Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Monday, June 07, 2004

There are certainly ways in which technology has improved the way we go about our glamour profession, but there are just as many that have made it more of a grind. I've been doing this for long enough that I can remember when fax machines were new: a guy I used to practice with was find of saying, "Just because you can send it to me faster doesn't mean I'm going to read it sooner," and he was right. I used to go to the bank to get a couple of rolls of quarters when I was starting a trial: there were going to be a lot of phone calls made, and I didn't want to run out. (No, no-- who said nickels? How old do you think I am?) Cell phones changed that one, and for the better, unless you are in federal court.

Even back then,when we all had huge handlebar moustaches, federal court was where the cutting edge was. Federal judges don't want to be kept waiting, and must golf less than their state court counterparts, because down time is anathema to them. In the Southern District of New York they had "trailing calendars", which meant that you would be told that you were now on 72 hours notice that your trial could start at any time. They didn't want to hear that your testifying doctor was elbow deep in somebody else's abdomen, and not available to testify: if you were "trailing" and thought that your doctor's availability, or the availability of any other witness was iffy, you were told to book time in the videotaping studio in the courthouse.

This was big stuff then, even though now video is ubiquitous, and this presaged a change that has made trial practice more of a chore. Doctors pretty quickly figured out that this technology meant that trial testimony was now something that could proceed to suit their convenience, and life has not been the same since.

Last Friday we found ourselves working until 8:45, videotaping a doctor. In fairness to the doc, we probably could have been done in two, two and a half hours, but, locked in a windowless room we the lawyers let the time slip away as we argued and objected until the evening was lost. I am reading the transcript of this grim death waltz right now, and it is not a pretty thing, not at all.

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