Solo’s Most Reliable Innovation Is Only a Click Away

Posted Sep 28, 2010 2:15 PM CDT
By Stephen M. Anderson

Editor’s Note: We asked solo practitioners to write an essay or record a video telling us how they innovate. Specifically, they were asked to answer this question: “What innovation will be most valuable to you in your future practice as a solo practitioner?”The author of the best submission will get a check for $5,000. This year’s winner will be announced Friday, Oct. 1. And Monday through Thursday, we’re posting submissions from the runners-up.

The success of my solo law practice hinges on an innovative device that is reliable, affordable and effective. This technological marvel allows me to process vast amounts of legal information and separate the useful from the useless. I can create cogent legal arguments in well-crafted briefs that often persuade judges and please my clients. This indispensable tool is crucial to my understanding of the law and my continued success as a solo attorney who practices under the big sky of rural Montana, where cows outnumber people.

While some gadgets are merely helpful, some tolerable and others annoying, my favorite invention is crucial to the success of my practice. I cannot practice without it and would never dream of giving it up. It never needs charging. It never needs updates. It never needs downloads. It never crashes. It never fails. It never breaks. What is it? My ballpoint pen of course. Click, click. Nonsense you say? How could a ballpoint pen allow me to accomplish all these tasks?

The streaming deluge of new electronic gadgets continues to pour down on us like Yellowstone Falls, demanding that we buy the latest and greatest, urging us to stare at another screen, tap another keyboard or, now, tap a screen. We have cellphones, iPhones, iPads, BlackBerrys, Droids. We e-mail, tweet and text. It’s instant communication and information at our fingertips. We pride ourselves on our ability to multitask.

But we’ve forgotten what it’s like to take our time and think, process and create. To do one thing at a time. And to do it well. Research is showing that the frenetic techno-wave to which we’ve been subjected—and to which we eagerly overindulge ourselves—is changing the way our brains function. Our attention spans have shortened. Our creativity has diminished. Our patience has thinned. Some of the greatest ideas in the history of thought—Darwin’s theory of evolution and Newton’s law of gravity for example—came to their authors from unhurried reflection. And by applying quill pens to paper, they refined their explosive breakthroughs and changed the world.

The lack of civility in our profession can be traced to our dependence on all the gizmos we use. We rely on symbols, snippets and phrases that breed virtual relationships rather than face-to-face meetings, letters or even phone calls that remind us that our colleague is flesh and blood. It’s so easy to be snotty and rude to an adversary in an e-mail, text or tweet. But it’s not so easy when we have to write a message by hand or sit down, look each other in the eye and first ask, “How are you?”

My trusty ballpoint pen slows me down. It gives me a tactile connection to my thoughts for any note, brief or letter. I can pause, think and chew on the pen’s button for a moment before resuming that ancient process of thinking and writing. If the ink runs out? I grab another. If I lose one? I grab another. If a colleague forgets to bring a pen to court, I give him one of mine. “Keep it,” I say. “Thanks,” she says. I can personalize them and give them to clients as gifts. My pen can be the catalyst for meaningful, personal exchanges that form the basis for the social bonds that define us as a culture. And the simple pen can be an integer in the human formula that allows us as sole practitioners to provide our unique brand of genuine, deliberate and effective representation. And that guarantees success. Click, click.—Stephen M. Anderson

Stephen M. Anderson is a solo practitioner in Montana City, Mont.

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