Legal Practice in the Digital Age

4 June 2003

Legal Practice in the Digital Age: The Quest for the Killer Legal App. London: Bowerdean Publishing (1998)
Author: Christian, Charles
ISBN: 0906097355

This short (110 pages) book offers a frank exploration of the potential impact of new technologies on the legal profession. Charles Christian writes with verve, insight and wit - his taxonomy of attorneys according to their attitudes to the impact of the legal future is amusing; for instance, he describes those firms which see computers as a passing phase as "Sunset firms", and sneers at those which engage in pseudo corporate re-engineering with their logos and "mission statements".

Along with analysis and practical recommendations, the author covers the problems and opportunities posed by the new technologies to the legal profession. He believes that the hundreds of millions of pounds, which have been spent by the English legal profession on "killer applications" have been wasted, for the simple reason that "[the] legal business is so diverse in terms of the size of practices, the type of work being handled and the differing needs of practitioners that there is not and can never be a universal one-size-fits-all killer app that will benefit all lawyers. At best one lawyers IT success story is another practitioners 'so-what-who-cares?' technology".

The other reason is that technology has primarily made the lives of employees easier, rather than the lives of the lawyers. With good reason he thinks that the basic business of lawyering has not changed; only the back-end technology such as accounting, case management systems and conveyancing packages has.

This is about to change. By adopting the new digital technologies, lawyers will have a way of "... both delivering legal services to an increasingly sophisticated client base and allowing practitioners to regain control of their workloads and start to recover some of the lost quality of life through increased efficiency, productivity and profitability".

Drawing the various strands of his argument together, he concludes that lawyers should pay less attention to inward-looking administrative systems and concentrate on outward-looking, client-facing technologies that can meet the increasingly sophisticated demands of their customers.

As an aside, what makes it interesting to read a book of this nature, which is five years old, is to note how many of the predictions are being fulfilled. The power of the Internet is only now starting to be evidenced. Whatever ones attitude to the new technologies, they cannot be ignored. It is facile to dismiss certain aspects as being transient, such as the dot.bomb corporations, because every apparent failure for whatever reason contributes to the gradual and inexorable evolution of the practice of law in the digital age.

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