by Marguerite (Meg) Shaw
The focus of this edition of BarTalk is on the theme of technology. Those of us who have practised for a while, barristers and solicitors alike, have witnessed enormous technological changes in the practice of law. As with anything, though, change shouldn’t be made for change’s sake. Prudent lawyers weigh the costs and benefits of any technology they are considering adopting.
As a barrister and partner in a small, two-lawyer firm, I don’t have the luxury of an IT department to support my forays into the world of computer-speak. My computer knowledge is earned the hard way: through experience. Sometimes firsthand experience is pleasant, and sometimes, difficult and costly. And cost, of course, is a real concern, especially for a small practice with few lawyers to spread that cost across.
I’d like to share with you my most recent experience.
I knew that I would be spending significant time away from both my practice and my home during my presidential year, and the ability to stay in touch with my office, collect my e-mail, access my files, and keep my calendar up to date was of paramount importance. Remote access to my computer at work was an absolute necessity.
A virtual private network, or VPN, is one way to meet my connectivity goals. Through a combination of hardware and software, a secure, encrypted tunnel is created over the internet between a notebook computer and the server back at the office. This has the theoretical potential to afford access to all the applications I use at the office: Amicus Attorney, PC Law, WordPerfect, and Outlook Express. In practice, the learning curve was very steep, it was finicky to set up, and some of my applications refused to run over the VPN. The cost wasn’t very high for the hardware and software, but the cost in lost time trying to make it all work was extremely high.
The next attempt was to use a service called GoToMyPC. Insomniacs will be familiar with this solution as it is advertised heavily on late night television. They even offer a 30-day free trial. Setup took all of five minutes, it worked immediately, and it has worked flawlessly ever since! A small program is installed on your office computer, and then anywhere you have access to the internet, you can connect to that computer and control it just like you were sitting at your desk. Like with the VPN, a secure, encrypted connection is made, so confidentiality is maintained. You pay a modest monthly fee for each month you need the service. The cost, both financially, and in time and effort was extremely low.
For those times when I need to know my schedule or have to contact a client while out of the office, and I am not near a computer, I carry a SmartPhone. Whether you choose the now ubiquitous Blackberry or, as I did, a Palm-based phone for its ability to communicate with Amicus Attorney, these devices have become indispensable to busy practitioners. They get smaller and more powerful every year. I don’t know how I would do without mine.
For those members who prefer to benefit from the firsthand experience of others, the Canadian Bar website, www.cba.org has numerous articles of interest on technology and the practice of law. Click on the Practice Tools menu, then choose CBA PracticeLink.
This article was published in the December 2005 issue of BarTalk. © 2005 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.