I recently spoke to a lawyer who has been a lawyer since this year about my legal experience and my career as a lawyer so far. I graduated from law school in 2012 so I don’t feel like an old-timer by any means, but I did tell this person how things have changed in the legal profession, even in my short time as a practicing lawyer. The whole experience really made me feel like I was from a different generation than this person which I hope I’m not true at 33! In any case, I worked as a summer assistant in a Biglaw firm for the first time in 2011, so I only know firsthand how the legal profession has developed over the past ten years. However, the legal profession has come a long way in the last 10 years, and this begs a prudence in how the legal profession will change over the next decade.
Perhaps the biggest change I’ve seen in the legal profession as a trial attorney lately is the widespread use of electronic filing. When I first started working as a summer assistant in 2011, only the federal courts in my region had mandatory electronic filing for almost all litigation. New Jersey did not have electronic filing in most cases, and New York only had electronic filing for a few matters. In my early days as a practicing attorney, a lot of time and effort went into printing and preparing documents for filing. In one of the companies I worked for, someone came to our office every day at around 3 p.m. to pick up items that needed to be deposited. In addition, the attorneys had to be careful in recording receipt of the papers and properly file the papers for later use and review.
By now, pretty much every court I practice in has put e-filing systems in place, and dealing with COVID-19 has made e-filing more prevalent in the legal profession. Unless judges request courtesy copies (which is increasingly rare), the papers do not need to be carefully printed and prepared for filing in a court of law. Additionally, all parties will be informed that the instant papers will be filed, so there is little chance that they will not see any documents. It’s also much easier to find submitted documents and use them for applications and other purposes. I remember early in my career a trial attorney asked each co-defendant on one case for copies of their responses so that they could include them in their summary judgment request. This request would not be necessary in the current environment as most papers are instantly accessible and available to all via e-filing.
Another big change in the legal profession is the trend towards unrestricted use of legal research platforms. When I started out as a Summer Employee, individuals were either billed for the time they spent on a legal research platform or the searches they did on such platforms. This made legal research unaffordable in certain cases, and some of my previous companies even had libraries so lawyers could do book research and save money on expensive online legal research. Also, you had to be very careful and efficient in your research to avoid the bill being extrapolated on legal research platforms.
At some point in the last decade, legal research platforms switched from minute or transaction compensation systems to unlimited use. This is kind of like when AOL stopped charging because you were on the system for so long, but monthly – but now I am really aging myself! These days, legal research projects are rarely costly as people typically only pay a flat fee per month to use the resources and lawyers don’t have to worry about driving up the costs. In addition, lawyers have much more freedom to look around and find the right authority on their problem. This change has also democratized legal practice as law firms of all kinds can afford access to high quality legal research.
Another major difference in the way many companies work is how they bill their customers for costs. When I started practicing law, we charged clients for legal research, which was pretty normal. However, we also charged our customers 10 cents a page for copying, phone bills, and pretty much everything else under the sun. This made the exercise of the law inefficient as I had to enter the appropriate customer code every time I tried to use the phone or copier. Since this was often a long number, I usually had to delete what I was doing, access the code, and enter the code so the customer could be charged pennies in some cases.
Someone will correct me if I’m wrong, but there seems to be a move away from charging de minimis items in the current environment. Although some companies still charge per-page fees for copying, telephone bills, and other bills, the later companies I worked for didn’t pass small bills on to customers. This makes the exercise of the law far more efficient, and clients will likely appreciate the fact that their attorneys literally don’t nickel and dim them.
Of course, legal practice has changed over time, but when I look back on my own experience, it is wild to wonder how legal practice has changed significantly over the past decade. Feel free to email me your own experience of how the legal profession has changed in the last 10 years and it’s crazy to think about where the legal profession will be in the not too distant future.
Jordan Rothman is a partner at Rothman Law Firm, a full-service law firm based in New York and New Jersey. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website that discusses how he paid off his student loan. You can contact Jordan by email at [email protected]