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Slow Law

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I own and use an Underwood manual office typewriter, built in the early 1960’s (the advertisement is for an Underwood electric). I have a Macbook as well, but I can type an envelope on the Underwood faster than printing on the Macbook, the desktop, or any of the other technological marvels in the office.

During WWII typewriters were considered armaments and essential because all military orders had to be typed. We fought a war, well, more than one really, without the personal computer. Does the practice of law really require a pc?

The day to day practice of law, unfortunately, is all about squabbling, usually to no real purpose. There’s a goal sought to be reached, of course, but usually the squabbling is only tangentially related to the goal and more often than not, gets in the way of the settlement of disputes or the determination of fact.

The courts are clogged. It can take two months in Miami-Dade county to get a motion calendared before a judge. Cases take years to resolve.

Business moves at the speed of business, which is most definitely not the speed of law. Most business people don’t recognize that when they need a dispute resolved, going to court is like going to the emergency room. There’s always a long line and the attention paid to you is based on triage.

I remember a case out of Ft. Lauderdale from a few years back. In the context of some otherwise unnoteworthy squabble, one attorney complained that he could not fax documents to his opponent because, well, his opponent didn’t have a fax. Faxes these days are old technology, though from time to time they can still be useful. But the Florida 4th D.C.A. would not impose a requirement on an attorney to have a fax. Presumably, there would similarly be no requirement to have access to e-mail, Facebook or Twitter.

Do any of these tools make sense in a world of clogged courthouses? Why do you need to communicate with me TODAY if the case won’t be resolved for months? Wouldn’t plain old U.S. mail suffice?

So what if you simply avoided modernity in the practice of law? Would anything really change? The slow food movement is gaining traction throughout Europe. Is there a lesson here for lawyers?

The movie Secretary starring Maggie Glynhaal imagined a law office without computers, where carbon paper and typewriters were the sole tools. The series Mad Men inspires nostalgia for the days when a copy machine was an expensive novelty.

So, what if?

Written communication comes but once every day. There is time to consider a reply, for the earliest you could send a reply is the next day. That means you have the opportunity to sleep on all your responses. That’s not such a bad thing.

It’s easy to deal with e-mail. Just press “delete”. I have over a thousand unread e-mails in my inbox. I trust that these are unimportant. Some people simply declare e-mail “bankruptcy”, get a new e-mail address and start over.

It’s not so easy to simply ignore a letter. True, you can throw it in the wastebasket, but mail demands to be answered. If a letter is sent by certified mail, you can’t pretend that you never received it.

I’m wondering, because I have to get back to work answering e-mails: what are the other advantages of Slow Law?

Written by mokane

November 16, 2009 at 8:30 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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