By Randall Kulat
Arnstein & Lehr
Sure, I could talk about how law is now a business and no longer a profession, but that's way too philosophical.
I could talk about how a partnership in a firm is no longer a lifetime sinecure, but that might be too whiny.
I could talk about all the once prestigious firms that have collapsed and faded into obscurity, their names evoking memories for fewer and fewer lawyers, but that might make me sound too old.
I could talk about how Chicago was invaded by firms from such provincial backwaters as St. Louis, Milwaukee and Indianapolis, but that would sound too xenophobic.
No, for me, the biggest change in the practice of law is that I no longer have red fingers after a hard day at the office.
Perhaps some explanation may be in order. In 1980, I graduated from the best law school in the state south of 61st Street. Six days later, I got married and three days after that I started work in the suburbs for a solo practitioner who had been a partner at a large downtown firm that specialized in tax-exempt bonds but left a few years before to start his own bond counsel practice. For those of you who have managed to avoid working on a bond transaction, let's just say that it involves a lot of long documents that aren't exactly page-turners. A trust indenture alone can run up to about 100 pages, and that's just one of the many documents produced by bond counsel in a typical transaction.
Producing that many documents even now can be rather time-consuming, but 32 years ago it was a major production. Chicago Lawyer 's younger readers may not realize this, but back in the day most law offices had these things called typewriters, which required someone (frequently young, almost always female) to actually type every single page of a document. Even in 1980, a law office was very much like a set of "Mad Men," but with somewhat less drinking. A lawyer's desk was unadorned, except for a phone (I think we had moved on to Touch-Tone phones by then), family pictures, a penholder and perhaps an ashtray.
The limit of our technology then was a system of "mag cards," which were long strips of magnetic film. Each mag card contained the data for one or two pages of a document. Our secretaries would insert a mag card into a slot in the electric typewriter and printed out the page until stopping to hand-type in a change from the markup of the document. After that page was done, they'd insert a new mag card and continue on, page by page, until the document was finished.
For revised drafts, someone had to redline revisions to the documents, and as the young associate in a two-lawyer firm, that someone was me. And by redline, I mean actually marking lines in red ink on the new draft. Armed with a ruler and a red pen, I would go through the new document and underline any new language that was added and use a caret (an upside down V) to show where something was deleted — the caret just indicated a deletion, but we had no way to show what was deleted.
This was, of course, a tedious process, yet not only did the documents get redlined, but I also became really familiar with the documents over time. The downside, though, was that after several hours of redlining by hand, I would get red ink all over my fingers, so that at the end of the day my fingers looked like I had spent the day at the stockyards rather than a suburban office building.
Eventually, my boss retired and I moved on to another firm, and then another, and so on. Soon, secretaries traded in their typewriters for these fancy new things called computers, and then later, those computers started popping up on lawyers' desks.
Documents could now be produced more quickly and printed out on a printer, rather than pulled out of the typewriter's roller. And some unknown genius came up with the track changes option for Word, so that the computer could actually show in red or blue or any other color, what changes had been made to a document.
And track changes soon begat CompareRite, Deltaview, Workshare and other software that could compare two documents and show all the differences between the two. Redlining was now a snap.
I think that we sometimes focus too much on other technological changes that have changed the practice of law over the last several decades.
E-mail is ubiquitous, but a somewhat mixed blessing, with the expectation that questions must be answered instantly. The Internet can be a great way to find information quickly, or it can suck up hours of time on truly trivial pursuits. However, computerized redlining is a godsend for a transactional lawyer. It allows you to quickly mark all the changes to a document, so everyone reading the document can know right away what changes were made. It allows you to compare a form to someone else's document, so you can see what they might have deleted or changed, to their advantage. It is the unsung hero in a war of words between opposing sides of a transaction.
Best of all, I can now go home from a hard day's work without red ink on my fingers.