Sometimes it feels funny to say attorneys practice law. I do not know the historic use of the word practice, but I like to think it’s used because lawyers are always striving to be better by learning from their experiences. Even when we prevail in court, most attorneys dwell on things that could have gone better. Most attorneys are perfectionists. Yes, practice makes perfect.
Legal technology is a great tool to help attorneys to get closer to perfection. It allows lawyers to be better advocates for their clients in and out of the courtroom. Not only does legal technology allow clients to achieve better results for their clients, it also strengthens the attorney-client relationship by fostering more trust. Legal technology perfects the practice of law.
In this two-part series, we’ll explore how technology supports attorneys in using our so-called “soft” skills — human traits like empathy, communication, common sense and situational awareness — to better serve our clients. Let’s begin by exploring its role in the courtroom.
Litigators are always writing briefs, pleadings, discovery requests and letters. It is through these documents that an attorney really advocates for their clients, so every word must be clear, correct and effective. In recent years, document automation has provided lawyers with a quality assurance tool, avoiding critical mistakes that would reflect poorly in front of a judge.
Prior to document automation, lawyers most often re-used court documents as templates for their next case; that is, taking a document used in Matter A, opening it in Microsoft Word, then manually copying and pasting the court caption, judge’s name, parties’ details and other pertinent information from Matter B to build a new document.
This entire process is a recipe for human error. Overlooking even one important field in Matter A results in publicly-filed court documents containing grave errors like an incorrect court caption, wrong names, unrelated information and — the death knell — the name of an incorrect judge.
Such errors will hurt an attorney’s in-court client advocacy. The judge will assume incompetence and have a bad impression of your work. They will also be angry — and angering judges is poor legal advocacy. Similarly, your client will view your work as sloppy, and your lack of attention to detail will cause them to question your commitment to their case.
Losing client trust and riling up the judge’s is a combination that stifles any attorney’s advocacy. But document automation allows your firm to sidestep this potential pitfall entirely. With Smokeball, every pertinent detail about each matter is saved in one secure place. When you create a new document, those details automatically flow in, so there’s no room for incorrect details — especially the judge’s name — to sneak in.
Document Searching Capabilities
When I think back on our profession before the rise of legal technology, I visualize attorneys walking into courthouses with double wide redwells (the accordion-style folder) stuffed with hundreds of paper documents. Attorneys wanted everything they could physically carry with them in the courtroom just in case they needed that one super-obscure document.
This brute force approach, however, is impractical — and not just because of the strain on your back. Locating a specific document within reams and reams of physical files and folders can require a search party, and most judges will only allow attorneys a brief time to find a document. The courtroom is no place for a needle-in-a-haystack marathon.
But Smokeball’s cloud-based legal case management software puts every file in the palm of your hand. Because every document is related to the correct matter, an attorney armed with a laptop or iPad can use Smokeball’s robust document search capabilities to immediately find that needle. Search for related briefs in other cases in seconds flat to counter your opposing counsel’s arguments and advocate for your clients using the full resources of your firm.
And because Smokeball is installed locally on your device, there’s no need to hope for internet connection in a musty basement courtroom.
Instead, you can rely on Smokeball’s ability to quickly access and search documents and files across your firm, giving you an arsenal of tools to be better advocates in the courtroom.
Stay tuned later this week for Part 2 of our client advocacy series, where we’ll talk about using technology to support your client outside the courtroom.
Mark Petrolis serves as senior account manager and in-house counsel at Smokeball. He earned his J.D. at The John Marshall Law School at University of Illinois Chicago.