Writing an LTN column about boneheaded mistakes, I’m reminded of one of my own.  I use a fancy Lucite mouse pad, swag acquired at some long-ago ABA TechShow from Corel, purveyor of WordPerfect.  It emits a cool blue glow, and incorporates a four port USB hub along its edge.  That pad’s seen many miles of mouse trails, and I like it.  But, it has a solid black tracking surface, polished from years of use and sebaceous exudate.  That was okay when mice used rubber balls to track hand movements (friction cares little for color or reflectivity); but modern mice have eyes.  I didn’t adapt to my seeing eye mouse and   gradually accepted diminished performance as the norm.

That’s the difference between tossing a frog into a pot of boiling water or into one filled with cold water and bringing it to a boil.  They say that he’ll leap from the hot pot but stay in the cold water until he slowly boils to death.  [In fact, froggie will do nothing of the sort.  The boiling water will kill him handily, and he will escape the rising temps, if he can.  But, let’s not let facts spoil a good metaphor].

My mouse pad is a metaphor, too: for the problems I accept in Word despite years of using the program, for the demise of Corel and WordPerfect and for the biggest hurdle lawyers face in e-discovery. 

As a lawyer of a certain age, I have a soft spot in my heart for Corel WordPerfect, the (almost) gone-but-not-forgotten word processing application that once ruled the roost.  Like many of my mature colleagues, I have none of the affection for Microsoft Word that I had for WordPerfect, and the reason is simple…and sad.  I learned WordPerfect, but I merely assimilated Word.  Because I’d had years to perfect my Wordperfect skills, starting from the dawn of desktop publishing, I was adept at creating documents on my P.C.  So, when Microsoft Word won the desktop wars, I simply moved to it and knew enough from my use of WordPerfect (and WordStar before it) to make Word work…sort of.

Like everyone else, I lamented the absence of WordPerfect’s cherished “reveal codes” feature.  But like many, I never made the effort to learn the Word way of doing things.  That is, I never mastered the fundamentals of Word the way I’d done with WordPerfect.  So, I resented Word because it demanded more than I already knew.  Just the way lawyers think the skills they already have from paper discovery should be sufficient to meet their e-discovery obligations.  Just the way lawyers resent the suggestion that they must learn the fundamentals of information technology instead of trying to apply old ways to digital evidence.

My mouse pad is also an apt metaphor for why WordPerfect lost its leadership, and why lawyers who don’t change with the times are destined to be road kill on the information superhighway–or, like Corel and WordPerfect, marginalized to less than might have been.  When the world moved from DOS to Windows, WordPerfect delayed producing a Windows-compatible version on par with its much-admired DOS product.  Through inattention (and perhaps no small measure of arrogance and complacency), they watched their dominance dwindle to single digit market share.  Likewise, Corel gave me a mouse pad made for mice with balls, not eyes.

E-discovery today suffers from being made for lawyer’s eyes, and from lawyers’ lack of the testicular fortitude (in a genderless, metaphorical sense) it takes to face what you don’t know, admit you need to know it and seek out new skills.  I’m tossing my mouse pad today.  Are you getting rid of whatever is keeping you from learning information technology?

By the way, is it me, or is this water getting really hot?

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