Retrotechnology

In the legal field, changes in technology in the last ten years have changed how things are done and what is possible for everyone from law students to advanced practitioners. As always, some embrace technology and others resist, but it is impossible to ignore. The profession now demands technological competence.

It’s always difficult to tell where technology is leading, but it’s often useful to look back at the technological breakthroughs of the past and see how they have led to the present. The changes in the legal profession in a very short time are astounding.

You know how important legal documents are, and copies of legal documents are equally important. Everyone involved needs a copy, copies need to be filed with the court, copies need to be sent to people in other places, etc. This has always been true, but Xerox designed the first successful commercial copier in 1959 (Xerox 914).

Up into the 1900’s, lawyers depended on scriveners for making all the necessary copies. A scrivener is a person who makes handwritten copies of documents. A scrivener didn’t need to be trained in law. They needed to know how to read and write, write legibly, and copy accurately. Up until the mid-1800’s, this was all done using quill pens. A technological breakthrough that sped up the process a bit was the introduction of steel nib pens like the ones in this 1869 advertisement.

1869-steel_pen-sm

Typewriters first appeared in the late 1800’s, but they were rather awkward machines at first and with few people trained to use them, they weren’t used with any regularity until the mid-1900’s when rows of typists began to replace rows of scriveners. The typewriter below is from 1874.

1874-typewriter-lg

What we take for granted now, the ability to instantly and exactly copy any piece of paper, was a dream, but it was a dream that was achieved by means of the letterpress copier. This is basically just a large screw vise with a square document-size plate (usually wood). This wondrous machine could make an exact copy of a document page. This did speed things up tremendously, but it still took a special person to make the copies because it was a rather tricky process and had the risk of destroying the original document in the process. Here are the instructions on how to make a copy:

  • Place a piece of oiled, moisture-resistant paper underneath the leaf of thin copying paper in the copying book, to prevent moisture from transferring to surrounding leaves.
  • Dampen the sheet of copying paper with a dampening cloth or a brush dipped in water. “Moisture evenly distributed, and neither scant nor excessive, is the secret of success.” Too little water and the copy of the letter would be too faint to read; too much water and the copy would be blurred and illegible.
  • Remove excess moisture from the copying paper with a sheet of blotting paper, so that the copying paper is evenly saturated and damp, but not wet enough to be shiny.
  • Place the letter to be copied so the writing side is in contact with the dampened leaf of copying paper.
  • Place another sheet of oiled paper or blotting paper behind the original letter, to prevent moisture from transferring to surrounding leaves.
  • Close the book, place it in the copying press, and make the impression.
  • Open the press, remove the original letter, and return the (closed) copying book to the press with the two sheets of oiled paper still surrounding the copy. This allows the page to dry flat and prevents moisture from transferring to other leaves of the copying book.
  • 19th_c-legal_technology-sm

How technology changes procedures and possibilities is a fascinating subject, but technology doesn’t necessarily solve problems. Sometimes it creates new problems. It’s up to you to understand and properly use technology to solve problems and make yourself more effective.

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