In 1970, some forty-five years ago, Steven E. Furth wrote Computer Uses in the Law Office in the Oregon Law Review. Furth was a participating member in the Standing Committee on Law and Technology of the American Bar Association and manager of information systems marketing at IBM Corporation in White Plains, New York. At the request of Oregon Law Review, I have returned to and reviewed Furth’s original article to look at how law office computer use has since developed and evolved.
After accurately noting the legal profession’s general reluctance to engage in technologic change (some things have stayed the same), Furth predicted
that economic pressures and the need to increase the productivity of law practice will motivate lawyers in increasing numbers to investigate the availability, potential benefits, and costs of computer-based data processing services. It is the intention here to review generally the possible applications of such equipment in the practice of law.
Furth both accurately perceived the legal professional’s general reluctance to embrace technologic change and understood that, over time, efficiencies and economic forces would bring about technologic change despite this resistance. Perhaps reflective of the author’s position at IBM, Furth seemingly focused on issues of data processing equipment, notably not discussing operating system development, application development, or connectivity. As I think back to my own entry into the legal profession in 1982, Furth’s focus on equipment is fully understandable. I remember well that my first dedicated word processing equipment was the initial technologic game changer for me and many other young lawyers. In fact, my sense is that the word processor was a necessary precondition to the rapid growth of mediation then beginning.
In his original article, Furth discussed four areas of potential computer benefits for the legal profession: (1) administrative (such as billing and payroll), (2) services for the lawyer (such as finding files and documents), (3) computer-assisted legal services (such as prediction of outcome), and (4) legal research. Furth should be complimented for his vision because there have been huge advances in all four realms. Administrative functions such as billing, payroll, and case management are now easily performed with such programs as Abacus or Clio—not only on the computer but also online from any location on any device. LexisNexis and Thomson Reuters offer sophisticated legal research capacities for both large firms and solo practitioners alike. Furthermore, software such as Picture It Settled offers sophisticated predictions of legal outcomes delivered to the smartphone in your purse or pocket.
Furth’s thinking was certainly limited by the computer development of his time. He did not, for example, envision flexible operating systems, application software, the Internet, broadband, wireless, smartphones, or “the cloud.” Building upon Furth’s thinking, there seem to be four related game-changing disruptive technologies understandably not envisioned in 1970: (1) the word processor and PC; (2) the Internet: e-mail and the web; (3) personal mobile devices; and (4) the cloud.
THE FIRST DISRUPTIVE TECHNOLOGY: THE WORD PROCESSOR AND THE PC