Extras - A Welcome Guide Through the Legal Technology Landscape

Dennis Kennedy practices in the Intellectual Property and Information Technology Department at Thompson Coburn LLP in St. Louis, Missouri. He speaks and writes frequently the use of technology and the Internet in the practice of law. He was named the 2001 "TechnoLawyer of the Year" by the TechnoLawyer Community for his role in the use of technology in the practice of law. His articles are collected in the form of an "online book" at this site.

Book Review of The Digital Practice of Law: A Practical Reference for Applying Technology Concepts to the Practice of Law, Fifth Edition, by Michael R. Arkfeld

Several years ago, along with two friends, I spent two days making videos for online CLE presentations at the offices of LegalSpan in Phoenix. LegalSpan’s offices had a maze-like quality and it was difficult to navigate the various hallways to find the places we needed to be. Fortunately, at a major intersection of hallways stood a life-size standup photograph of Michael Arkfeld, who had also made some CLE videos for LegalSpan. For two days, we oriented ourselves and found the places we needed to be in relationship to the standup picture of Michael Arkfeld.

After reading the new edition of Arkfeld’s The Digital Practice of Law: A Practical Reference for Applying Technology Concepts to the Practice of Law, Fifth Edition (Law Partner Press 2001), I realized that it was very appropriate that we used Michael Arkfeld as our guide to point us in the right directions while we were at LegalSpan.

Arkfeld, with the new edition of his book, has created a comprehensive, one volume resource for lawyers and others in the legal profession on the application of technology to the practice of law. The book is encyclopedic in scope, covers a broad spectrum of issues and is filled with practical tips and advice for lawyers wanting to take advantage of current developments in legal technology.

For me, one of the great strengths of the book is Arkfeld’s frequent listing of practical tips and relevant questions about various technologies and technology issues. Arkfeld’s tips are always practical, productive and, at times, profound. For example, his aphoristic advice to "focus on the work, not the software" should be emblazoned in front of any lawyer or law firm trying to select appropriate software.

It struck me, while reading the section on how to select a technology committee, that one of the smartest things a law firm might do would be to hand out a copy of Arkfeld’s book to every member of the firm’s technology committee, especially to new additions to the committee. The book does an excellent job of covering the entire range of basic technology concepts and applications, and providing ways to think about technology in the practice. Reading the book would give members of a technology committee a solid foundation for making good decisions.

The highlights of the book -- and this is not surprising since Arkfeld is a litigator -- are the excellent chapters on managing litigation information using technology and on using multimedia in legal proceedings. The chapter on managing information is a blueprint for handling the variety of information involved in litigation and provides a comprehensive, practical approach to this process, along with many useful tips. Any law firm or lawyer considering litigation management software or developing litigation management strategies would be well advised to read Arkfeld’s discussion of this subject.

Similarly, the chapter on using multimedia in a trial setting is full of practical tips that will benefit both lawyers considering whether to use multimedia in a courtroom for the first time and those lawyers who already have significant experience. By the end of this chapter, I had the feeling that Arkfeld would be a very difficult opponent in the courtroom.

Other strong parts of the book include Arkfeld’s explanation of database management systems and his recommendations on making technology decisions in a law firm.

While Arkfeld makes an admirable attempt to be comprehensive, and his book is almost encyclopedic in scope, any print publication on technology, almost by definition, will be somewhat out of date by the time it is printed, especially on hardware issues. Every now and then you’ll find a reference or two in the book that seems dated, but the strength of the book is that Arkfeld’s approach to the subject emphasizes practical tips and important questions for decision-making and that approach keeps the discussion relevant.

I’m very impressed with this book. While, because of its focus, the book probably has more benefit to litigators than to non-litigators, it is a very significant addition to the literature on use of technology in the practice of law. As I mentioned, firms with technology committees should consider giving this book to committee members as a basic textbook to help them to get up to speed on technology issues and decision making. Small firms and solo attorneys will find this a very useful single volume resource on the subject. If trying to find your way through the world of legal technology too often seems like a trek through the wilderness, you will want to have Michael Arkfeld as a guide and keep his book handy.