old typewriters side by side

My, How Practice Has Changed

  • October 04, 2017
  • Catherine Brennan

It isn’t until we look back that we realize how far we’ve come. The official magazine of the Ontario Bar Association has had many incarnations: the Ontario Bar News in the 60’s, Briefly Speaking from 1973 to the early 2000’s, and of course JUST. was launched in 2012.

During the OBA’s annual office clean n’ purge this past summer, I came across a dusty box of copies of this publication’s predecessors. As someone who grew up in the Internet Age, I was immediately struck by how much practice has changed over the last 30-40 years, largely because of the evolution of office technologies.


Old CBAO ad about cell phones

Who could have foreshadowed the impact mobile devices would have on business? Work-life balance was an entirely different concept back then; lawyers may have worked long hours, but in those days the office was for work and home was for family and leisure. 



Ad for Sony Dictaphone

"Your secretary hears the real you. Crisp and Natural."

Popular into the 1970s, dicta phones were a staple of many offices. By the 1980s, the secretarial pools that operated them became another casualty of tech innovation, replaced by the electronic word processor, used by employees at every level.







ad about Law games on a Commodore 64

commodore 64 tapedeckWho can forget the Commodore 64, the highest-selling computer model of all time? Released in 1982, it had an 8-bit processor with a whopping 64kb of RAM with tape and disc drives. While the 64 was largely appreciated for its graphic and video game capabilities, many offices used it with prepackaged wordprocessors such as PaperClipVizawrite and SpeedScript

I wonder how many of today's second-generation lawyers indulged in a rousing game of "Contract Confusion" while visiting their parent's office?



ad for Thin line Conserv-a-file


(click to enlarge)

This advertisement ran in several copies of the Ontario Bar News in 1967.

These days one wouldn't think of a filing cabinet as technology, but can you imagine having to roll through one of these every time you need to retrieve a simple document? No wonder lawyers didn't bring as much work home with them in those days, their briefcases would have absolutely exploded with papers. 

How many of Ontario's older firms still have a few of these puppies stashed in a back storage room? If there's one in your office, I suggest you pass along Mitch Rose's Learning to Love Electronic Litigation; whether you're a litigator or not, you may relate to his lamenting lawyers' reluctance to embrace a paperless office.







ad about lawyers accepting credit cards for first time

Thanks to 1985 Attorney General Ian G. Scott, lawyers could finally accept plastic for payment of legal fees. 

It was a long way from today's PayPal and Bitcoin savvy firms, but this important advancement made legal services much more accessible to the average Ontarian. 



ad for Safe guardAh, those simple days of the straight billable hour, when a lawyer spent *his* time (ahem) logging every hour manually into a log book or card. And secretaries would then have to squint to decipher that handwritten information for invoicing. The next time you complain about working with fixed fees and alternative billing arrangements, remember the ink-stained hands of your hard-working forebearers.



Do you have fond memories from practice in a previous decade? Log in to share them in the comments section below or forward them to me for a follow-up article.

For those younger lawyers who may have enjoyed a snicker at these out-dated technologies, remember that CD/DVD burners and iPods were only a few years ago!


About the author

Catherine Brennan is Managing Editor at the Ontario Bar Association. cbrennan@oba.org


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