Lawyers meet the Internet Getting connected: Many attorneys are looking toward cyberspace, convinced their practices will be changed by today's technology.

November 30, 1995|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,SUN STAFF

Had she been in her downtown law office yesterday, Fran Glushakow-Smith might have been closing a commercial real-estate deal.

Instead, she sat in a darkened room at the Baltimore Convention Center. Her aim: Master the Internet.

Ms. Glushakow-Smith admits she has a way to go.

"My husband is a computer wizard, as are my 4- and 7-year-olds. I'm a dinosaur," said Ms. Glushakow-Smith, an attorney at Abramoff, Neuberger & Linder.

"My clients haven't asked if we are on the Internet yet. I suspect very soon they will. The Internet is a way to communicate. Very soon, deals will be done in cyberspace."

Ms. Glushakow-Smith isn't alone in seeing a legal bonanza in the Internet. About 135 lawyers detoured on the way to their offices yesterday to attend "Your Practice of Law and the Internet," a combination technology course and pep talk for attorneys seeking to boost their computer literacy.

Some lawyers brought laptop computers. Others scribbled notes legal pads. A few seemed discouraged by references to web browsers, frame relays and a 56 KB line.

Even the ones lost by computer lingo seemed convinced their law practices will be changed by the Internet.

"It's an information revolution," said Gaithersburg attorney Glenn Etelson, a lecturer for the course, which was sponsored by Maryland Institute for Continuing Education of Lawyers, Inc.

"People are just realizing it's a global interconnection. They want to be a part of it."

For years, computers have been mainstays in lawyer offices, functioning mostly as word processors and to spew out documents. The Internet opens new possibilities.

Linking to data bases, lawyers can access information on virtually any topic. They can review recent court opinions or scan federal regulations via the Internet.

At yesterday's course, lawyers also heard about using Internet as a marketing tool and to stay in closer touch with clients. Many lawyers already have E-mail addresses, mailboxes from which they can send and receive electronic messages.

Nationally, a growing number are discovering the World Wide Web, a computer supermarket where businesses from car manufacturers to law firms offer information about their products.

Use of such services is growing daily. In March, the American Bar Association launched its home page, with 1,200 pages of information. The ABA page receives 400 "hits" each day, double the number it handled at the start, according to Dave Hambourger, director of the ABA's legal technology resource center.

Other measures also show interest growing among lawyers. This year, an ABA survey asked attorneys whether the Internet was among their legal research sources. Of those responding, only 14 percent said yes. Many more, 48 percent, said they expected to be on line in a year.

Washington lawyer Jim Lyons is one who sees the potential.

Mr. Lyons, 65, called himself "barely" computer literate. Several of his children are computer whizzes, though, including a 28-year-old son recently returned from Gambia. As a Peace Corps volunteer, he created computer networks for the country's ministry of education, his father said.

"From Washington, we do a lot of legislative work," said Mr. Lyons, whose firm handles real-estate matters. "I know from watching my son I can get federal regulations and legislation."

Mark Berman had an equally simple reason for attending the Internet course. A Lutherville lawyer and businessman, he discovered the Internet recently.

Mr. Berman, president of Rockland Industries, a textile manufacturer, said he is exploring plans to transact business via the Internet. The lawyer in him is fascinated by the instant access to information and people.

For the price of a local phone call, he recently exchanged E-mail messages with a friend in France, Mr. Berman said.

He was still marveling at that yesterday, saying of exchange: "It's instantaneous. It's free."

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