Law in Contemporary Society

Releasing the Ball and Chain

Utilizing Modern Technology As An Advantage

Modern technology allows efficient access to legal information from anywhere, at any time. We can research legal decisions, listen to Supreme Court oral arguments, and read about current legal happenings (such as layoff trends or Souter’s retirement) all while sitting around in our pajamas. Yet, this technology has simultaneously obliterated the end of the business day and the separation between work and play. As law students and future lawyers, it is all too easy to succumb to the ball and chain routine—relentlessly tethered to our professors (or bosses) and classmates (or colleagues) with last-minute assignments, emergency requests, and frantic phone calls. If we learn to utilize the advantages this technology offers, we can gain control over it before it controls us.

Research Efficiently

Legal databases allow us to perform research at our own schedule (rather than limited library hours) while saving significant time in the process. We can customize searches by selecting specific jurisdictions, secondary sources, keywords, etc. Moreover, Lexis and Westlaw provide automatic notifications if case law for a writing assignment receives new negative authority. These features can save considerable time browsing through reference books and checking recent judicial decisions.

Within legal practice, efficient research allows young associates to compensate for their lack of black-letter legal knowledge. While older attorneys are armed with knowledge and experience, young associates are armed with access to information. When individuals can learn the relevant legal principles with the touch of a button, the importance of memorized knowledge is significantly diminished. Efficient research is a considerable advantage and can level the playing field between novice and senior practitioners.

Don't Reinvent the Wheel

When preparing for exams, information access allows us to build upon work completed by other students. Why reinvent the wheel by creating a criminal law outline from scratch when you can take advantage of this one from a student at UPenn? Columbia also provides access to outlines and previous exams for our specific instructors. Utilizing these preparatory tools provides time to achieve a more advanced understanding (or to relax, depending on your priorities).

In legal practice, we can build upon previously created documents and tailor them to a specific client or specific issue, just as basic law school outlines can be customized to a particular professor’s focus. Avoiding the repetition of re-writing and re-working similar agreements, briefs, and memos saves considerable time in the office.

Stay in the Know

Legal blogs provide information of current legal trends, law school happenings, layoffs, worker satisfaction, and much more. These blogs often discuss Columbia events significantly before the administration informs us. For example, Above The Law discussed the termination of Ellen Wayne, former Dean of Career Services, days before Dean Schizer e-mailed the students. Moreover, the prevalence of these blogs requires law schools and employers to be accountable for the statements they make to their students or prospective associates—after all, we can check the accuracy of the statements when we return home.

The same is true in legal practice. Students who ultimately work in large firms can learn about “stealth layoffs,” salary cuts, and company performance long before their firm informs them. That knowledge can allow these associates to seek alternate employment before the rug gets swept out from under them.

Embrace flexibility

Since virtually every legal task (aside from appearing in court) can be completed with a laptop and an internet connection, technology has vastly increased flexibility. In the classroom, professors can record their lectures if students are unable to attend class; classmates can also easily e-mail notes from those same classes. At the same time, students can study for finals or research their briefs from across the country and/or in the middle of the night. In essence, modern technology allows us to work wherever and whenever it is convenient.

In legal practice, this flexibility translates to incredible advantages. First, it provides the possibility for individuals to work from home. Major life events, such as the care of a sick family member or the birth of a child, do not automatically prevent attorneys from effectively practicing law. Options to work from home or to work part-time are becoming significantly more common, especially for women who might have otherwise left the workplace. Second, flexible communication through video chat and e-mail allows legal practitioners to collaborate with other individuals across the country. It is now possible to maintain work with clients or fellow attorneys in different cities or even different countries, since distance does not prevent communication.


Modern technology enables us to become more efficient, more informed attorneys who are able to work at a time and place of our own choosing. Sure, this same technology could also create burdened, relentless attorneys who are forced to work at all times and all places. The difference is choice—are you free to work at a given place and given time, or are you required? Only we can determine whether to utilize this technology as an advantage or to allow ourselves to be tethered to our employers via blackberry, email, and telephone contact. The next two years of law school are a great opportunity to use this modern technology to effectively (and flexibly) research which employers will allow us to use technology to our advantage.

-- LaurenRosenberg - 16 May 2009

  • This is an interesting essay and a good start. It seems to me that you have placed almost exclusive emphasis on low-level information exchanges: basic research, form books and templates, and gossip/business intelligence (or whatever else you call shoptalk). You are right that there have been technological changes bearing on each, though you perhaps overemphasize those changes to the extent that one is asked to suppose, for example, that jurisdictionally and conceptually precise research was difficult using digests and printed case reports.

  • What we don't find here is writing about the higher-order intellectual consequences of the technology shifts: How is the lawyer's ability to conceptualize and persuade affected at less immediate levels by the technological assists available? Can lawyers collaborate outside the structure of firms or other practice aggregations more easily or more effectively? Are some efforts that used to be outside the limits of possibility now achievable? How might remedies or complex ongoing monitoring change? Etc.


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r4 - 08 Jan 2010 - 22:42:56 - IanSullivan
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