Just as social media, mobile and cloud computing have impacted our social and work life,
many other technologies have shaped the practise of law.
The introduction of typewriters in 1867 supplemented Pitman’s shorthand, with impressive legal documents and transcripts.
This created a whole new service niche for pavement typists along India’s city streets. They typed letters, documents, affidavits and petitions for a barely literate public. In the 1970s, you would always find typists sitting cross-legged, banging out documents for petitioners and plaintiffs outside the high court in Bombay (as described by Rohinton Mistry in his novel, A Fine Balance).
What’s even more interesting is the fact that typists haven’t completely disappeared even now. Visiting several district courts, you’re sure to find experienced typists, some of whom even offer advice to young advocates, based on their decades of experience typing legal documents and understanding the general trajectory of various cases.
But it wasn’t just entrepreneurial typists outside the courts.
Law courts were among the first government institutions supplied with typists and typewriters. This created an entrepreneurial niche for commercial agencies securing contracts to supply and repair the machines, among other office supplies.
Information and knowledge management, and data storage were revolutionized since the first $3,200 desktop computer, the Programma 101, was unveiled in 1964.
Computer word processing software made typewriters obsolete. Indeed, who wouldn’t take a legal technology that greatly decreased time to create and revise documents, effectively saving money?
The computerized systems also increase legal research speed and efficiency, and eliminated costs of maintaining law libraries.
Laptops took this one step further.
The first $1,995 IBM laptop, weighing 12lbs., initiated the revolution to free lawyers from their desks, so they could work from anywhere.
But that was just the start of a much larger revolution…
Perhaps because many people already had computers, the World Wide Web had reached 50 million users within 4 years in the mid 1990s. That’s an incredibly short time, compared to television which took 13 years, and radio which took 38 years.
Such communication technology completely altered existing static systems, creating new, dynamic relationships between lawyers and clients. Now, lawyers can instantly consult precedents (previous cases having relevance to the one in dispute) in court.
Just to show a more vivid picture of how much has changed...
Before the twentieth century, no organised system of appeals in criminal cases existed. The legal system didn’t have organized law reporting, with lawyers and judges relying on memory to give accounts of previous cases.
Well, now we have libraries full of voluminous law reports, plus all major decisions get published in full online.
As is the nature of technology and innovation, you can expect new and better systems and phasing out of existing ones. Such innovative solutions as artificial intelligence are sure to impact legal practise, just as it will affect many other professions.
As happened in the past, new technologies are likely to improve the practise of law, and ensure efficient and effective legal systems.