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Trends in law: Online meetings mean less travel for those in the law industry

The digital age means those thick law books are now available to read on a cellphone

Copy of Luke Heck.jpg
Luke Heck (Submitted photo)
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Luke Heck knows his business – and that means he knows the law.

Heck, a criminal defense attorney based in Fargo with Vogel Law Firm, has been with the firm since 2018 but has been practicing since about 2014.

Legal matters pretty much remain the same, he said, but trends in the field over the past few years have caught his attention. A couple of them were prompted by the pandemic and have made practicing law both exciting and challenging.

For starters, “We're doing primarily most of our hearings via Zoom,” he said.

Heck’s words echoed what another law professional formerly told Prairie Business. At the height of the pandemic, Judge Robert Keogh said he had conducted many court hearings via Zoom, which in hindsight seems not to have been a temporary fix.

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“I think that will continue,” Keogh said.

Heck, in November, said: “I think Zoom is here to stay for some basic court appearances moving forward. … Online hearings and online processes are far more efficient and allow you to be in Jamestown for a hearing in the morning and Williston for a hearing, hypothetically, in the afternoon without ever having to leave your office. That's a blessing. It allows more time to get things done.”

Even so, one does lose the personal connection with clients.

“That's a direct result of the pandemic,” he said.

He said another emerging trend is how law firms, and the legal profession in general, are learning to market themselves in a digital world.

“I think that marketing, from a legal perspective, is changing,” he said. Like everything else, more of it is going online.

“As a result, having the right technology will be critical to compete for businesses,” according to The National Law Review in a Dec. 7, 2022, article .

It noted that, thanks to the pandemic, law firms have had to adjust to a digital-first marketing strategy. It is something that doesn’t seem to be going away.

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“It’s a lot more online-focused than what you would have seen a decade ago for sure, but even probably five years ago,” Heck said.

Clients once came by referrals or because of television commercials. There are not many TV commercials for lawyers anymore and the Yellow Pages, another venue where lawyers once focused their marketing efforts, are all but extinct.

Times have indeed changed, but perhaps it is no more noticeable than in the legal profession, where it was traditional to have not only Yellow Pages on the desks but heavy tomes of legal volumes on the bookshelves of a law office. Those books have, in many instances, been replaced by digital copies, carried on the phone or tablet.

“It's how society consumes their information,” said Heck, who started his profession during the digital age. It is all he knows, as is his niche in criminal defense.

Good or bad?

Is the change good or bad?

Heck says it is a little of both. Technology does, for instance, have its limitations.

“I think you lose the personal connection when everything’s online or done remotely,” he said. “I think there's something to be said about being in person and advocating in person for a client or actually seeing the judge and seeing adverse counsel. Being in person, that’s hard to quantify.”

Technology has at times been known to replace human workers. Heck doesn’t know about that, nor has he seen an abundance of new positions because of tech, but there is the potential for more I.T. personnel.

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“It certainly has opened that door," he said.

There also are plenty of opportunities to move around in the legal profession until one finds a niche. As for Heck, he knew early on what kind of lawyer he wanted to be and he hasn't changed his mind yet. He offers this advice for others considering a career in law: get practical experience.

“Try to observe practically what the day-to-day life is for a lawyer,” he said. “It’s not ‘Law and Order.’ It’s not what you see on TV all the time. It's seeing what actually the practice of law is like and making sure that you're interested in the day-to-day work. … I think it would be the best thing to do, because you want to make sure it is something that you're passionate about” and not only about getting a license.

“It’s three years of law school. It’s a bar exam — and it’s the rest of your career, potentially.”

Andrew Weeks is an award-winning journalist who has reported for a number of newspapers and magazines. He currently is the editor of Prairie Business, the premier business magazine of the northern plains. The magazine covers various industries and business topics in the Dakotas and western Minnesota.
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