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Are We Entering A “Post-PC Era?”

 

Courtesy of Getty Images

Last week, Steve Jobs unveiled the Apple iPad2, pictured below.  If you saw the presentation by Jobs, you may have found one singular point remarkable – Jobs’ continued use of the term “post-PC.”  Why is this remarkable?  There truly are only a small handful of individuals who have shaped the landscape of our personal computing and technological world.  Jobs is right up there at the top of the list.  When it comes to technological advances, “So sayeth Jobs, so let it be done.”

Apple's iPad

So if Steve Jobs perceives our tech times to be that of a “post-PC era,” what does this mean for lawyers?  Should we follow Jobs’ lead?  Should we take  more of a lead in the rapidly developing legal tech world?  Opinions differ markedly on this topic, and to be sure, technological advances are heralding an entirely new set of concerns for lawyers, particularly ethical and security concerns.

This morning, I read two excellent articles that I highly recommend.  The first article was written by Joshua M. Barrett over at Law Technology News.  Law Technology News is part of the Law.com family of online media resources.  Barrett’s article poses the interesting question of just how much technology does a lawyer really need, and for what purpose.

Specifically, Barrett points out that lawyers are not graphic designers.  Thus, our need for a technological “workhorse,” let alone a “powerhouse,” is questionable.

That does not mean we can ever go back to the days of carbon paper and typewriters, nor should we want to.  As we have been for centuries, lawyers continue to be primarily communicators.  Therefore, our technological needs tend more toward hardware, software or other applications that assist us in some way in conveying our spoken or written message to those with whom we interact.  That includes our clients, other lawyers, judges, juries and experts, just to name a few.

I think Barrett is right on the money in his discussion about lawyers’ tech needs.  As a solo or small firm practitioner for virtually my entire legal career, I can tell you that I have personally witnessed – even fallen prey to – the sales pitch telling me that I needed to “invest” in the latest piece of equipment, software suite of applications, or widget du jour.  I have been told by more than one company that, if I did not purchase their widgetry, I was risking malpractice or possible loss of licensure.  (As an aside, I never gave into that last type of sales pitch, which you may know the companies to which I am referring.  I am still here, license and all.)

In many instances, I did not fully appreciate all the capabilities my already-existing technological infrastructure provided.  Moreover, I had precious little time to learn about what I had already “invested” in.  It was all I could do to keep up with the pace of my work, and still make it to the CLE courses I had paid for.  Salespeople often knew this, and took advantage of it.

Because there was a time when I knew next to nothing about my office technology, it goes without saying I could not honestly evaluate whether purchasing or upgrading my systems made sense.  That leads me to the second interesting article, written by Stephen Shankland over at CNet.  I credit CNet with helping educate me about tech subjects more than just about any other website.

In his article, Shankland takes issue with that we are entering a “post-PC era.”  For us as lawyers, Shankland makes an important statement about tablet computing, writing:

“Many routine work chores become harder or impossible on a tablet.

Consider the following:

  • You have to forget about using Microsoft Office;
  • Virtual keyboard typing is not the same – or for many, as easy – as typing on a regular keyboard.  In fact, I know a fair number of people who bemoan the differences/difficulties of typing on their laptop keyboard versus their desktop keyboard;
  • An iPad cannot connect directly to a printer;
  • If you take an iPad on a business trip, you must be in a location where there is Wi-Fi at all times because it will not function on a wired Ethernet connection.  This can be overcome with additional gadgetry, of course, but…

    Business Trip Gadgetry Galore, Credit/Courtesy Of CNet.com & Joshua Janssen (Flickr/CC)

    the whole point of these emerging technologies is to make our lives simpler, not more complicated…right?

The moral of this story is not to denigrate the iPad.  As hardware goes, the iPad is a phenomenal piece of equipment, probably made all the more phenomenal to me because I do not happen to own one.  It’s that “greener grass on the other side” thing, you know.  Getting one ranks No. 1 on my own personal wish list, I can assure you.  Why?  Because even though the laptop continues to be the hardware most of us lawyers are using to do our work, the iPad and other tablet devices truly are revolutionizing society’s  interaction with technology in ways we have only yet begun to appreciate.  One need look no further than this article describing how the iPad can be used to help children with serious disabilities.

But do I need an iPad for my work?  Not yet.  I want it because it is uber kewl.  If you are wondering whether you need an iPad or not, my recommendation is to not make any quick, uninformed decisions.  It is not certain that we are entering a “post-PC era.”  I tend to believe these handhelds will look and perform more like PCs as time marches on, not the other way around.

For now, learn what you can about what you already have, think critically about the routine tasks you perform every day, and then learn what these new technologies can (or cannot) do for you.  Maybe consider hiring a legal tech consultant.  Initially, hiring a consultant may seem like an unnecessary capital outlay in an already expensive process.  However, even having a legal tech consultant off whom you can bounce ideas or brainstorm can save you thousands of dollars by avoiding the purchase of gadgetry or widgetry you don’t need and cannot use.

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