In your pocket or handbag, there's a piece of electronic equipment so powerful it would make George Jetson swoon. St. Louis attorneys weigh in on how smart phones—as well as email, social media and other forms of e-communication—have changed how they practice law.
E. Ryan Bradley
The Bradley Law Firm
• Electronic communications make it cheaper, easier and faster to communicate with clients. While you would think this would reduce the amount of work for our law firm, the opposite is true. Clients now expect replies to emails within hours and, at the most, a day.
• Ten years ago, very little discovery was directed towards emails or other electronic data. We constantly revamp our discovery to address the latest electronic gadget. For instance, we have special discovery directed toward Progressive’s Snapshot device, which records driving data. We also have a specialized subpoena for the cell phone carriers for them to produce data that can be analyzed to determine speed and location of a vehicle prior to a car crash, as well as the devices’ usage at the time of impact.
Hais, Hais, Goldberger & Lambson
• With the pervasive use of cell phones today, we find that text-messaging tends to cause the most trouble for some clients—or conversely, can be the most fertile source of evidence against a divorce litigant—when people forget that these things are subject to the discovery process. That’s why we advice: Don’t text it if you don’t want the judge to see it later.
• As far as email is concerned, the same advice holds true. Sometimes exceptions arise: For example, a person uses email to discuss the commission of a crime or a fraud with counsel. If those emails are obtained legitimately, it can be big trouble for the offending client and their complicit offending attorney. It’s called the 'Crime-Fraud' exception to the attorney-client privilege.
• Facebook, and other social media websites are a must for preventive counseling to clients to avoid discussing matters which can be used against them. Again, the opposite is also true against the opposing party. Social media is frequently very relevant to issues in divorce cases. It also is admissible on a basis of not being an invasion of privacy. And there is seldom, if ever, any protective privilege to it.
Green Cordonnier & House
• The Missouri CaseNet access to minute entries for case files has made the legal process more accessible to the public and, as a result, my law firm is finding clients to be better informed about their case.
• Problems that could, and did, arise in the early days of electronic communication have been eliminated by my firm through specific safeguards so that the client is able to preserve the confidentiality of the communication with his lawyer.
• Research and evidence gathering has been revolutionized. Databases that once required an expert are now accessible on my smart phone, as well as research that once required a trip to the law library. The electronic communication I deal with every day would have been science fiction back when I started practicing law in 1988!
• There is no question that since I started practicing law, I have come to rely on the power of email and electronic communication as much as—and maybe more than—the telephone. I find that from a practice perspective, it is an invaluable way to exchange bulk information to clients in a clear, efficient and traceable way.
• The one thing that electronic communication cannot duplicate, of course, is the power of inflection and tone that you can get through face-to-face meetings or the phone. There are some things that you just have to do by talking to someone. It builds camaraderie—or animosity, I suppose, on the flip side—and creates a more personal experience.
Spencer Fane Britt & Browne
• E-communications makes it much more efficient to pursue worldwide protection for our clients’ intellectual property rights. Through the use of e-commerce, while in our office in St. Louis, electronic filings can be made for the pursuit of patent and trademark protection in other countries.
• The real value of electronic communications is in the capability to quickly access information from sources available on the Internet, and to be able to distribute that information quickly to clients. Information is power, and providing useful and relevant information in a timely fashion to clients enables them to achieve a competitive advantage.
• In law school, I learned to research using books and periodicals at a law library. Although law offices often had libraries with books, it wasn’t unusual to go to the law library at the courthouse or the law school for research. Research is now conducted electronically, and it is no longer necessary to leave your office to do it.
• Communication with clients is faster and more frequent. It is not unusual to receive multiple email or text communications from a client on any given day. Today, clients have an expectation that their attorney will be available to them evenings and weekends, and that wasn't the 'norm' when I first started practicing.
• Like many things, the benefits and the problems are sometimes the same. The benefit is faster communication. The problem is the expectation of faster communication.