Gadgets, gizmos and legal geeks
24 May 1999
Many law firms are looking at the internet and new media as part of their business. The cyber gold rush has started and law firms have not been slow off the mark in making the most of the digital revolution.
This may be true as far as clients and contracts are concerned, but it seems it is not as true among the lawyers themselves. It seems that as far as embracing new technologies is concerned, legal professionals are lagging behind their colleagues in other professions.
When The Lawyer began to investigate the area we were informed that certain lawyers are famed for being wired. We tracked them down.
Fabled gadgetophile Ronnie Fox, senior partner with Fox Williams, says that the legal profession was one of the first to embrace fax and subsequently email technology.
"A mobile phone, a laptop and email were once considered toys but are now essential for any practice - more than pens and pencils," says Fox.
Many professionals now see such tools as integral to their work, but it seems they are not looking at getting the latest equipment which offer sexpanded features.
Stuart Shepherd, a partner with Burton Copeland, declares himself to be something of a gadget freak. He has a laptop with a voice recognition system but says he still relies on his filofax.
"The most important technology in this office is my coffee maker," he says.
Mark Stephens, senior partner of media firm Stephens Innocent, recounts how Peter Carter-Ruck works on his internet-accessing laptop as he is chauffeured into London, but warns that other professions could be stealing a march with new technology.
"An accountant friend was recently sitting atop Scafell Pike accessing his emails via his mobile. And a partner at Dow Jones in New York recently whipped out a personal organiser the size of a credit card. I firmly believe the greatest gadget a lawyer needs is a plug and telephone adaptor to make sure that when you arrive in another country, all your equipment actually works."
Legal professionals are wary of being seen as "gadget freaks", or even geeks. This may be traced back to the fabled conservative nature of the profession but some analysts argue seriously that lawyers must become more digitally aware.
Simon Lipson, solicitor and recruitment consultant, is surprised at the number of lawyers who contact him via email, but he still believes the profession is well behind other business in the use of electronic technologies for business.
"Most City firms at least have a laptop and use IT more than they did five years ago," he says.
"Any lawyer whose practice is international will need to be clued up about the latest communications technologies as this will be come central to their business."
Firms are now actively looking at using new technologies at a corporate level, developing internal networks and external websites, but the firms may be moving faster than their lawyers.
Greg Crockart, marketing account manager at Hyperlink - a consultancy that advised a number of firms, including Bird & Bird, Linklaters and Wilde Sapte, on the use of new media - argues that lawyers tend to look for definite proof of the use of new media far more than other clients he has worked with.
Although he claims that his clients have been keen to embrace technologies at a corporate level, he still thinks that they have got some way to go in using communications effectively. He argues that it is important that the legal profession communicates better with its clients and internally. "Some lawyers still have a bizarre approach, even to email," he says.
Five to be seen with
There are some technologies that are directly useful to the sort of international business professional that is the modern lawyer, but there are some that are unashamedly gadgets. The Lawyer pulls together five of the hottest gadgets that fit into one category or the other.
Nokia 7110: Not available here yet, but this is likely to be the first mobile that enables the user to get webpages on the phone's screen. You can also send faxes and email direct from the phone with no need for a computer.
Palm V: The latest in the series of personal organisers. Stores names, addresses, notes and can connect to the web. More importantly for some, it is small and available in a range of trendy finishes, including alligator-skin.
PalmTheater: Digital Versatile Disc (DVD) offers CD quality sound and pictures. And now you can get it 'to go'. The DVD-L10 fits in the palm of the hand and offers all the capabilities of a video player but with better quality.
Vaio C1: Not much bigger than a PDA (technophobes see A to Z), but many times more powerful. This hand-held computer runs Windows 98 and so will run any office software. What is more, it has a built-in camera for stills and video that swivels towards the subject.
The C Pen: A handheld text scanner that uses a tiny camera to read and identify text which can be stored in the pen and then transferred into a PC. The C-pen will also recognise hand-written letters and convert them into text.
Technology and new media are full of jargon. To make sure that you're 'wired' not 'tired', The Lawyer offers an A to Z of some of the buzz words.
Analog: Old media like records and tapes. Analog media degrades in quality as it is copied... unlike digital.
Bandwidth: The capability
of any network to carry information. With multimedia, there's never enough.
Convergence: Net, telephone and TV technologies are coming together. Soon we will be able to use a single device.
DVD (Digital Versatile Disc): New portable format that enables high-quality sound and audio to be recorded and played.
E : The most overused letter in new media. Put in front of anything to make it appear important eg. e.business, e.cash.
Fuzzy: A new philosophy of science and computer programming that holds that there is no simple right or wrong.
GSM: Widely-used mobile telephone network. US uses a different system which demands a different phone.
Html: Simple system of adding tags to text so that it can be displayed in a web browser.
Intranet & internet: Computers networked either internally to a company (intranet) or accessible by anyone in the world (internet).
Java: Programming language that enables small programmes to be sent over networks and run on any machine.
Kilobyte: One thousand bytes. Used to show the size of a file which shows how long it takes to download.
Listserv: Software that runs automated mailing lists which people can join and use as a discussion board.
Mp3: Way of compressing sound, allowing music to be downloaded easily from the net, or so record companies fear.
Notebook computer: Last year's gadget. Now the truly wired are going for palmtops.
Online: Being linked to a computer server which in turn is linked into other networks or the internet.
Pda: Personal Digital Assistant. Small hand-held computer that combines diary, address book and notepad.
Qwerty: The layout of traditional keyboards. Arguably being replaced by handwriting or voice recognition.
Remote: Another work to use as an all-purpose prefix. As in remote access, remote working.
Snail mail: Old-fashioned paper, envelopes, stamps and post offices. Allegedly on its last legs.
TV (interactive): Set to be the next big battleground as Murdoch and Gates square up for the home markets.
Url: Uniform Resource Locator. The address of any webpage on the net, enabling access from anywhere.
Virtual: Existing only in a computer's memory. Borrowed from sci-fi. As in virtual democracy, virtual reality.
WAP: Wireless Application Protocol. A new system to enable mobile devices to connect to the internet.
Xml: eXtensible markup language. A new way of creating more interactive and flexible webpages.
Y2K: The infamous Year 2000. Look for 'Y2K complaint' or look to pay Y2K consultants far more than £2K.
Zip: The most common way of compressing information or files for easy transport across the internet.