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Friday, October 30, 2009

The Lawyer as Information Manager

Bennett Steven Bennett (Jones Day - New York) has just published, at 37 Capital U. L. Rev. 729, his article The Lawyer as Information Manager.  Bennett makes what I think is a perceptive observation about a major shift in how lawyers function as lawyers.  Here are the first two paragraphs. 

It may be easy to regard computer technology’s impact in legal information management as “simply a matter of lawyers being able to do what they used to do, only faster and more conveniently.”  Yet, the true ramifications run far deeper.  A recent study found that law review articles containing at least one Web citation increased from 0.57% in 1995 to 23% in 2000, while the average number of Web citations in such articles increased from 1.9 to 10.45 per article.  Computer-based legal research databases including Westlaw and Lexis “today incorporate object-oriented views of data whereby different attributes can be selected and combined on the fly for different purposes,” unlike print sources of old, “where relations between classes had to be decided once and for all at the time of original creation.”  The packaging and distribution of legal information is worth in excess of $5 billion per year and has grown at an annual rate of 5% in recent years.  Competition has driven the rise of major legal document databases, just as competition continues to fuel the technology boom.

Many lawyers recognize and appreciate technology’s influence in their everyday work.  Many others, however, have yet to grasp that an entire paradigm for the legal profession has been altered and remains in motion.  This Article looks at the rapidly evolving technological environment and its effects on the practice of law, and also outlines a lawyer’s responsibilities in acting capably as an information manager in the years ahead.

And here's what Bennett says about how most law schools are (not) preparing students for this evolution in law practice:

Law schools today offer numerous opportunities for students to learn to use the major legal research databases.  Yet, for the most part, the use of technology in the law remains a footnote in legal education, as legal practice technology is integrated into individual courses to varying degrees, without much coordination.  Many transformations in information handling “remain outside the scope of today’s law school; large-scale document management; the discovery process in an electronic arena; information presentation and simulations in the courtroom; and the evaluation of electronic resources outside the narrow confines of the legal document databases.”   It is no wonder that most law students—lacking exposure to technology’s role in the law and in legal information management—do not think to seek out practical clinical training in law-related technologies.  There is perhaps even less coverage on the theoretical side of understanding how technology may affect the practice of law, and how the digital era may alter the framework of legal processes.  For better or worse, practical technology education has been left for law firms to instill piecemeal, while theory and the evolving “big picture” receives very little, if any, academic attention.

Rick Bales

Posted by Workplace Prof on October 30, 2009 at 05:14 PM | Permalink

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This is a very timely topic. I discuss the management of information in my book, The Organized Lawyer (Carolina Academic Press, 2009). Lawyers are managing more information in a larger variety of formats, while working in smaller spaces -- and with less time. Technology has been meshed in legal practice for less than 20 years, and it's incredible to consider how influential it has become in such a short amount of time.

Posted by: Kelly Anders | Oct 30, 2009 5:30:50 PM

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