Without the Advantages of Modern Technology
(Reprinted with permission of Law Practice Management)
Robert James Henderson ©
I began the practice of law in 1958. Back then, we didn’t have all of the wonderful advantages of modern technology. For instance, if we wanted to make copies of documents, we simply inserted more sheets of carbon in the typewriter.
Our telephones were the good old-fashioned black variety provided free of charge by Ma Bell. Our offices were in the local bank building. I think the phones were installed when the building was built around the turn of the century, and hadn’t required service since. There was no such thing as a car phone.
Our dictating machines resembled Thomas Edison’s original recording device. Dictation was recorded by a needle on a round plastic cylinder.
Summers and winters could be uncomfortable. When it got hot, we loosened our ties and sometimes removed our suit coats. We tried putting a fan in the window once but it blew all the papers off the desks.
In the winter, if we got cold, we had an old crescent wrench that we banged on the radiators. Someone down in the bowels of the building would then send up a blast of steam in the pipes. The office would then get too hot and we would have to open the windows to cool off.
Typewriters were operated manually and had no “memory”.
To mail letters, we had a large roll of stamps. All you had to do was tear one off and lick it.
Today, we have all of the advantages of modern technology.
If we want to make copies of documents, we don’t even use carbon paper; we have a wonderful photostat machine that even enlarges or reduces the size of copies at the push of a button.
Of course, the machine has a mind of its own. The manufacturer (which advertises that it makes nothing but photostat machines) has a large staff of service people, one of whom makes his home at our office. When something goes wrong, his explanation is that it’s not the machine—we just use it too much.
When we moved into our new office building in 1980, we couldn’t get the old black phones supplied by Ma Bell. We had to purchase our own telephone system. It has all kinds of features the old black phones didn’t have, including automatic dialing of up to 25 numbers, automatic redial, hands-free use, etc.
Of course, whenever we have a lightning storm, or if we have what’s called a “power surge,” the phones go out, disconnecting all calls in process. Someone then has to run down to the basement and press the reset button.
Car phones are another great advancement in telephone service. When they first came out, they were status symbols, like a Mercedes. Now, the price has come down so that just about anyone can afford them and they’re no longer status symbols (car phones, that is, not Mercedeses).
Our dictating machines are now hand-held tape recorders. This makes it convenient to do dictation wherever one happens to be. One of my partners, for instance, has a rare combination of talents; he can drive his car while shaving, dictating, talking on the phone and eating breakfast, all at the same time.
Today, typewriters have been replaced by computers which are networked and can communicate with one another. When I come into the office these days, I half expect to hear the computers carrying on a conversation – in computerese, of course. Since I’m a relic of the precomputer age, I tread very lightly when I’m near the computers for fear of getting them “mad” at me.
The building is heated and cooled by high-efficiency heating and cooling units. We have four zones on the main floor. The heat and air conditioning are turned up and down in the morning and evening, without the aid of a crescent wrench. It’s all automatic.
For three months in the spring and fall, according to our employees, the building is too cold in the morning and too hot during the day, or too hot in the morning and too cold during the day, depending on the season. Also, although all zones are set at the same temperature, there is a variance of three to four degrees from one side to the other. But as I said, it’s all automatic.
To mail letters, in place of the old-fashioned roll of stamps that had to be licked, we now have a modern, automatic electronic mailing machine.
Of course, the machine isn’t as easy to operate as licking a stamp. It has a control panel comparable to a Boeing 737’s. I haven’t learned to operate it yet, and I may not have enough years left to do so. Fortunately, however, we did purchase a convenience option with it – a glass container with a roll of stamps that says “In case of emergency, break glass.”
Life was a lot less complicated in the “good old days.” But as I said, we didn’t have all of the wonderful advantages of modern technology.
LAW PRACTICE MANAGMENT JULY/AUGUST 1990
Copyright 199O by Robert James Henderson
Robert James Henderson is the managing partner of the Luce, Henderson law firm, P. 0. Box 610944, Port Huron, Michigan 48061. He does management consulting for small law firms and conducts strategic planning retreats.