Commissioner’s Message: The Evolving Lawyer

By David E. Kerrick

This morning I realized I have been in the business of the practice of law for 40 years.  I graduated from the University of Idaho College of Law in December 1979.  It has been an amazing journey!  I wonder what the next 40 years will look like.

Many things have changed in four decades.  But the people are still basically the same – the clients, the co-workers, the adversaries, and the professional colleagues.  What has changed and what has driven change is technology.

In the beginning of my practice, my day would start by getting the mail at the post office.  Letters and court pleadings would arrive, all with the necessary postage.  Legal research was done in a law library with large impressive books.  I would respond to the phone messages written up by the secretary with the use of a black desk phone.  Mountain Bell was the only carrier available and calling Boise was a long-distance call.

My secretary could take my dictation in shorthand and would type my words up on a fancy IBM Selectric typewriter.  My scheduling calendar was a spiral notebook, month-at-a-glance format, with 18 months’ worth of capacity.

To do research on my clients or the opposing party was a mysterious process of interviews and detective work finding records at various locations.  Client files would grow and grow.  When the files were closed, they were placed in a dead file storage unit.  The dead files grew like a cancer.  The physical office itself was where all the work had to be done.  When I was away from the phone, I was away.  Back then the life of George Jetson seemed farfetched.1

As time has passed, communication has changed.  Paper letters have all but gone the way of the dinosaur.  Now, the only things I find when I go to the post office are a few bills and a bunch of junk mail.  Email is now the preferred method of communication by most.  In the mid-1990s, I had heard of the internet but did not have a clue as to what it was or how it worked.  When I purchased my first laptop computer, my nine-year-old daughter taught me how to use Windows.  My first cell phone was the size of a brick and had an antenna.  There was no camera in it. 

I am not yet there, but many lawyers are now putting their files in the cloud.  Recently, I have started keeping my calendar on an app that I can look at with my cell phone.  Before I see a new client now, I usually have a stack of information that my assistants print from the internet, such as property records, obituaries, court repositories, Facebook profiles, news articles, etc. 

Legal research has also become quicker with the internet.  In fact, I can find an Idaho statute quicker through Google than I can find it through the index in my Idaho Code set.

These days it is difficult to find a secretary who knows shorthand.  I put my last IBM Selectric on Craigslist for free.  It took over a month to find a taker.

I am amused now when I go to a conference.  The speaker is standing up front giving a PowerPoint presentation and everyone in attendance is looking at their phone or their tablet checking their email or surfing the internet.  And it isn’t even considered rude.  It’s just normal multitasking in the 21st Century. 

Every new device that automates something or makes our work faster and more efficient simultaneously increases our workload.  The expectation now seems to be that I sit at my computer all day long, including nights and weekends, and respond instantly to one email after another.  How I miss the days when I could rely on the mail to give me at least an excused three-day delay. 

The challenge today, and into the future, will be mastering this endless transition of new technology. 

What will the law office of the future look like?  Even today, people can telecommute, and many people are capable of working “remotely.”  Like George Jetson talking to his boss, Mr. Spacely, on the videophone, 2062 has already arrived!  Our staff members do not need to be in the same location anymore.  The secretary with shorthand is now replaced by an app on your phone that will do voice-to-text.

I can see the future now.  My office will soon be contained entirely in my phone.  All of my files and law books will be stored in the cloud.  I will meet and talk with everyone – employees, clients, colleagues, the court – in real-time, face-to-face on my phone without leaving my house.  Most mornings I won’t even need to put on my pants.

David E. Kerrick is a sole practitioner in Caldwell where he has been engaged in private civil practice since 1980. He graduated from Caldwell High School, attended the College of Idaho, received a B.A. from the University of Washington, and a J.D. from the University of Idaho College of Law.

  1. George Jetson is the lead character in a television cartoon series that first aired in 1962. George and his family lived 100 years in the future, that is 2062. The Jetsons talk on telephones which have a TV screen picture of the other person on the call. George’s boss is Mr. Spacely, owner of Spacely Space Sprockets. A videophone call from Mr. Spacely typically starts with him yelling at George for some work performance issue.