Law in the Time of Coronavirus
Does this happen to you? You’re watching a movie set before, say 2005, and you stop for a minute and think this: “None of this happens if anyone has an iPhone . . . or can do a quick Google search?”
Some are really obvious; some are very subtle. Take, for example, The Talented Mr. Ripley. The entire plot unreels from a very early, very simple statement. Ripley, Matt Damon, playing piano at a posh gathering on Central Park West, mentions he went to Princeton. Everything spins out of control from there.
Thing is, of course, no one remembers him. He knows just enough about the school to get by the very cursory questioning he gets throughout the rest of the film. All the deaths and thefts sprout from that first lie.
A quick Google search stops everything before it starts; Ripley is found out; he’s stuck doing small-time grifts in Manhattan; Dickie parties himself to death on the Italian Coast.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, and not only because I’m filling the sports void with old movies.
It occurs to me we’re – as in the country – experiencing the very opposite of this. We’re connected, we’re working, we’re adapting to the restrictions imposed by COVID-19 in ways that were impossible ten, fifteen years ago.
Think of this – Triangle Smart Divorce is working almost as usual. Face to face with clients, just most of those contacts are via Zoom or Uberconference or . . .
Look at it this way: I have a friend who started law school in 1990 at the second-ranked school in the country for technology. They had dozens of computer terminals and free access to Westlaw and Lexis/Nexus. It was slow, but students could research cases, laws, decisions, statutes, and law journals, and some selected newspapers.
He and his fellow OneLs could access more information, incrementally faster than any other law students in history.
Here’s the thing: it was of very little value outside of instantly pulling up a case. It was too . . . new. There was nowhere near enough depth to the data – getting a case in a few seconds was great, but it still had to be ‘Shepardized’ (i.e., checked for cites and overrulings) the old way, by hand.
Nothing was integrated. You couldn’t cut and paste online findings to a Word-type program (remember Word Perfect for DOS?). You couldn’t search the Internet, all in all, you couldn’t do much with what you found.
That has, of course, changed. Slowly at first, then at light speed, once we all started using handheld devices with more computing power than all the Apollo Moonshots combined.
Now, the data is complete – every case/statute/procedure manual is online, searchable by citation, case name, subject, and/or a few keywords.
This is very important in the time of Coronavirus, everything is integrated. Everything and everyone is connected. I can pull a relevant case down, drop key parts of it into an email, and send it to my staff in seconds. I can be in Detroit while they are in a courthouse in Cary and we can still talk face-to-face about it on our phones.
All that is to say that this is the only time in history a societal/business slowdown will not become a shutdown.
We are all still connected. We still have all our legal resources – save courtroom trials – at our disposal. We can virtually do in an afternoon what most other generations of lawyers couldn’t do in a week.
If you doubt that, when this is over take a walk through a real legal library – there are a ton around us. I remember legal digests and indexes and the rabbit holes they could take you on. You had to weed through all the good and the bad and trust someone else’s opinion of what might be relevant, let alone on point. Imagine searching stack after stack looking for any mention of the case you think maybe the linchpin of your argument. Then think about piling volume after volume of casebooks on a solid oak table until it’s buried while you hand copy selections and cites on index cards and the ubiquitous yellow pad(s).
So, is the law being impacted by the coronavirus?
Attorneys can and are working through this. We are working through this. To do anything else would be a betrayal of 30 years of technological advances.