The Great Equalizer

Some time in the future, historians will look back upon the present, and compare the technological advancements made over the last twenty years to the great cultural Renaissance that began in the 14th century. I know for many people, myself included, the mere mention of the word "Renaissance" causes eyelids to droop and daydreams to form. (Just like in 7th grade.)

However, the breadth and depth of the effect recent technological advances have made on our lives cannot be overstated. This is particularly true as it concerns the practice of law, and in a big way.

Nearly twenty years ago, when I was working in a large law firm in Albany, it was not uncommon for one of the senior attorneys to assign three or four people to research a single issue. We would trudge off to the library and spend countless hours flipping through dusty old law books, looking for just the right case to support our position. The work hours expended were tremendous, and, accordingly, so was the cost to the client. As a consequence, it gave the well-heeled client a significant advantage over his adversary of more modest means. It also gave the large law firm a substantial practical advantage over the smaller firm, where the smaller firm would not have the available labor hours to expend.

Not so today. What formerly was accomplished in twenty hours of research the old-fashioned way, I can now accomplish in minutes without ever getting up from my desk. This is no exaggeration. With the advent of very powerful Internet legal search engines that accept "natural language" search requests (for example, "Does suing for "anxiety" suffered by a plaintiff in a personal injury case allow the defense to investigate the plaintiff's pre-accident mental health history?"), the advantage that large law firms had over smaller offices has completely vanished. The playing field has been leveled. And I couldn't be happier about it.

And by the way, the answer to the question above, is "yes". If the lawyer for the plaintiff (with a pre-accident mental health history) makes the mistake of suing for anxiety or other emotional injuries suffered by the client, the defense can absolutely get all of the records of the client's prior mental health treatment. This underscores the importance of being truthful with your lawyer and the importance of hiring the right lawyer.