One of the unique things about law as a field is its ability to reflect both practicality and morality. Sure, law helps our culture function smoothly, but it’s also based on a set of just principles — things we’ve agreed, as a society, are right or wrong. In the best-case scenario, we see this dual-pronged approach reflected in the legal workplace. You want your office to be pragmatic and effective, but you also want it to be ethical and fair. This conflict comes up in all sorts of places, but today we’d like to talk about how it’s expressed through our use of technology.
It’s like the proverbial widget-maker whose job making widgets was eliminated by the industrial revolution – our obsession with productivity and output means that sometimes, our technological goals sometimes outpace our interests as humans. (Think of the controversy over inhumane conditions at Apple factories.) The key to success in this kind of environment is figuring out how technology can best augment the work we’re already doing, while considering the social costs.
Take the example of technology in higher ed. In distance learning, watching webcasts of a lecture probably isn’t going to do as much for you as sitting in an actual classroom. Practically, it’s just not as effective a teaching method; ethically, it doesn’t fulfill its obligations to the students (who we owe an education) or to the teacher (whose role we respect and want to retain). However, applications like Second Life for education, where students interact with a professor in real time in a digital classroom, have great potential in offering access to students who may not previously have been able to experience a university education, while still valuing and integrating the work teachers already do.
For lawyers, what that seems to mean is using technology in a way that help your employees work smarter, so they can spend more of their time using the best of their human skills: communication, intuition, and creativity. Paralegals who have technology that helps them complete repetitive tasks and paperwork can spend more time doing research and helping generate case strategy. Time-saving applications help everyone regain control of their workload, or simply go home earlier to spend time with their families. The best tech tools aren’t a replacement for good employees; they make good employees better. They help maximize both our practical and ethical ends: to do good work, while helping everyone reach their full potential.
What do you think? What are some of the best instances in which technology can change the work we do?