Friday, August 31, 2007

Don’t Take Technology for Granted!

As a virtual lawyer, I pride myself on being able to integrate technology into my law practice and to leverage technology in ways that improve the efficiency and quality of legal services. I understand that most lawyers are not as focused on technology as I am.

I understand that other lawyers may not send and receive faxes from their PC. I understand that other lawyers may not know how to convert a Word document to a PDF. I understand that they may not send bills to clients electronically. I understand that other lawyers may not know how to connect their wireless laptop to the free wifi at a “hotspot”. I understand that they may not be familiar with the latest web-based applications for time & billing. I understand that other lawyers may not even type their own emails.

However, I do know that all lawyers know how to use the telephone. And, I would be surprised if they have been practicing more than a few years without ever participating in a conference call. Well, imagine my surprise yesterday when I was scheduled to attend a meeting in Boston and they did not have a conference phone!

I have been working on a multi-million dollar transaction with a major financial institution, which is represented by an up and coming mid-sized law firm with brand new offices in Boston. The Boston-based firm organized a meeting in Boston inviting all the lawyers and their clients working on the transaction to attend. The transaction had been going on for months and the costs have been significant and steadily increasing. Since I was pressed for time, and driving into Boston required at least 90 minutes of travel time (or more with traffic), I asked if I could participate by phone. I thought, what a good idea, I can be more productive and save my client about $4-500.

Little did I know that setting up a conference phone would be a major technology hurdle. The lawyer organizing the meeting sent me a message from his BlackBerry the day before confirming yes, I could participate by phone. The meeting was scheduled for 11am at the offices of the above-mentioned financial institution. At 9:30am, I emailed the lawyer organizing the meeting and asked what phone number I should dial into to participate in the meeting. At 10am, I received an email back providing me with a conference service to dial into.

At 11am, I dialed in. Nothing, but music on hold. At 11:06am, I sent an email asking when the meeting would start. At 11:15am, I received a call from the attorney hosting the meeting that they were working on getting a telephone that they could use for the conference call. They tried one phone and the sound was so garbled that the voices could not be distinguished (even my speaker phone at home was better). They then asked me to dial directly into the conference room, but the phone line had severe and the microphone kept cutting out so that the conversation was unintelligible.

When I complained that about the static on the line, the hosting attorney asked everyone in the room, about 10 people, to turn off their cell phones (makes no sense to me). Nothing, still way too much static. I tried dialing in from a different telephone. Still, too much static. Not just a little buzz, but a kind of loud, irritating, crackling noise that makes you think no one could ever use that phone. And, the static wasn’t just due to the phone equipment because I could hear it on the line before the phone was even answered. By 11:30am, the room full of lawyers and their clients, whose time was worth at least $5000 an hour, had reached a level of frustration that caused one of them to interrupt and state that they had tried everything including turning of their cell phone.

This reminds me of a story told by my professor in law school. He said that President Lyndon Baines Johnson was once holding a press conference outside at the Lincoln Memorial. The noise of the airplanes flying overhead was so loud that he called the FAA and told them to stop all planes from flying in and out of Washington National airport until the press conference was finished.

Well, I am not LBJ, and when the conference phone didn’t work, the room full of lawyers and clients were not going to wait for me to get connected by conference phone. Midway through the process of trying to find a working conference phone, the hosting lawyer said, couldn’t you just come down here in person (as if I worked in Boston). I said no and that I thought conferencing was not new technology. The long and the short of it is that I did not participate in the conference call.

Conference phones have been around for more than thirty years. You would think this is standard equipment for law firms and financial institutions. The moral is no matter how much you think technology has been standardized, never take it for granted.
What technology do you think is standard equipment for lawyers? How about the fax machine, email or Microsoft Word? Have you ever been surprised when the other attorney says…that doesn’t work?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

They told the lawyers in the room to turn off their cell phones because GSM phones put out a signal that can interfere with speaker systems, including speaker phone.