Legal Line: "Give those young lawyers time to ask the right questions . . .”
June 02, 2011

While I have been a lawyer for the past 30 years, I expect my observations regarding consumer (i.e., client) expectations of lawyers will have application to other professions as well (e.g., accountants).

When I embarked on my legal career it was a world of dictation equipment, electric typewriters, carbon paper and White-Out®™©.  Clients would discuss legal issues with a lawyer, who would diligently take notes and convert those notes to a typed format.  In this more laborious (and now antediluvian process), I learned over time (I was a slow learner; it probably took too much time) that identifying the correct questions for resolution was always more important than arriving at the answer too soon.  Stated otherwise, any fool can come up with an answer; the hard part is learning to ask the right questions to arrive at the right answer.

In the late 1980s, four of us founded our own law firm.  One of my roles was to determine what business equipment we should utilize.  After reading Van Wolverton’s book Running MS-DOS, I decided we should purchase stand alone computers with word processing programs to serve our needs.  These machines had 8086 chips and a whopping 10 MB (not GB or TB) hard drives.  They also had no menu system.  That is, to run a program you needed to know some disk-operating commands to type in at the prompt as well as the DOS file structure.  When it came time to select a word processing program, there was no debate – it would be WordPerfect™©®.  At that time, 95% of all law firms used WordPerfect and all the federal courts were using this program as well.  At about that time, the speed of communication with the client also increased because of the then expensive and non-ubiquitous facsimile machine.

No sooner had the fax machine exponentially increased the speed of communication with clients (leading to a commensurate expectation of return communication); that the advent of electronic mail amped up communications even more.

 

Of course, now we have Linked-In™©®, Twitter™©® and Facebook™©® to ensure we stay in constant communication with our follower/clients and let all the world know (because the entire world cares about) what we are doing.

Running in tandem with all these developments in communication has been the ability to access information.  All kinds of information.  Legal research went from being “by the book” with reference to a printed volume and periodic updates/supplements (some printings of main volumes covering 10 years relegating research near the end of a decade to include a bound volume and then 9 printed supplements) to Boolean queries that would help you find just the right case/decision.

But despite all the increase in speed of communication and the ability to research on-line and gather information over the Internet, fundamentally the service provided to a client has not changed.  And neither has the need to determine the correct questions in order to reach the right answer.  For the newest generation of lawyers this is becoming more difficult.  They are used to responding immediately (if not mid-sentence) to e-mail; to texting rather than talking; and to trusting the computer screen as a means and method of correction rather than the printed word.  While I am no human factors expert I can report that my own experience has been that I “see” content different when it is all before me rather than on one or even multiple monitors.  That “sight” is more critical, more able to analyze the whole and catch inconsistencies, incorrect thoughts and wrong conclusions.  But my methodology does not comport with what has become the societal norm.

So am I just losing touch with this present generation?  Am I technologically challenged?  Am I just getting “old”?  Well, I am getting old, but as I prepare this article on my MacBook Pro™©® while a passenger in a car, armed with my iPhone™©® (fully hands-free via my Bluetooth™©® audio system) and my iPad™©® (which is waiting for me to work on some mind map flowcharts on a really cool app I have for a trial I have in federal court in June), I don’t think my observations are borne out of an unwillingness to embrace change.

Therefore, I offer this thought, for professionals and their clients alike.  A thought that I hope you will not simply delete or move to the “trash can” immediately upon completing this snippet; but a thought that you will roll around in your head, consider all the implications, and maybe lead you to ask some additional questions for yourself:  just because a question may be transmitted faster and just because a response can approach the speed of light does not mean the time it takes to come to a reasoned, considered answer has changed.  Give those young professionals an opportunity to ask the right questions so they can get the right answer for you.  Or as Pascal put it:  “I have made this letter longer than usual, because I lack the time to make it short.” 

 

This article was written by Ross E. Rudolph, a partner with Rudolph, Fine, Porter & Johnson, LLP (www.rfpj.com) in Evansville, Indiana.  For additional information, you may contact him at (812) 422-9444 (e-mail: rer@rfpj.com).  His practice areas include mediation and arbitration, corporate and commercial litigation, injunctions, product liability, insurance defense, and appeals.

This article is intended solely as an information source and its contents should not be construed as legal advice.  Readers should not act upon the information presented without professional counsel