Law in Contemporary Society
Communication and Technology -- By MichaelPanfil? - 27 Feb 2009 -- Edited by Andres O'Farrell

Individuals are, at least in part, a product of their environment. This assertion is not meant to begin an argument in the realm of nature versus nurture, but rather to provide a relatively well-accepted foundational assumption to act as a beginning point. The referenced environment is in no way static – time and place change experience in a broad fashion, and individual family, community, and professional norms further specify an individual’s particular experience. These differences and movements are impacted in no small part through technological advances – inventions that bridge communities such as the car, the telephone, or the Internet have had an expansive influence upon individual environments. It is this impact that is at issue in this paper, with respect to one particular type of vocation – the legal professional.

This essay examines the rapid expansion of technology and communication, and the extent to which it has had an impact –if any- on the framework and underlying understanding of how legal professionals approach legal problems.


Before proceeding to the argument, it may be helpful to provide definitions for a few terms used. First, when the word ‘thought’ is used, the reference made is not only to a logical or philosophical system, but rather refers to mental processes but conscious and unconscious. Secondly, the term legal professional is not constricted to only those who have, through law school or some other formal training, become judges or lawyers. Rather, this term is meant to refer to any individual engaged in rule or regulation creation or discussion. Lastly, the term communication references all types of interaction, including written, spoken, and unspoken exchanges of ideas. Lawyers within communities

Oliver Wendell Holmes, in the Path of Law describes the study of law as the study of what we (we being legal professionals) do. Lawyers then, like some Nietzsche-esque bird of prey are described by the act of doing, the verb without need of the noun, the underlying action guided not by a moral mandate but by a societal driven system of norms and guidelines. Equally important, however, is the group described – that is, legal professionals. The inclusive ‘we’ defines a community, which is narrowed not only by profession, but also by location and time. What ‘we’ as legal professionals ‘do’ is different from what ‘other’ legal professionals ‘do’. A lawyer’s underlying thought process in Louisiana is quite different than a legal professional’s mental and subconscious calculus in Rwanda. So long as every community is not the same (which seems to be a safe assumption), it thus follows that legal professionals in different communities understand law differently.

Language, thought, and causality

There is no true consensus as to how understanding (and from that, thought) operates. Traditionally, rational thought and logic were placed at a beginning point, which in turn led to communication, and from that, the transmission of one individual’s logic to another. Although several flaws can be found in this view, it is the assumed causality that is of particular importance here. Thought leading to communication was, for quite some time assumed automatically. However, as argued best by Lev Vygotsky, in Thought and Language, the true causal connection is quite possibly the opposite – that is, communication creates thought. Vygotsky argues then, that instead of thought creating the way communication occurs, communication impacts the way one thinks. This occurs at a subconscious level – the way one examines the world, and internalizes the external forces into a particular perception is done through an internalization of communication. This internalization of particular communications in turn drives thought, so that the process by which one understands his surroundings is impacted by the way he utilizes language.

Technology and communication

Taken together, the arguments made by Holmes and Vygotsky have significant ramifications for how legal professionals operate. Legal decisions, made on the basis of what one ‘does’ rather than what one ‘says’, creates communication understood and unconsciously internalized by legal professionals in that particular community. However, as mentioned previously, communities are impacted and expanded by technology. If the way ideas are transmitted itself influences how ideas are internalized, every particular legal professional in a certain community not only ‘thinks’ differently than that community at large, she ‘thinks’ differently then legal professionals in different communities.


What has been the impact of recent technological advances in the legal community? Education is, perhaps, one of the areas in which these advances have had a most obvious influence. A law student in Indiana can find (with a bit of research) decisions passed down French courts. Law students in New York can converse with counterparts in Tokyo. In a similar way, legal institutions are expanding internationally at an increasing pace, to the point where it schools with no international programs have become the exception rather than the norm.

The bearing on the legal profession is equally evident. Improvements in communications and transportation have shaped the world into a single, global market, to which professionals of all fields have been forced to open up. And law firms have responded. Indeed, all of the mayor players in the business have overseas offices, international departments, hire foreign attorneys, offer services in a great variety of languages, and often make most of their profits from transnational work.

International cooperation between government agencies has also spawned as a result of advances in global communications, to the point that separate, national bodies of law have become virtually unsustainable in certain areas of the law. In matters of securities and financial regulation, for example, with cross-border transactions being the rule rather than the exception, governments have recently accepted the enactment of an international body of basic rules and principles as an urgent imperative.

In this context of technological innovation, mastering these new tools has become a “must” for lawyers. In this sense, technological proefficiency (e.g., working with programs such as Lexis, Word, Powerpoint, Excel, etc.) has become a necessary prerequisite for those willing to enter the legal market.

It is certain, then, that technology has a strong bearing on the legal profession and has brought about many important changes. The proper question is: to what extent have these changes affected the way in which legal professionals think? In other words: did these innovations have a substantial impact on the underlying basis, on the essence of the legal profession?

In my opinion, the answer is: no.

When faced with the task of writing a reaction paper on a case, for instance, a law student today will rely on the internet for research purposes, and on emails to exchange and discuss all relevant material with his or her peers. However, these instrumentalities set aside, the substance of the actual assignment will be no different than that of a law student drafting a similar paper fifty years ago. In the end, the idea is to analyze a given set of facts, the relevant rules of law, and give an opinion on the application of such rule by the court or authority in question.

In a similar way, because of these technological advances, a litigator nowadays will rely on evidence that would have been unconceivable not so long ago. Indeed, the breakthroughs in the field of forensic technology have forever affected the way in which evidence is presented in court. However, the essence of a trial attorney’s role remains unchanged: making the best possible argument on behalf of his client and obtain a ruling from the court that best serves the interests he is representing.

The same can be said about transactional lawyering. In this sense, a legal counselor will depend on a wide array of technological tools when providing the legal architecture for a client’s transaction. And yet, the underlying premise of his intervention is essentially the same: providing the legal framework that best serves the interests of his client, allowing for the maximization of benefits and minimization of costs of the deal.


Technology’s influence upon the legal profession is not judged to be ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but merely as an occurrence. This work attempts to examine a way in which recent technological advances have influenced, and will continue to impact, the legal community.

This being said, I believe that the changes observed in the legal profession as a result of the technological advances discussed above, even if multiple and diverse, are ultimately instrumental in nature. Lawyers today can now choose within a wider realm of tools to tackle the challenges posed by the profession, but the core, the substance of the profession itself has survived (and I believe will continue to survive) the wave of technological innovations .


Webs Webs

r2 - 08 Jan 2010 - 22:32:59 - IanSullivan
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