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March 4, 2012
By: Reminiscence – Fifty Years

This past November 2011, I was thinking about how the law practice has changed since November, 1961, 50 years ago, when I was admitted to the law practice by the Supreme Court of Illinois.

In 1961, we used manual typewriters; electric ones were just starting to come into vogue. When we needed multiple copies of a lawsuit where multiple parties were involved, we used carbon paper to print the copies. The keys on the typewriter had to be struck so hard that they would often cut through the paper. To correct typing errors you had to erase the errors on all the copies and use white chalk to cover the erasure on as many as 12 sheets. Otherwise, you had to simply start over with fresh paper.

One option we had at that time was to use a mimeograph system. This was a very messy procedure involving inking a stencil to be used to make copies. Most of the ink ended up on our hands. Since that time we progressed to electric typewriters, memory typewriters, word processors, and the personal computers presently in use.

The first copy machine I remember using was a wet process one which required you to pass a treated sheet through a special fluid one page at a time and then hang the copy to dry. Imagine how long that took to make multiple copies. Obviously, we seldom used that machine.

In 1961, when lawyers went to court to argue points of law, they carried law books with them to argue legal precedent. Sometimes you carried as many as a dozen books. With the copy machines now in use we are able to make copies of the relevant page of a book or better yet print the pages from electronic copies of the books to take to court, eliminating the need to make copies or carry the books to court.

Back then we used large cumbersome adding machines that enabled us to add, subtract and do other mathematical calculations. Then along came the small battery powered hand-held calculators and of course the modern computers which we now have at our desks to do the same. With the use of their computers, many lawyers draft their own documents and pleadings at their desk or use their computer to organize their thoughts and to transfer the same to their assistants to produce a finished product. Some of the courts require electronic filings as distinguished from filing paper pleadings and documents in the court clerk’s office. In 1961 and until recently you were required to go to the court clerk’s office to file papers.

We receive much less mail through the U.S. Postal Service than we used to. Most important documents come by private carrier services such Federal Express or UPS, etc. or by e-mail. The use of e-mail has become very common.

Starting with the fax machines and now e-mail, there is much more stress placed upon us. I remember an occasion after the use of fax machines became popular when a commercial contractor client faxed voluminous contracts to me and then called a few minutes later asking me what I thought of the document. When I responded jokingly that if he would pay his statements from us as fast as he was now requesting us to do his work that we would respond quicker. He then said that he would then fax his check to us. Today, a scanned copy of a check can be deposited to our bank account electronically. Unfortunately, that client has since passed away and I can not joke with him about this latest change.

Another significant change for us is how legal research is done and how we keep abreast of changes in the law. Back then you had to pull books off the shelves and read them. Now you are able to get the same information over the Internet, making it easier for lawyers to work away from their library. We are also able to dictate directly into a computer with a special program that tells the printer to produce the document.

These reflections obviously apply to other types of businesses besides law offices. It was interesting to reflect on how we now get our work done is so different from 50 years ago.