The practice of law has changed a lot in the 21 years I have been doing it. One area that has changed a lot–particularly in the last 10 years–is the importance of checking the mail.
When I started practicing, checking the mail was more important that the telephones working. I would say it was more important than the internet. But there was no internet. The mail was it.
Everything that we now receive through electronic filing arrived in the mail. Almost everything that we now receive through email arrived in the mail. Emails between lawyers? Mail (or, sometimes fax). Pdf document production? Hard copies via mail. The mail was important and there was a lot of it.
Every law firm had someone pick up the mail at the post office first thing in the morning. A large firm received bins full of mail every day. The mail was sorted in the firms “mail room” and either delivered to attorney’s offices or picked up by the attorney or his/her secretary in the mail room.
The mail even found its way to the firm on Saturdays. Usually on Saturdays a veteran (i.e. old) lawyer would pick the mail up and deliver it to the mail room. Many lawyers wanted their mail on Saturday so that come Monday morning, they wouldn’t have as much mail to deal with.
When I started my own practice in 2002 the mail was still a huge deal. The first thing you did when opening a practice was get a PO box. I checked the box myself at the downtown post office every morning at 7:30. I regularly saw other lawyers doing the same thing.
Many days I had more mail than would fit in my box. I would have to go stand in a line to get my bin full of mail. This was the pre-electronic filing, pre-scanner era, of course.
Now my PO box is lonelier than the Maytag repairman. Gone are the days where I bother to pick up the mail myself. That is assigned to my assistant. Most days we receive nothing significant in the mail.
Last week my assistant was on vacation, so I checked the PO box myself. During the entire week, I received around five case-specific pieces of mail. One was a representation letter from an old school lawyer who, if he were twenty years younger, would have saved the paper and stamp and emailed me instead.
None of the mail was really important. Everything important arrived in my email in-box via electronic filing or via email from other attorneys.
Ten years ago, five case-specific mail items would have been a slow day.
Most of the time these days when I receive a hard copy of something in the mail I already have it, since the sending attorney already courteously emailed a pdf copy.
I watched a video the other day of a lawyer getting berated by the Supreme Court for not checking his PO box. The judges couldn’t understand why the lawyer didn’t check his mail. The judges definitely had a point. But I still kept waiting for the lawyer to say: “but your honor, nothing important is ever in the mail box.”
That’s not literally true–the Supreme Court still communicates by mail. But figuratively speaking, it’s true. And it’s a big change in how things work in the practice of law.