Technology is changing at break-neck speed. Many of the tools we take for granted today, such as cell phones, look much different now than they did 10, 15, or even 20 years ago. Remember the large “bag phones” that were plugged into your car’s cigarette lighter for use? Compare that to the smartphones today that are pocket-sized computers allowing you to search for a nearby pizza place, invite your friends over, place your order, pay for the pizza, and post reviews, all from the comfort of your living room.
While there are many guesses at what new technology we might have in the near future (I am still waiting on the hover board that I was promised in Back To The Future Part II…), odds are that much of our current technology won’t be around to see it.
Laptop Magazine recently published an article on 15 technologies the author believes won’t be around for his newborn son to use. Assuming his son isn’t the next Doogie Houser, the list contains current technology likely to be obsolete (like the VHS) within the next 10-15 years.
Reading through the list, I agree with most of the predictions (I think movie theaters, in some capacity, will still be around). I just got my wife a new point-and-shoot camera for Christmas, but with the quality of smartphone cameras increasing almost daily there will soon be no reason to buy a standalone camera. Why carry around a separate camera to take pictures or even video when you nearly always have your smartphone with you anyway?
How do these predictions affect law firms? While the legal profession tends to be slow to react to changes in technology, I still think much of the listed technology will be gone from all but the most stubborn technophobe’s office, perhaps even by the end of the decade.
Fax Machines, for instance, are currently on death’s doorstep today. With the cost of online fax services less than the cost of a standard phone line, there is no good reason for anyone, including law firms, to have dedicated fax lines or machines. A decent quality scanner is the only hardware you need.
There is little benefit to desktop computers over laptops and tablets in today’s law office. In the not-so-distant past, desktops were much more powerful and less expensive than laptops. In other words, you could get a lot more computer for your dollar. Today, new chip and processor technology has allowed laptop computers and tablets to be almost if not as powerful as desktop computers. For a law firm, portability is more important than power. I can take my iPad with me to court, to a deposition, or to meet with a client. With an internet connection, I can access my email, client files, word processor, and legal research engine. Try lugging a desktop computer into court with you.
Harddrives & Optical Disks
Hard drives and optical discs are both on the verge of being replaced by “the cloud” (I will also throw on-site servers in there as well). At this point, I am sure you are familiar with the concept and some of the cloud-based storage services such as Dropbox, Box, and iCloud. There are ethical considerations when using these sorts of services, but more and more information is getting uploaded and stored in the cloud rather than saved on a local drive or disc. For law firms and attorneys, having your information in a cloud-based system allows you access it from anywhere on different devices. For example, my firm uses Box for our document management. Every document that comes in is uploaded to Box and immediately available to every other attorney. I can access these documents on my primary computer (a laptop), on my iPad, or even on my Android smartphone. My firm does not need to have an IT person to manage servers or respond to problems. And if my office burns down, I can easily restore all my data from the cloud.
Finally, the landline phone. For years, the various local phone companies have been making money hand over fist selling multiple phone lines and PBX systems to law firms. For firms with many attorneys and staff, this can get expensive in a hurry. A single business-class phone line alone can cost upwards of $40 – twice that of a home phone line. There are two replacements for landline phones. First are IP phones, also known as VOIP systems (voice over internet protocol). Rather than using dedicated copper phone lines, VOIP uses the internet to provide service. While the handsets tend to cost a little more than analog versions, the VOIP system can provide voicemail, call forwarding, and other PBX features. The other replacement, especially for solos and small firms, is eliminating handsets completely and relying on smartphones, coupled with the VOIP system mentioned above or VOIP-based services like Google Voice. Just like with the camera, if all the members of the firm are going to have smartphones with them anyway, why not incorporate them into the firm phone system and get rid of desk-based phones?