The traditional concept of a lawyer's job is that of a lawyer poring through stacks of paperwork. While paperwork still is a reality, law practice has changed drastically in the past 20 years, mainly because of computer technology. In firms large and small, the extensive use of computers is the norm.
One of the most important uses of computers in the legal profession is conducting legal research. Many legal projects require extensive legal research, including references to previously decided cases. Traditionally, companies such as West printed volumes of case law, requiring attorneys to read through keyword indexes to find relevant cases. Now, online legal databases such as LexisNexis and Westlaw make the process of searching for case law, legal forms and treatises much easier.
The increased use of computers in the legal workplace has changed the way firms are managed. For example, client case tracking traditionally was done using a large calendar; cases now are tracked electronically, which makes the danger of a missed court date or filing deadline less likely. Meanwhile, software such as AbacusLaw frequently is used to track billable hours, resulting in more precise time accounting by attorneys and savings to clients, who are able to track the attorney's work to the minute.
Computers have changed the handling of legal discovery projects. Discovery is the process by which opposing parties to a lawsuit exchange relevant information such as police reports, financial documents and witness testimony. Traditionally, discovered items were provided as photocopied documents. In many cases, attorneys and support staff had to manually organize and sift through thousands of paper documents looking for relevant information. In electronic discovery, important legal documents are scanned and stored in computer systems. In addition to making document exchanges easier, electronic discovery lets attorneys organize and examine the documents much faster and more effectively.
Increasingly, attorneys use computers and the Internet to obtain new clients. Many attorney websites provide valuable general information such as explanations of legal rights and the legal process. Some websites allow a potential client to directly email or chat with an attorney before scheduling a consultation. Lawyers also use social networking platforms to communicate with current and prospective clients.