Legal Loop: Lawyers, technology and a light at the end of the tunnel

For years now, I’ve been writing about the intersection of technology and the legal profession. And for years now, I’ve urged lawyers to learn about emerging technologies. My belief has always been that it’s the dawn of a new age — one where cloud and mobile technologies have the potential to save lawyers time and money, allowing them to focus more on representing their clients and less on administrative functions.

Unfortunately, our profession as a whole has been slow to respond to my rallying cry. While small sub-groups of lawyers are incredibly tech-savvy, many lawyers continue to practice law as if it were still 1999.

When I attended a New York State Bar Association Appellate Law CLE i early November 2013, I was dismayed at the very outset when I noted that I was the only attendee — out of approximately 100 — who was using a laptop. And of the remaining lawyers, only a handful were using tablet computers.

What little faith I had in my profession’s ability to change with the times was reduced substantially and I reluctantly resigned myself to the idea that 2013 was apparently not the year that Upstate New York lawyers saw the light.

And then, at the end of the day, everything changed.

It started when New York Court of Appeals Judge Eugene Pigott took the podium to offer appellate practice tips. I’ve heard Judge Pigott speak on a number of occasions and he’s always entertaining and down to earth and this talk was no exception. But what took me by complete surprise was when he encouraged attendees to check out the Court of Appeal’s website and then listed all of the information that could be found on it, including webcasts of oral arguments, transcripts of oral arguments, court forms, e-filing capabilities, and even appellate briefs. His inclusion of this information in his presentation gave me hope and made me wonder if perhaps there was a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel after all.

But what happened next took me completely by surprise: ex-New York Court of Appeals Judge and now Federal Second Circuit Judge Richard Wesley began his presentation. At first, it seemed like a rather typical — and very helpful — presentation on various tips for appellate attorneys. And then suddenly he veered into a side discussion of the benefits of iPads. You heard me correctly: iPads!

He explained that he takes his iPad everywhere and that he and all of the other Second Circuit judges use iPads on the bench. On the bench! And that he converted everyone at a judicial retreat last year — even the 80-year old judges. He advised us that during oral arguments, the judges access Westlaw right from their iPads and also have PDFs of the briefs in front of them with hyperlnks to the cited cases. On their iPads! On the bench!

After his talk, I approached him and asked him to share more about his iPad use. His eyes lit up and he held out his iPad (housed in a black leather case with built-in Bluetooth keyboard, in case you were wondering). “It’s the best!” he said. “Look I can access my entire docket right now! See? Each case is listed and then I can access all the documents in the cloud — right here on my iPad! And when I read briefs, I type notes in the margins and then send it off to my law clerks. It’s great! I can work from wherever I happen to be!”

At this point I was beside myself. I mean, I couldn’t have scripted this better if I’d tried! And this, from a federal court judge no less. But, even though I knew I should just call it a day and walk away before something happened to ruin this perfect moment, I had to know what app he used to annotate his PDFs. I figured it had to be one of the clunkier ones — probably Adobe’s more conventional app. After all, he was a federal court judge — I mean, how tech-savvy could he be?

“I use PDF Expert,” he replied. “It’s the best app. I initially used another one, but it just wasn’t as full-featured and intuitive.”

I couldn’t believe it! He used my PDF-annotation app of choice! I was nearly speechless at this point. But somehow, I managed to I pull myself together, thanked him for his great talk, and told him how impressed I was with his tech-savviness. And then, as I walked away, he left me with these parting words “I love my iPad! It’s made me so much more productive!”

I had to pinch myself. Was I dreaming? Had my profession finally turned the corner? And what in the world was that blinding light before my eyes? Either I was about to pass out, or maybe — just maybe — that light at the end of the tunnel that I’d been convinced was an oncoming train was actually, at long last, daylight!

Editor's note: this article was first published in The Daily Record ©2013 and in Sui Generis--a New York law blog. Reprinted here with permission.