Since the death of Prince you have probably heard the phrase “Party like it’s 1999” recently. I thought I’d spend a few minutes talking about the old days from someone who was actually doing law office technology consulting back in 1999.
In those days you could pretty much keep on top of all legal tech developments with a subscription to Law Office Computing and by reading Burgess Allison’s Technology Update column in Law Practice magazine. Burge retired that column after 18 years and those laugh out loud moments reading Law Practice magazine were far fewer. It was a sad day when Law Office Computing folded, but Law Practice Magazine is in great shape, better than ever.
Above is the cover of Law Office Computing magazine from June/July 1999. Isn’t it interesting that some of the issues covered then are still much discussed topics today? On the cover you see “Unlocking the Power of Document Assembly.” My friend Marc Lauritsen co-authored this article with Alan Soudakof. The article outlined a 12-step program for successful document automation. HotDocs was used for most of the examples and HotDocs is still a huge player today, although I see many law firms opt for less expensive, but extremely powerful solutions like TheFormTool and Pathagorus. Many practice management solutions include document assembly today. For example Smokeball started out as document assembly and has now evolved to include practice management.
The most stunning thing about this issue was the Editor-in-Chief’s column where he bemoaned the death of his trusty notebook and admitted to his readers that he had only backed it up once–when he bought the backup tape a couple of years before. I can’t imagine any tech expert making that admission today, but somewhere some lawyer is reading this column on a computer that also has not been backed up for a very long time. Why not do that today or better yet subscribe to an automated backup service?
The Technodebate column in this issue was Word vs WordPerfect and the hottest news item was that the ABA had just released an ethics opinion saying that unencrypted email, in most circumstances was appropriate for client communication because there was “a reasonable expectation of privacy.” That opinion still stands today, but I’d strongly suggest you look at Texas Center for Legal Ethics Opinion 648 for a more Twenty-First Century view. This is one area where you should not be partying like it is 1999.
This issue also covers one of the most significant legal tech failures I recall. The vast majority of law firms were using Timeslips for time and billing, but with the release of Timeslips 9.0, those users went from happy users to angry users. Despite almost monthly service pack releases, the problems seemed unending. One lawyer was quoted in the story saying “I will never get back the time [I lost.]” Some law firms still use Timeslips today, version 9.0 sent many law firms off looking for other solutions and they never came back.
Of course there was an article on stabilizing Windows 95/98 and a lot of coverage on litigation support technology. The popular Circuit Court column, written by Dan Coolidge, Bruce Dorner and the late Ross Kodner was on Giving Exciting Electronic Presentations. Dan was getting used to PowerPoint 97, but Ross still preferred Corel Presentations, part of the WordPerfect Suite. But you needed a lot of other types od software to accomplish what is all included in PowerPoint today.
I rarely do #TBT (Throwback Thursday) posts on any of my social media, but locating a pristine cost of a 1999 Law Office Computing magazine in my archives reminds me how much better and easier-to-use our tech tools are today, while also recognizing that the legal profession still faces some of the same challenges–along with many new ones. Few would have even understood the term electronic discovery back in 1999.