In this guest post, I asked Bruce Cameron, Esq., author of The Rural Lawyer, to share how he uses technology in his law practice. He makes a great point that the type of technology we choose as attorneys should depend on what will work best to serve our clients.
On Being a Deliberate Luddite
Law is my second career and I come to it after 20 years of designing computer hardware and software systems for virtual reality applications. When I opened my solo practice in 2008 I envisioned a completely virtual practice. I would leverage the Internet to reduce costs and improve customer service. No more 9-5 in-the-office grind for me, I’d work from home and meet with my clients in their homes, at their place of business, over the Internet, or in a conference room rented by the hour. I would be the highest-tech lawyer in the county. I’d have a great marketing hook and a practice niche all to myself. Life would be great.
Well, it’s a year into my career as a solo practitioner and I have a terrible secret to confess: I use very little technology to practice law and I’m looking for actual brick-and-mortar office space. The sum total of my law office technology consists of a computer, a black and white laser printer, a sheet-fed scanner, and two RAID-5 NAS drives. While I do have the luxury of a DSL line, there is no pressing business need for it. At present I have no firm website; I make no use of SaaS applications or cloud-computing, I have no on-line bill-paying capability. I am, as far as the year 2009 is concerned, a Luddite.
The path from my high-tech vision to my lower-tech reality was a deliberate one. My first tentative step down the path toward technological simplicity came with the realization that the Internet has not truly arrived in rural Minnesota. I practice in an area where less than 60% of households have any form of Internet access and of those that do have access, less than 40% have a reliable high-speed connection, and less than 30% of households used the Internet regularly (the predominate users are under 18). However it was not until I surveyed my potential client base that the value of simplicity became clear.
I practice in a community that still places value on tradition. This is a community that still operates on hand-shakes, believes that one’s word is one’s bond, and trusts in business done face-to-face. This is a community that trusts and values permanence. For them, the virtual office concept falls flat simply because it cannot compete with the immediacy and permanency of bricks and mortar. My clients place more value in engraved letterhead and wax-sealed wills, in the formality of a wood paneled office and a heavy oak desk, and in a three piece suit and a good firm handshake than they do in a snazzy website, a great blog or 24/7 access to a virtual office.
Because my technology enables me to give my clients what they want, when they want it, and in the way they want it, I get satisfied clients and additional referrals. And this, I think, is the definitive reason d’être for anyone’s technology choices. So I continue on, completely out of step with my computer geek roots, being the deliberate Luddite.
Bruce Cameron, Esq. operates a solo general law practice in a small town in Minnesota. His sporadic ramblings about rural law practice can be found on his blog at rurallawyer.com.