Evolution in the law takes place slowly. As a society, we want our laws to be stable and secure. Change in a law usually means societal upheaval.
Our laws are written down for clarity and conciseness. We quibble over "and" versus "or" and "shall" versus "may" in our appellate courts. Lobbyists pay a lot of money to have certain words inserted into a statute. Laws impact our lives, often whether we want them to or not.
The reluctance to change means the legal culture doesn't jump at new fads. Yet, over the past 25 years, the law has undergone the same change as many other portions of our society -- it is going digital and is becoming more accessible.
When I was in law school back in the 1980s, the big new thing was CD-RoMs. You could have hundreds of books on one little CD. At the time, it was amazing. Westlaw and Lexis provided, at a pretty hefty price, on-line searches of all the court cases and statutes.
Now, most of that information is available from any Internet connection for free. Just over two years ago, Google introduced www.google.com/scholar, which has almost all of the appellate decisions in the United States available with a simple search query.
The federal courts are ahead of Utah's district courts in going digital. In the United States Bankruptcy Court, lawyers have been required for some time to file all documents electronically. The court sends out daily emails to legal counsel of all documents filed in that attorney's case the preceding day.
Some federal courts even send out an email every time something is filed, which can mean a flood of emails into the inbox. The state courts are making the transition now.
As the law transitions from being paper-bound to byte-bound, it is difficult not to reminisce about the attorney I knew who had his letters typed on a manual typewriter using carbon paper for his file copy, or the printer in one of my first offices that was like an IBM Selectric typewriter that was hooked up to a word processor and printed on the old dot matrix paper that had the tear-off sides and was accordion-stacked in the box.
Twenty-five years ago, the law was reluctantly trying to deal with the influx of a newfangled technology -- the fax machine. Email was still thought of as an unacceptable mode for legal communications.
The biggest difference I've noticed with the technological changes come from the speed with which we are able to communicate with the courts, opposing counsel and clients.
Expectations are greatly increased when we can communicate instantaneously. Gone are the days of the elegant letterhead and the seemingly sedentary pace of first- class mail. The law being what it is, the rules and the statutes are slow to change to accommodate new societal expectations, but the changes are coming.
I'm sure the transition from stone tablets to papyrus was tough, too.
E. Kent Winward is an Ogden attorney. He can be reached at
801-392-8200 or firstname.lastname@example.org.