A Warm Welcome to the Maricopa Lawyer
Several months ago when Howard Armstrong asked whether I would be willing to publish my monthly column on law office computing in the Maricopa Lawyer, I was very pleased. I know many of you well and I have always enjoyed talking to Maricopa County lawyers about issues relating to law office and courtroom technology. I hope that the expansion of the column to this venue will serve to increase that dialogue. I look forward to increased interaction with the Maricopa County bar, both through this column and through the Courtroom of the Future Project at the Law College.
Let me start by telling you a little something about the history of this column. It came into being six and one-half years ago at a time when law office computing was almost exclusively based on the MS-DOS operating system. WordPerfect 4.2 was far and away the dominant wordprocessor. A few shops were using the Macintosh operating system and Macintosh computers, and a few were using various systems based on Unix and a variety of proprietary word processing system such as Wang. Most of that system base was being run on machines using the so-called XT or 8088 processing chip and the cutting edge of office computing was represented by the IBM AT Model which operated on an Intel 286 chip. The Windows operating system was under development at Microsoft but it was really nothing more than a bad dream.
It is completely remarkable how things have changed in that short period of time. The computers of that day are virtually worthless -- I know because I have at least one of each. Today the dominant operating system is Microsoft Windows and the advent of Windows 95 with its vastly improved networking capabilities promises to bring Windows to the law office like a flood. At the same time Apple is dying and proprietary wordprocessors are all but nonexistent. What has occurred in the last five years can fairly be described with a popular propeller head phrase: paradigm shift. The paradigm that shifted was what we refer to as the user interface. Popular computing went from the text based world of DOS and word processing to the visual world first popularized by Macintosh but now dominated by Windows. In the visual world, the operator is able to move around through the computer and its programs and applications simply by moving a cursor with a mouse. Most people find that with very little practice, they are able to do everything that they need to do in that fashion and that has popularized computers enormously. At the same time the vast improvement in image quality and color rendition of modern monitors improves the visual experience of computing. That has led in the last year to an explosion of interest in the Internet and in particular the World Wide Web, which enables users to use a mouse click to go to any corner of the globe in an instant. The Web is primarily a visual information experience and it has transformed computing in the last year. Yet it is important to note that we are only at the beginning of the information age. The quantity and rate of change that we will see during the course of the next decade will be utterly astounding and exceed by all measure the changes that have occurred in the last five years. This is an exciting time to be alive. The impact that this change will have on our profession and on the legal system itself will necessarily immense. We cannot but dimly see the kinds of things that will cause that change because the only thing that is certain is that the change will occur. I have devoted the remainder of my career as an academic to the study and and reporting of that change. This column is a primary vehicle for that endeavor and I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts with you as I bid farewell to the world of footnoted law review articles.
The focus of this column is upon the small to medium-sized law firm with a heavy dose of attention to sole practitioners. In my estimation one of the great achievements of the computer revolution has been to level the playing field in the practice. Effective computerization of the law office allows the small law firm to compete vigorously with the bigger and better funded organization. But, that noted, there will be occasion when some of the material that I review will be of interest to large firm administrators, and certainly much of what I have to share about personal computing is important to lawyers of every kind when they are operating "virtually"-- that is connected to their offices and the courts only by an electronic tether.
Unless I tell you otherwise, the hardware and software that I talk about will be hardware and software that I have actually used and evaluated. I deeply appreciate interaction with my readers and suggestions for products to review. I love debate and I covet dissenting opinion. I have no axes to grind, I am not owned by anyone and I will always try and tell the truth about products. If there is something fascinating going on in the world of computing that I think you ought to know about, I will talk about those general issues as well. In short, this column is open to discussion of issues relating to law office and courtroom computing in all of its various dimensions and I look forward to your readership and contribution. The earlier columns from the DOS age are available through the State Bar Bulletin Board and the most recent columns are available through the World Wide Web Home Page for the Courtroom of the Future. You can look at them at http://www.law.arizona.edu/~law/courtroom.html.
Finally, I would like to invite any of you who are moved to do so, to write a guest column or to enter into a debate that we can publish. The Road Ahead is exciting. Let's have fun on the trip!