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Reflections on the Good Old Days of Legal (Non)Technology

I showed up for work my first day at my law firm–then (and still) one of the largest in the world–in September 1982. I was assigned to a nice 4th floor window office overlooking Connecticut Avenue in D.C., which gave me a great view of the daily protest parades. My technology consisted of: a phone (land line–there was no other kind), a dictating machine, a wall switch to turn the lights on, and some electric sockets to plug in my desk lamp. That was it. My secretary (the term in use then) had all that plus an IBM Selectric typewriter. Virtually all research was done in the library using books. Somewhere in the library there was a dial-up Westlaw terminal and printer. Wow, we had it all.

Somehow, we managed to practice law.

A few years later  we got some newfangled thing called “mag cards,” which allowed our assistants to revise documents by loading a huge stack of floppies into a slot in their IBM typewriters. Soon after that came the first computers. Our firm adopted a Wang system (Wang was one of the leading computer companies in the 1980s, then went bankrupt in 1992) with some kind of intranet e-mail network. Only staff had them–no one could imagine why the attorneys would want or need one.

Somehow, we managed to practice law.

But I wanted one of those things. (If you haven’t caught on by now, I am a tech junkie.) I had moved to the Austin office by then and was put in charge of the summer associate program (a/k/a/ party coordinator–how things change!), so I concocted a total BS story about how I needed a computer at my desk to help me do that. The firm bought it and soon after I had mine, my peers wanted one.  Then I bought an IBM PS/50 for home and figured out how to hook into the firm intranet. I discovered telecommuting! One day I was exchanging e-mails with a colleague about a litigation matter and he said he would rather come down to my office to chat about it.  I waited. Then the e-mail came: “Where the *&%$ are you?” Wow, were we ever wired up!

Somehow, we managed to practice law.


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