A Tale of Two Lawyers (Tech Savvy vs. Old School)

by Tonya Pierce


Horror Stories

yin-yangI have had the opportunity (some might say advantage or disadvantage) of working with both a “Tech Savvy” lawyer and an “Old School” lawyer during my career. I must say that working for both attorneys was a completely unique and different experience and I learned a great deal working for both attorneys. Some may call working for an old school lawyer a curse; however, there were some advantages.


How The Old School Lawyer Helped Me

top hatMy old school lawyer did not own a computer, an answering machine or even a Dictaphone. He wrote everything on a legal pad to be typed on a typewriter (thankfully, it was a more modern typewriter). At first, it was extremely frustrating because his handwriting, as with most professionals, was atrocious. It was difficult to read and he smeared many of the words as he wrote. Thankfully, I convinced him that having a computer would cut down on the work and enable me to produce more work product. Convincing him that I could perform more work in less time thereby making him more money was the key (attorneys are all about the profit of the firm and they should be, it is a business).

After seeing how much quicker I could produce work, he was all in and agreed to buy better computers for the entire office. I no longer had to begin typing the entire document again when he changed his mind about a paragraph – I could simply make the changes and reprint the document in a couple of minutes rather than close to an hour or more.

I am not sure how he is doing now as I left the firm after about seven years and he was still hand-writing his pleadings and the only technology he used in the office was a phone and a computer (no, not even the internet either). While some may see working for an old school lawyer as a huge disadvantage, it was actually the best thing that I have ever done for my career. I was fresh out of paralegal school, green as grass and knew less about actual day-to-day paralegal duties than the office secretary knew.

Working for this lawyer first actually made me a better paralegal.

1. Faster Learning

By working for an old school lawyer that wrote every pleading by hand for me to type, I learned so much about how to word pleadings, the allegations that must be contained in various lawsuits and much more by simply typing every pleading. Instead of my attorney telling me to pull up so and so’s complaint, copy and paste with so and so’s complaint to give him a draft to review and mark up, I was learning practical and valuable information (much more than simply “pushing papers” like some paralegal are relegated to do).

2. Improved Legal Research Skills

By not having the internet to fall back on, I had to do my legal research the old-fashioned way, at the law library. While it took more time, I again learned so many valuable lessons through the experience of doing it the “old way.” I developed a skill for thinking through a situation and around a situation to find cases and statutes that you may not discover if you are simply typing in a few search words. Reading the footnotes attached to cases and statutes are a fantastic source of information.

3. Invaluable Network Building

Of course I also had to file documents at the courthouse rather than electronically. I understand that some courts require attorneys file electronically; however, some courts still have an “option” to file in paper form. Forcing me to go to the courthouse to file every pleading or document helped me get to know the court staff by name. A court’s staff is an invaluable resource for a paralegal and the better you know them the more of a resource they become. Because I was not just a “name” at The Old School Lawyer Office, I was able to use my connections when I needed them (it helps to be able to ask questions and actually get answers from court staff when you are a green paralegal just starting out).

The Tech Savvy Lawyer

google-glassMy next attorney was just beginning to adopt technology when I started with his office (I could cut real estate closing checks directly from the computer – I was in heaven). It was wonderful to have the ability to do so much more with computers but he was just starting so we had to take it slow. As with the old school lawyer, my new tech savvy lawyer wanted to “see” how technology could make him money; therefore, I had to prove to him why we needed a new phone system that would reduce the time the secretary was on the phone enabling her to do more work. I had to prove to him why having a computerized calendar system would make his life so much easier because he could access it from home and see changes immediately rather than calling into the office to have us fax copies of the calendar book.

Of course, technology has immense advantages that we have all come to rely on in the legal field:

  • Most courts are adopting rules that require attorneys to file documents electronically;
  • Court dockets are now only available online;
  • Legal research is faster and, in some cases, better depending on the person’s research skills and the resources used;
  • Attorneys and paralegals can be in constant contact with their offices (this is both good and bad in my opinion);
  • Changes to documents take mere seconds to make;
  • You have access to case files electronically rather than waiting for archives to be pulled and wading through hundreds of documents to find the one that you need;
  • Drafting pleadings is so much more simple when you can pull examples to use for “copy-paste” drafting; and,
  • Advertisement and interaction with clients is so much better because of the internet and other technology.

There are thousands of reasons why technology has improved the law office and given the choice, I would never go back to working for an old school lawyer. However, I do feel immensely blessed that I started with my old school lawyer because I know that my career is where it is today and that I am a much better paralegal for beginning my career under such a “relic.”

Tonya Pierce is a paralegal with over 24 years experience in several areas of the legal field (17 years as a bankruptcy paralegal and trustee paralegal).


Laura Pleasants

Posted on 2014-11-27 01:27:02

Loved your article. I whole-heartedly agree. My first year was 1986. Most attorneys in Virginia had only a vague idea what computers could do. Luckily, a few years later I landed a position in a boutique communications law partnership, and we were ahead of the curve. Now I manage a 20 attorney office, and we have Westlaw and books. It's valuable to be comfortable with both.

Greg Sutphin

Posted on 2014-11-24 22:13:40

This is interesting to me because I see this scenario often in the business I am in working with lawyers. Young lawyers "gets it" about the necessity for digital marketing on all fronts (professional Website, social media presence, blogging, etc.), but old school partners do not yet both can learn a bit of rainmaking from each other. I have one situation where the son (partner) can hardly convince his Father (the senior partner) why they even need a Website. I like your insight about looking for the positives and learning opportunities in working with the "old school".

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