I can review or revise any document at any time on any of the devices.
Using these devices and software combinations, I address the basic functions a lawyer must perform in his or her daily life: (1) Docketing/Calendaring; (2) Timekeeping & Billing; (3) Contact Management; (4) Task Management; (5) Research, Reference & Retrieval of Information.