Your Voice

The confessions of a legal technophobe

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Marcel Strigberger

I wish to share my thoughts about a significant problem stressing many of our more senior colleagues in practice these days. Though there are several, I am talking about what I found to be a high stressor, namely the demon of rapidly changing technology.

In 1974, I was called to the bar of the province of Ontario (Canada, eh!). I guess that makes me a baby boomer. Initially, I practiced in association with several other lawyers. I was the youngest in the group.

The mainstay tool in a law office in the mid-1970s B.C. (before computers) was the typewriter. If your assistant made an error, she (probably 99 percent of assistants then were “she”) would take out a little bottle of whiteout and dab it onto the paper, wait a few seconds for it to dry, and then type the correct character(s) over the white area. We had no problems with this delete function.

Then the magic invention came along: the IBM Selectric typewriter with auto correction. If you made a typo, you just back spaced, hit a correction button, and that would trigger a whiteout ribbon to delete the letters or words non grata. This awesome device likely rivaled the invention of the Gutenberg press.

I was the first lawyer, as expected, in the office to get one of these amazing machines. The cost if I recall in 1974 was about $1,000. (OK, they were Canadian dollars, but hard-earned).

I recall the day the IBM guy delivered the machine. The entire office gathered around him as he uncrated and tested it. The event looked like a scene out of that historic moment in 1903 at Kitty Hawk. “Orville Wright” typed a few words and deliberately misspelled the word “banana,” adding an extra “n” in the middle. With a devilish smile, he back tracked, deleted the word with seven keystrokes and retyped it without the offensive “n.” Everyone in the room uttered a loud “aah.”

Computers did not start hitting law offices en masse until the mid-1980s. Many lawyers thought that they would replace staff, such as assistants, also known in those days as secretaries.

Given that the typing skills of most lawyers (including myself) were not up to the challenge, that was not an option. We would just hover around our assistants watching with awe how they moved words around or redid pages of script in seconds.

There was no internet then. If you wanted to look up a word, you opened a book with a name like Oxford Dictionary or Roget’s Thesaurus. I was comfortable with that. So were many of my colleagues.

Then came the turn of the 20th century. Remember Y2K, where the doomsayers predicted all our computers would go bananas (spelled properly the first attempt)? As we entered the new century, I found practicing law progressively more frustrating as a result of lightning-speed technology changes.

I would attend seminars, and one of the rages was the paperless office. The very thought of destroying paper never sat well with me. While I see advantages of having quick access to reams of information, I like to have a document I can touch and spread on my desk and read, scribbling pencil notes and making highlights with a yellow highlighter. As well, I was simply not able to fathom paying $2,500 for a medical legal report and then shredding it. I would find that blasphemous.

I found that the tech issues created a new dimension of dependence on an unlikely but not unusual source, common to my contemporaries: our children. I found myself calling my kids for support on everything from what a browser was to how to clear a cache. And what a cache was.

My son Daniel, an insurance lawyer, incidentally traveled to New York recently. Being a great dad, I gave him a paper map of the city. He demonstrated his appreciation by unfolding it and saying facetiously: “I am pressing my finger on 42nd Street. How come I am not getting a Google street view?” He went on to graciously decline my generous offer of the marked-up and colorful, yellow-highlighted, well-worn map that had served me well.

The last few years of my practice saw the evolution of e-filing, e-discovery, e-this and e-that. Even filing my annual application and report with my errors and omissions insurer had to be done online. I was always concerned what would happen if while fumbling through the process I made errors. Not a great way to impress them. Might raise red flags.

The last year of my practice saw me attending a conference whereby a young trial lawyer (who looked like he just finished his freshman year at law school) told his audience that when he conducts a jury trial, he has all the proposed evidence on a computer, demonstrating it on a projector. In court, he hands out iPads for opposing counsel, the judge, the court registrar and the jury members. I was knocked off my feet. I did, however, say to myself that likely the expense was probably less than the cost of my IBM Selectric.

He was adamant that he was getting super-results, and that anyone not practicing this way was in the horse and buggy age, looking for trouble. I mentioned this to my smart-ass son, and he asked me who my blacksmith was.

There are, of course, other stressors in the practice of law. But we lawyers are not the quickest group to adapt to change. I likely fell in the middle of the bell curve on this one.

This is a different bell than the telephone system companies. Though tempted, I will not go there, other than to say that when push-button phones came into being and we would call a number and get a voice that said: “And if you have a dial phone, please stay on the line,” I stayed on the line in any event, as that led to having a chat with a live person.

Marcel Strigberger, after 40-plus years of practicing civil litigation, closed his law office and decided to continue to pursue his writing and speaking passions. is accepting queries for original, thoughtful, nonpromotional articles and commentary by unpaid contributors to run in the Your Voice section. Details and submission guidelines are posted at “Your Submissions, Your Voice.”

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