‘Legal Tech Lists’: 5 Lawyer Tropes That Were Upended By Legal Tech


Editor’s note: This is an installment in the “Reference Manual of Legal Tech Lists,” an eBook set for release this spring. Read the prior installments here, and feel free to pre-register for your copy of the complete eBook using the form below.

There are lots of tropes related to lawyers and law firms that frequently show up in works of fiction. 

The thing is, those tropes are tropes because they’re sort of old; they’ve been around for a long time.

Now, however, modern technology can solve a heck of a lot of those issues.

So, for this edition of the “Reference Manual of Lists,” we’re going to relay a trope, offer an example, and talk about how legal tech actually fixes the problem today.

Let’s hope we don’t jump the shark.

Trope 1: Piling On

In every lawyer movie ever, there’s that scene where the big law firm dumps a metric ton of documentation on the smaller law firm/solo attorney. 

And (oh my God), it’s impossible for us to get through all of this information — we’re so screwed! (Of course, the “David” firm inevitably overcomes the “Goliath” firm’s attempt to sink its case — even though it’s wholly unrealistic that they would have, in reality.)

Exemplary Scene: In Season 2, Episode 9 of “Silicon Valley” on HBO, there’s a “classic document dump” during a binding arbitration that actual humans must rifle through and review, pitting perseverance against manpower.

The Modern, LegalTech Solution: eDiscovery tools can help law firms to review massive reams of virtual documents using machine learning and AI tools.

Trope 2: Search Party

Then there’s the classic “Uh oh, we actually can’t find the document/information we need in our files!”  

There’s a scramble, and somebody gets lucky, locating the subject document . . . just in the nick of time. That is, unless nefarious parties intervene, to further the plot.

Exemplary Scene: This is not really related to law practice, or documents, but, I always enjoyed the scene where a drunken Uncle Billy misplaces the money intended for deposit in “It’s a Wonderful Life.

Despite all those strings being tied around his fingers, he never even realizes that he left it on Mr. Potter’s lap. And, George Bailey absolutely browbeats him, on his way to the breaking point.

The Modern, LegalTech Solution: In a law firm, you can keep track of your documents, using document management tools and cloud repositories, which can also be connected, via the cloud, to law practice management software and case management software. 

Plus, case management softwares and accounting softwares allow law firms to effectively manage their finances (including trust accounting reports) via reporting and dashboard tools.

Trope 3: Signing Off

In the world of entertainment, signatures need to take place, apparently, insanely fast, in every possible scenario. (And yet, here I am, just chillin’ – waitin’ for people to sign contracts and NDAs for God knows how long.) 

But, in the movies, and on TV, if that contract doesn’t get signed, like – “Before you eat lunch, Wilma! Don’t you DARE take a bite of that grilled cheese sandwich!” — the deal is lost, forever.

Exemplary Scene: This recent Adobe Acrobat commercial (for Adobe Sign) shows an athlete getting impatient with a traditional signature process and signing a *billion* dollar contract with another team. 

For sure, sports franchises are deciding to spend a BILLION dollars on a whim — but, I suppose that’s just as realistic as the instant signature trope.

The Modern, LegalTech Solution: Of course, you can get your clients and related parties to sign documents electronically, quickly and easily.

There are standalone eSignature solutions, and lots of other softwares, like law practice management and customer relationship management tools, that include proprietary eSignature tools, or can integrate with those standalone tools, including as part of automated workflows.

Trope 4: The Courtroom Surprise

Perhaps the most famous legal trope in popular culture is the surprising courtroom twist, in which one attorney catches another lawyer off-guard, with a sleight-of-hand maneuver that turns the whole case around.

Exemplary Scene: In “Reversal of Fortune” (the Claus von Bulow movie), there’s a courtroom scene where there’s a lot going on, during which, apparently, no one is doing research at all, except for the Alan Dershowitz character.  The judge apparently hasn’t read his own caselaw, and the prosecutor is totally suckered into making the wrong argument, like a total dope. Great movie stuff, totally divorced from real life.

The Modern, LegalTech Solution: Legal research tools are pretty darned advanced, at this stage. You can even plug opposing counsel’s brief into a research engine, and it will spot errors in the brief, as well as suggest counterarguments. 

You don’t even need to think, anymore! Plus, electronic trial notebooks and apps can help you better organize your presentation.

Trope 5: Courting Disaster

There’s also the common trope, where the attorney is late (oftentimes to court), and can’t get there for a whole host of reasons — just lots of obstacles being placed in her way.

Exemplary Scene: This scene from the iconic Jim Carrey movie, “Liar, Liar” (where Carrey plays a lawyer — a shady one, of course), includes police involvement, thus carrying on a fine tradition of Jim Carrey-related interactions with the fuzz.

The Modern, LegalTech Solution: Pretty much every pre-internet/pre-smartphone movie arrival timing issue can be resolved via smartphone. Car trouble?  Just call an Uber, bro.

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Jared Correia, a consultant and legal technology expert, is the host of the Non-Eventcast, the featured podcast of the Above the Law Non-Event for Tech-Perplexed Lawyers.