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Legal research on the train: how millennials are changing legal practice and technology

Millennials, or the generation born between 1981 and 1996, often disagree with stereotypes associated with their age bracket. But on one of those stereotypes — Millennials’ ease with new technologies — many younger professionals tend to agree.

“There’s a very stark difference between our comfort levels and that of older generations, even in just using the technology we have here at the firm,” says Vino Jayaraman, an associate with Pryor Cashman. “We’ve been conditioned or trained to understand and use technology in a different way to make ourselves as efficient as possible, all the time.”

Recently, Jayaraman, Giovanna Marchese, and Michael Adelman, all associates with Pryor Cashman, spoke with Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute to discuss how their generation’s tech-savviness is affecting the practice of law and legal technology. Throughout the conversation, two themes emerged. First, Millennials believe that technology will be key to their success. “We’re all ambitious people,” says Jayaraman. “We want to make partner. Without technology, I don’t think I could get there.”

Second, these lawyers believe that tech vendors could be doing more to help them provide value. When they’re in a position to do so, these Millennials say they will be relentless in seeking the best providers — with limited loyalty to the tools and companies they’ve relied upon in the past. “When we’re relied upon to do so much in such short periods of time, we understand when things can be better and crave features that will make our lives easier,” says Marchese.

Better training, better results

The three lawyers point out that their proficiency with technology isn’t merely a function of their age. Adelman recounts a time when he showed a partner how a simple software function could instantly find all 70 cases cited in a brief. The partner, he says, “thought I was a wizard.” But this isn’t something Adelman picked up himself. “From the first day of law school, that’s how we were trained.”

The three lawyers say there is “no question” that their ease with technology leads to higher- quality work for their clients. “What technology provides, and where we fit in, is that we are able to turn out more work product with the amount of time we have in the day,” says Jayaraman. Of course, there’s a flip side to that, adds Adelman: “To the extent that I can now find 20 relevant cases much faster, well, the same goes for people on the other side.”

Marchese says the efficiency with which she can complete legal research lets her tackle other related work for her clients. Some of it is clerical, such as preparing affidavits, but there are other benefits, as well. When she and her team are finishing up one matter for a client, she’s able to think about what else her team might provide. “I don’t look at it as being done with research,” she says. “I look at it as — now I have more time to attack other issues in this case.”

Millennial lawyers easily leverage the technological sophistication of their peers. On a recent copyright case, Marchese says she was trying to figure out if it were possible to change the date on a YouTube posting. She knew her friends working in privacy law would have encountered issues involving YouTube and would have learned the technical details of how YouTube works. So, it was natural for Marchese to turn to them for the answer.

In addition to being “obsessed” with their phones, Marchese says many of her friends are “law nerds.” Those friends, who post about the law on their social-media enabled phones, are key to her awareness of upcoming cases and their buzz-worthiness. “New York State law is constantly changing, and a lot of the time it’s different than the rest of the country,” says Marchese. “It’s important to stay current.”

Seeking the best technology

Millennials are also the first to notice when the technology they’re asked to use isn’t up to par. When Jayaraman was a summer associate at Pryor Cashman, the firm didn’t have Westlaw. “I was a Westlaw pro, and I considered it crucial to my success as a young lawyer. I asked myself ‘What am I going to do?’ Then I showed up as a first-day associate, and a paralegal gave me the firm’s new Westlaw credentials, and I was like, ‘You just made my life, seriously.’”

Adelman had clerked for a judge before coming to Pryor Cashman. There, he had used WordPerfect and Lotus Notes. Previously, “I may not have been looking at potential employers and firms with an eye toward technology,” he says. “After spending a year as a federal employee, suddenly that was at the forefront of my mind.” For these lawyers, it’s a red flag if a firm’s technology isn’t up to par. “I would raise an eyebrow and think, do I want to be part of a dinosaur organization?” asks Adelman.

When he’s in a position to be hiring technology vendors, Adelman says he’s going to be just as interested in the details as he is now. “If someone builds a better mousetrap, we’re going to want to know,” he says. “If you don’t keep your eyes out for new tools, you’d be putting yourself at a disadvantage.”

Marchese doesn’t see her interest in technology flagging, either. “I’m going to want to know about anything that might give me an edge,” she says. “I have a feeling I’m going to be very involved in technology as I progress.”

Just as Millennials possess the technological prowess that their elders can’t match, they expect that the next generation will be even more adept with technology. Jayaraman says he doesn’t think his current generation could sit down in transit and draft a brief on a phone, but he thinks that someday, a younger crop of lawyers won’t think twice about it. Says Jayaraman: “Maybe not now, but at some point, there’s a generation that’s looking at their phone and saying, ‘I’m stuck on the train, I’m going to crank this brief out right now.’”

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