Monday, September 21, 2009

The Good Old Days

Unbelievably (at least to my archaic way of thinking), it is now virtually impossible to buy a new typewriter. Granted there are not many who would even want one, but it nonetheless alarms me. It is perhaps a slight to my office that we still use a typewriter (although my capable Assistant assures me that she enjoys using a typewriter, as accomplished as she is in the use of a computer). In the past several days I have been contacting people about repairing the typewriter we now have, but without success. The best that I have managed to do is locate an old typewriter sales firm which may be able to find a used IBM Selectric typewriter, one of those heavy, black metal machines which were once ubiquitous in every law firm in the country. When I spoke with the elderly woman whose husband owns the store, she expressed dismay that typewriters had been so callously abandoned. She considered it a mistake, though I would be hard pressed to advance a commercial argument in her favour.

Another old-fashioned device which we maintain at the office is a cheque writer, one of those machines with a handle on the side which impresses numbers on a cheque. My paternal grandfather had a small cheque writer (I now have it) which he used in his wholesale business many, many years ago. It is a far more compact and less sophisticated device than the one which I use. My machine has, however, developed some signs of age (it’s about thirty years old), so I have made enquiries about replacing it. The gentleman who runs the local distributorship has advised that it can be replaced, but a comparable machine to mine would be on back-order, so it looks as though they’re not terribly popular either.

I have heard rumours that fax machines are also on the wane. I imagine that email has replaced much of the communication of documents.

Of course I can still clearly remember when nobody had a computer in their office. At that time, the IBM memory typewriters were considered the leading edge of technology. The first computer I purchased had a dot matrix printer, which took forever to print anything above two pages.

When I took over the office of the late R. A. Jamieson, QC, he had only one telephone line. My first "improvement" was to get another line. Years later, when fax machines hit the market, I didn’t get a dedicated fax line for the longest time. People are slow to change.

While I acknowledge that I am among the senior members of the Bar, I have discovered that it doesn’t necessarily mean I am out-of-date. For example, I know of one young Solicitor who - amazingly - doesn’t use email. Really, I can’t imagine avoiding it. It is no accident that he has told me he takes positive steps to reduce the stress and frantic nature of the practice of law. This naturally leads one to ponder how necessary much of what we connect ourselves to, is. I have, for example, often seen that computerized systems have done nothing to improve the quality of documentation being produced. To be effective, one must synthesize the software with the legal undertaking. The trouble with push-button technology is that it frequently distances one from the legal objective. If something as demanding as legal work can be reduced to fill-in-the-blanks, then I think we have a problem. The speed of production of computerized documents frequently disguises the need for attention to detail.

There are endless so-called time saving devices on the market, everything from dictation transcription to Wills production to electronic agenda. While experimentation is always a good idea, one must learn to accept that software cannot always meet the standard of production which previously existed. It is equally important to understand that most software is cradled in a format which may not mirror one’s own format for production of the same material. Attempting to adapt to foreign specifications may result in unanticipated compromises on many levels, not the least of which is professional negligence. The posture which one develops over the years towards certain legal documents is not universal, so one must be cautious about adopting new software.

The fact that it is now so easy to generate and print documents has likely contributed to the wealth of paper used in many instances. However, the judicious selection of "boiler plate" can be a good thing. There is after all nothing wrong with thoroughness. There is no question in my mind that the creation and editing features of word processing have improved my life and practice immeasurably. Years ago, one cringed upon being asked to prepare a Partnership Agreement or similar complex agreement. It meant that one secretary would do nothing but type that Agreement for days on end, only to have to re-do it when changes were made.

As devices go, the scanner is another miracle of the modern office. In the past, most communication of documents to Clients had to be by mail (particularly since many of my non-commercial or elderly Clients did not have a fax machine). Now, with scanners and email, it is instantaneous.

Even with all the latest software and mechanical devices, there always remains the issue about whether the lawyer and his or her staff use them effectively. Telephones still don’t return calls automatically; deeds don’t magically produce themselves; communication up-dates are lacking unless given; and documents don’t materialize unless the thought has gone into them first. Timeliness, responsiveness and production are still the substance of any business, and all the wires, cables and flashing lights in the world will not replace them. A senior and extremely competent Solicitor in Toronto recently warned in a lecture he gave to the Law Society that we as Solicitors must be vigilant not to allow the practice of law to be reduced to mere clerical activity.

Finally I believe there is always the possibility of providing value-added services to a Client, something which clearly extends beyond mere fulfillment of the strict retainer. To rely upon one’s Client to circumscribe the scope of a retainer is to sell the Client short, for it is the Solicitor who should be establishing the boundaries of investigation or documentation. However, as I say, the extension of service need not be at the Client’s expense. There is always wiggle room to provide some further insight (value) without additional cost (price). In the end it is the cultivation of a satisfactory and professional relationship with one’s Clients which wins the day. The machinery to get one there is still just machinery. Without the conscientious application of thought and care to the task at hand, it is just as likely that monkeys, even if equipped with a typewriter, will write Shakespearean sonnets.

No comments:

Post a Comment