The legal profession’s uneasy embrace of innovation

Perhaps the rumors about lawyers being reluctant to adopt new technologies are somewhat exaggerated.

According to Paul Hoffman’s 1973 book “Lions in the Street,” by the early 1970s the big wall street firms had–after a fashion–embraced computers:

The business of the blue-chip bar is business. It’s apparent from the priorities a law firm sets for itself. Law schools and legal publishers have made great strides in computerizing the statute books–press a button and a precedent pops up on the print-out–though the process is far from perfected. But when the blue-chip firms installed computers, they were placed not in the law libraries, but in the accounting offices. The electronic brains are used not for legal research, but for billing.

Overall Hoffman’s book is a pretty interesting perspective into one of the most important aspects of the transformation of US legal system in the twentieth century: the rise of the large corporate law firm.

The Cravath system tended to produce an able and hardworking, if narrow and unimaginative, lawyer–what law students call a “grind.” Cravath himself wanted it that way. “Brilliant intellectual powers are not essential,” he told a Harvard Law Class in 1920. “Too much imagination, too much wit, too great cleverness, too facile fluency, if not leavened by a sound sense of proportion are quite as likely to impede success as to promote it. The best clients are apt to be afraid of those qualities. They want as their counsel a man who is primarily honest, safe, sound and steady.

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