The Local Rule That Wasn’t

Marshall attorney Carl Roth tells the story of word processing in the EDTX in this priceless anecdote:

Earlier this week the East Texas ABOTA president circulated a ballot for new members in a “wpd” format. Unable to open a WordPerfect document I asked her to resend as a pdf, and noted that there are now three generations of lawyers – those who didn’t use WordPerfect because their secretaries did, those who still can’t use anything else, and those who think WordPerfect must be a new social media app.

My mentor Marshall lawyer Carl Roth objected to my description of the Cenozoic era as failing to recognize those lawyers who practiced in the Mesozoic age.

Having practiced together for some 15 years, I am surprised that Michael Smith omits from his generational categories the few old dinosaurs who are still roaming around in what is now the trial profession’s dismal swamp, who preceded even the rise and fall of WordPerfect as the standard in the legal profession.

When I joined the US Attorney’s office in Beaumont, Fridays were “mimeograph day” when all the ladies in the office wore jeans and old clothes because copying machines left them covered in indelible blue ink. Somehow, the GSA graced our office with the first Xerox machine in town, and every secretary and clerk in the building came to see the greatest wonder in the world at work. IBM had just introduced the Selectric typewriter – every secretary had to have, but  couldn’t buy one, IBM would only lease, with a service contract.

Then one day in mid-70’s, Joe Clayton showed me his new mag card reader; a miracle,  I thought, but my old fashioned partners Franklin and Scotty would have no part of it, so used own money – about $7,500 as I recall – to get one for my secretary; within 2 or 3 years, everyone had them, along with canned briefs and discovery forms.

In 1980, we got a fax machine. Franklin considered it to be the work of the devil- ordered disconnected at 5 pm so wouldn’t receive stuff after hours.

Then came personal computers, cut and  paste word processing with WordPerfect, Microsoft Word, etc,. and along with them extensive motion practice and electronic discovery. Repetition became easy. Focus of practice shifted to motion practice and discovery disputes instead of resolving ultimate issues.

I think a case can be made that technological development has made possible what most trial lawyers find most distasteful about today’s trial practice. Always ahead of the game, Bob Parker established a local rules committee to make suggestions how to deal with explosion of filings and keeping his trials on schedule.

I suggested that he adopt a local rule requiring all pleadings be filed in the handwriting of lead counsel. Impractical of course, but sure would limit the number and length of what we see filed if lead counsel had to write it out in longhand!