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Is a High-End Computer Right for You?: Exploring the evolution of technology in the Legal and Online Conflict Management Fields?

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By Dr. Christopher W. Smithmyer

My father owns a plumbing and heating company, where I worked most of my way through high school and college.  One thing that always astonished me when we worked on new houses was that people always wanted to get the most inexpensive toilet they could.  They would splurge on all kinds of other accouterments, but the toilet what always where they wanted to trim the budget.  What astonished me more was what my father explained to them.  He asked them of all the items in your house that you use all the time, what item did you want to fail least.  Your TV fails, you can always read a book.  Your washing machine fails, you can always go to the Laundromat.  Buy if your toilet fails, then you are in trouble.  You do not need to watch TV every day, nor do you need to do laundry, but you do need to use the facilities.  More often than not, this made the people think and they would scrimp on something else but choose a toilet that met their needs.

Now I suppose many of you are wondering what the point of this story is.  That is a fair question.  Being a mediator, a person who has trained mediators and facilitators, and a consultant around the world, I have been in a lot of mediator, lawyer and business offices.  What if I told you that mediators, lawyers and business owners all make the same major mistake that homeowners make?  Professionals around the world tend to buy cheap computers; whatever the cheapest model is that they can buy that will do what they want it to do, they purchase.  This can be a deadly mistake for business owners, specifically those who are lawyers or mediators.

If you are a lawyer, I want you to think about your office. Other than maybe your cell phone, what other object in your office do you use more than your computer?  Your computer is where you research cases, where you (or your team) write your briefs, where you do most of your advertising and where you keep up to date on the newest legal news.  Other than the human elements you computer is the most important piece of equipment in your office.  Now I want you to ask yourself, did I buy the best or did I just buy something to get by with?

Now if you are a mediator or other conflict management professional, I would pose the same question to you.  Online conflict management (OCM) is the wave of the future.  More and more people are asked to use high tech platforms to conduct their mediations, arbitrations and facilitations.  Brāv Online Conflict Management reports that more and more students each year are looking at the technological elements of the field.  Even those that plan to do “traditional” mediations still understand that attorneys are going to do PowerPoint, clients are going to look data up on their cell phones, and computers are going to be used to do the drafts of their settlements.  Advanced and modern mediators are now using virtual mediation rooms to enhance the mediation experience for their clients, with outstanding results.  Yet I see the same problem with mediators that I do with Lawyers, old bargain computers that barely have the specs to get the job done.

The legal industry and the conflict management industry need to catch up with the times.  Bargain computers will cut it for high school students writing reports, but are not the tool of choice for professionals who are making decisions that affect people’s lives.  The computer is the most important tool in your office, doesn’t it make sense that you would spend the extra money to ensure that you have a state of the art computer every two years.  Realistically, think about it; you likely replace your coffee maker more often than you replace your computer.  That is feeding your addiction before taking care of your business.

If you are in the legal profession, I recommend that you get a high-end performance laptop.  These computers cost anywhere from $900 to $2000, but the benefits more than make up for the cost.  Performance laptops tend to have bigger screens, full sized keyboards, are lighter and most importantly have longer battery life.  This means that if you are working from an airport, the courthouse or some other location you still have the same benefits as being at your office.  With a budget machine, you are likely to be working with a small screen, a half-sized keyboard and carrying around a brick of a computer that only lasts about half an hour after the first month of ownership.  Is saving $200 worth the hassle?

If you are in the conflict resolution profession, you should get either a high-end gaming laptop or a high-end gaming desktop (if you work mostly from your office).  These computers are the workhorses of the field and can handle any of the digital tasks that modern conflict management requires.  Video chat is the new phone mediation, and when you are sending a video that looks like it is from the 1980’s you are also sending the message that you are behind the times.  The gaming laptops that are out there today have the ability to process the multiple streams of video that a mediation professional may be using in the digital environment.  For those that are really on the cutting edge, they also have the ability to adapt to VR and allow for a virtual environment that the mediation office creates (think Secondlife on steroids).  While these computers have a much higher price point, if you do any work in the digital realm it is worth the limited expense to ensure that you are giving your clients their money’s worth.

While technology will never replace the human element of the legal and conflict management professions, it becomes clearer each year that lawyers and conflict management professionals cannot reject technology and remain competitive.  With each advancement in VR, we are getting closer to global practice of law in the cyber-environment.  I have colleagues who live in China and work in the US, who live in England but practice in the Balkans or live in Australia but participate in conferences in Ireland, Singapore and South America.  They do not do these things on budget computers.  Technology is the future of the legal industry because it opens doors that lawyers 20 years ago could have never dreamed of.  So when you are considering whether to buy a budget computer for your office, think like the homeowner buying a new toilet- where do you want to be sitting if your budget item fails?

Dr. Smithmyer is an Adjunct Professor of Business for Penn State’s World Campus and an Online Adjunct Professor of MBA Business and Advanced Strategic Business Faciltaition at the University of South Florida’s Kate Tillman College of Business.  Dr. Smithmyer holds 9 degrees in business, conflict resolution and the law.  He is the strategic business development coordinator for Brāv Online Conflict management and consults/speaks around the world both in person and digitally.  If you would like to have Dr. Smithmyer perform a consultation or speak to your firm about technology in legal/OCM practice, please contact his agent via Elite Exclusivity PR at [email protected].

Remi Alli, JD, MS has worked for publications such as Forbes and Investopedia, and in her work with Brāv, the premier online platform to manage conflicts (www.brav.org), has been featured in such journals including U.S. News and World Report, MONEY, TIME, The Huffington Post and Yahoo! She is a double award winning techie and a three-time award-winning writer, with her most recent: a national legal award.

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