The Two Screen Solicitor

November 4, 2010

Now the clocks have gone back and as we proceed into the darkest part of the year I am going to lighten things up a bit by picking up some of the interesting themes coming out of the annual conference in Bath in October.

I want to start first with a technology discussion rather than a legal issue. IT and its uses in the context of legal practice remains a key topic for SCL. Over lunch on the first day we had an amusing discussion about the number of screens that you have open on your desk at the office or wherever you work. It started as a sort of macho thing, you know like the old debates you would have about how powerful your PC was, until that all became a bit meaningless as they all had massive memory – and anyway your son’s gaming computer put anything you used in the office to shame. What however transpired was that several of our table actually found having two screens on different computers operating at the same time very useful. You could work on a document on one of them whilst leaving your emails (or dare I say your social network links!) running on the other.

And you know what that’s not a bad idea. I know you can have split screens and that Outlook will tell you when a new email arrives (look as if on cue one just has but I don’t want to stop this creative work to go and open it), but this is not the same real time experience. I could be typing this blog and (properly) reviewing my office emails at the same time. Or leaving this open while I waited for inspiration and went off to my other screen to do more mundane contract drafting.

This makes me think more generally of the dramatic changes in our working environment over many of our lifetimes. I confess that when I started working there were no computer screens at all. Your desk had maybe a blotting pad – remember those, you could scribble all your messages on them – some paper, a phone and perhaps a desk lamp, and loads and loads of paper. You had various pens scattered about and as a lawyer typically some form of a dictation machine into which you dictated your pearls of drafting wisdom as you leaned back in your chair. Your secretary (remember them!) then interpreted all of this and later in the day produced a sigature folder for you to review drafts and sign letters. Urgent things might go by fax but the last post from the office was a meaningful event – all law firms had large post rooms.

By contrast now you will start your morning with a large capuccino or americano or latte in front of some form of desktop or laptop. Your post will all be adverts or magazines that can wait till later. Anything meaningful in terms of communications will be on your emails. You will in any event, as a diligent lawyer, have already checked your Blackberry for emails and texts on the way in so you already know what to expect. And that draft you did last night, well it’s up to you to take on the delights of Microsoft Word and edit it yourself.

How things have changed in a relatively short space of historical time in our offices. At the start of the afternoon session of the conference I conducted a short survey to ascertain the working practices of the audience, and was surprised to see that a substantial minority used two screens simultaneously. I am going to continue that survey now so if you are a multiscreen users (at least two but maybe more) please post a response saying why this works for you, what the advantages and disadvantages are, and also maybe a bit about how you set it up.