A pair of stories in the last week got me thinking about how amazing technology has gotten and how I wonder if lawyers have truly grasped the pace at which technology is permeating the workplace.
First, the amazing stuff: Google Wave is getting officially launched today to over 100,000 people. Haven’t heard of it? You will. (Much like those old "You Will" commercials for AT&T voiced by Tom Selleck.)
What’s the big deal?
Mashable has a very good explanation of it but here’s the 15-second recap:
Google Wave is a real-time communication platform. It combines aspects of email, instant messaging, wikis, web chat, social networking, and project management to build one elegant, in-browser communication client. You can bring a group of friends or business partners together to discuss how your day has been or share files.
Not convinced? There is a complete guide to Google Wave by Mashable that gets into more details.
Of those first 100,000 people that are getting invites today, I’m going to guess that only a tiny fraction of them will be lawyers. Why? Because most attorneys are slow adopters as a group. Many are quite cautious and I dare say that it’s only recently that most attorneys finally use e-mail as the primary means of communication.
But this conservative nature may lead attorneys to underestimate the scope of the changes in the workplace. For example, some in human resources are up in arms, saying that employment law attorneys too often use scare tactics and don’t understand the technology they are advising about. As a result, HR professionals are afraid to use new tools (like Facebook or Twitter) to locate candidates, for example.
What’s the solution to this problem? Anthony Zaller of the California Workforce Resource Blog has a suggestion: Make sure that the attorney you work with uses the technology he or she is giving advice about:
When looking for legal advice about these issues, you need to be certain that your lawyer is familiar and up-to-date with the technology available. Does the lawyer who you are seeking legal advice from have a Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn account? Do they use an iPhone or Blackberry? If the answer to these questions are ‘no’ – don’t be surprised if their advice is to avoid these “new” technologies.
I’m not sure I’d go as far as Anthony on this. After all, there are many competent lawyers who learn about certain topics (like medical malpractice) without having experienced those issues first-hand. But I do think that lawyers who are using technology in their everyday work may bring a different perspective to this issue. For example, attorneys who use Twitter may be able to understand both the benefits AND the detriments that using that service can bring. (And I’ve commented before how some of the opinions about LinkedIn are overblown)
Which leads me back to Google Wave. The Wave is interesting, novel and a potentially big new way of communicating. Which means that inevitably — in the upcoming weeks or months — we’re going to hear some attorney lament its use in the workplace. But my thought is, let’s give it time. Yes, there will no doubt be a situation where it is misused or abused — just like every other technology that preceded it. But that doesn’t mean that the overall benefits of it should not be attained.
Understanding that clients want practical solutions that embrace technology — without the advice to simply ignore it — is a big challenge to lawyers in the upcoming years. Hopefully, as more attorneys start using the technology themselves, more clients will start to think that their attorneys are raising solutions, rather than just raising alarms.
And if you’re still not convinced of the change in technology, check out the AT&T ad here: