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  • Writer's pictureFred Wilf

The Last 25 Years and the Next 25 Years

Going on 30 years, I continue to re-invent my practice as the legal industry continues to re-invent the practice of law.  Despite the ongoing myth of lawyers using quill pens, technology has always played a central part in the delivery of legal services.

Each improvement in what we now call information technology led to improvements in legal services.  Gutenberg’s hand-operated press was used to print small numbers of law books.  The industrial revolution led to cheaper books, and soon lawyers could own their own libraries, floor-to-ceiling, of treatises, statutes, regulations, cases, and yet more books to index, organize and find information in all of the other books.  Just before the Internet gained traction, law schools were competing with each other by building bigger and bigger law libraries, each designed to hold millions of books.

Not surprisingly, a large part of a lawyer’s practice for many years has been to find the law.  Most of the laws, regulations and cases were printed in books that were not available to the general public.  Once the lawyer found the law, only then would he or she interpret it for the client.  As more and more law resources have become available on the Internet, the finding part of each lawyer’s practice is now smaller.  Non-lawyers can and should feel free to surf the Internet, and read statutes, regulations and cases, although many law resources remain behind pay walls.  The focus of legal services continues to shift more to interpretation, transactions and dispute resolution, as it should.

As one example of how technology directly affects the practice of law, I have uploaded to Scribd an article I wrote in 1991 about a trademark infringement suit that Gerry Elman and I defended in 1988.  While the technology I describe in the article now sounds like it’s out of a steampunk novel (Modems!  Emails!  Databases!), it was cutting edge at a time when users paid one hourly rate to connect at 1200 bits per second (bps, not kbps or mbps), a larger hourly rate to connect at 2400 bps, and an outrageously expensive rate to connect at 9600 bps.

Of course, the good news is that technology continues to improve.  I see no reason why the next 25 years won’t be as explosive in the development of new technology as it has been the last 25 years.

Some of the problems that need to be solved today seem familiar.  Back in the day, I had multiple email addresses on multiple email systems because emails from an MCI Mail email account could not easily reach a CompuServe email account, which in turn could not easily reach email accounts on America Online, Prodigy or The Source.  The current analogue is social media; why do we need to have multiple social media accounts?  A user who prefers LinkedIn should not also need a Facebook account, a Pinterest account and a Twitter account.  Instead, as with email accounts of old, each user should be able to choose one social media site, load it up with data, and then subscribe to the user’s friends, colleagues and other connections, regardless of whether each connection is on the same social media site or a different social media site.  So, which social media site is brave enough to be disruptive in this manner?  If you want to pursue this idea, or any other idea using information technology, please contact me.  Let’s make the next 25 years even more interesting than the last 25 years!

Disclosures:  The 1991 article describes a lawsuit in which Gerry Elman and I represented Med Associates, Inc.  Currently, I do not represent Med Associates, Inc.


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