75 Years in Law Gives Perspective on Technology


Chris Gill (left) and Roger Bates

Time and technology have brought a host of changes to Hand Arendall, a statewide law firm that celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. 

Attorney Chris Gill, who works on the 30th floor of the RSA Tower in Mobile, says law has sped up greatly with digital tools. The back-and-forth of writing and rewriting contracts between two firms has been cut in half with email, though enhanced electronic communication has brought with it the expectation of constant contact.

Roger L. Bates, managing lawyer for Hand Arendall, has watched and adapted as technology made its way into the courtroom.

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“Now with any case, all the documents are electronic, ” says Bates, who works in the firm’s Birmingham office. Exhibits in a trial are presented digitally on a screen for the jurors to see.

A video presentation to illustrate a T-bone traffic accident might be easier to follow than an old-fashioned flip chart, Bates says. “Now it’s done with graphics and video that’s pretty sophisticated.”

Technology also allows fluidity in the courtroom for attorneys during a trial, Bates says. He can communicate with his co-counsel by text to work up a response to testimony as a witness is on the stand. 

“Search and preparation can go on during the proceedings, ” he says. 

That, too, offers upsides and downsides.  

The trickle-down effect translates to increased hourly rates for the attorney and the paralegal, who must also have technical expertise. Developing technology also brings the need for specialty expertise for lawyers in areas such as intellectual properties, privacy and protecting online data, Gill says.

Hand Arendall has kept its single-state model, though Gill also does work on the Mississippi Coast and in Northwest Florida. 

“The work I do is primarily along that I-10 corridor, ” he says. “Right now, I’m as busy as I’ve been and I don’t see it letting up. In Northwest Florida and Baldwin County, they can’t build houses fast enough.”

The firm is adding lawyers, with five coming on board in the past month; three in Mobile and one in Birmingham. Another attorney starts in Birmingham this fall, Bates says, with plans to hire yet another for Mobile soon.

With young lawyers coming into the firm right out of law school, Hand Arendall faces what Bates described as “age-related competing cultural views.”

The firm has attorneys who are 80-plus years of age alongside recent 20-something law school grads.

“Older lawyers who value traditions may have trouble relating to younger attorneys who ask, ‘Why do I have to wear a suit to work everyday?’”

But whether it’s adapting to technological advances or cultural differences, Hand Arendall found that diversity makes the firm strong. 

“We can learn something from everyone, ” Bates says. “You can resist or fight change or you can embrace it to put it to use for your clients. We chose the latter.”

Founded in Mobile in 1941, Hand Arendall has offices in Birmingham, Fairhope and Athens.

Text by Tammy Leytham

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