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With all due respect? Coming soon: paper jams on your mobile


Every Issue

Cite as: (2008) 82(4) LIJ, p. 88


Many challenges beset the junior lawyers and articled clerks of today which we oldies have not had to face, and I do not refer just to brainless TV shows, awful music and those ludicrous beanies that appear to have a can of Coke concealed under them.

No, these days there is also technology, and I have no idea how you youngsters keep pace. Technology is like the leadership of the Australian Democrats – by the time you work out who is in charge it has changed, just as mobile phone technology changes every two minutes.

But I can use my phone fairly well. Heck, I can even send text messages. I don’t, of course, because few sane people would; a 30-second phone call can do the work of 55 text messages, even if you use the weird text language understood only by nerds and teenage girls.

I wouldn’t be surprised if many “texters” can’t recognise vowels by the time they reach uni, so it is a good thing that standards at most unis are so low that assignments can be written in green crayon on the back of a stolen road sign and still get a distinction.

Now, while technology may be a challenge for junior lawyers, it is – ironically enough – a boon for senior lawyers. We oldies love technology because it allows us to indulge in our favourite pastime: belittling young lawyers. This is because technology is here to make our lives easier – it says so in the ads – so we can constantly berate the young ones as to how easy they have things.

For example, researching assignments at uni is a doddle for kids today. Simply Google, cut and paste and you have an assignment. In our day you had to go to the library and track down the actual casebooks, 30 miles through the snow – it snowed inside libraries in those days, which is why we undertook all this global warming stuff – and pore through them until we found the underlined bits all by ourselves.

There was no such thing as “cut and paste” either, so we had to photocopy everything ourselves, and then type it out word for word; it is no wonder universities have moved to the green crayon system.

Most photocopies had the top three lines cut off, but the point was you had them. You could then staple them together, put a manila folder around them and call them your assignment. You could get away with this because the percentage of lecturers who actually read assignments is about the same as the percentage of men who read the instructions on the gadgets they buy that require some assembly. The result is that most assignment marks are awarded randomly by law lecturers, and most electronic devices owned by men do not work the way they should.

Nowadays, however, photocopiers are more technologically advanced than the space shuttle, without working as often. This isn’t to say that the copier does nothing; it can do a whole bunch of things – send faxes, receive faxes, brew coffee – but only when it feels like it, which is, at last count, never.

Mostly what the photocopier feels like doing is notifying me of a paper jam, even to the extent of showing me, via a diagram designed for the space shuttle program, exactly where the paper jam is.

Secretaries are the only people who understand how photocopiers work. They know because they have been doing things for us for so long that we no longer know how. Science-fiction films are constantly warning that our dependence on machines will one day lead to them ruling us, but in fact our secretaries were the ones to watch, and now it is too late.

From the moment the first email was sent, and the first partner asked his secretary to print it so he could read it, we were doomed. Indeed, software companies have invested millions in programs that are intended to replace secretaries, but no one has any idea if they work, because the secretaries – understandably – will not tell us. My tip: be nice to your secretary.

SHANE BUDDEN is a legal officer with the Queensland Building Services Authority. This column first appeared in the Queensland journal Proctor.

Miss Demeanour’s guide to life, love, law – and disorder

Dear Miss Demeanour,

I have just moved in with my boyfriend, and while all is bliss most of the time, there are a few little things that I’m pretty sure constitute breaches of the Cohabitation Act. Dishes in the bedroom and dirty socks on the kitchen table are all well and good, but coming home at 4am reeking of a distillery and drunker than the Mayor of Drunkenville is really beginning to irritate. I’ve decided that I need to have A Talk (not The Talk) with him about my concerns. But how?

Regards, Shacked Up

Dear Shacked Up,

The Cohabitation Act is one of those pieces of legislation under which action is often threatened but rarely instigated. Therefore, if you’re serious about having A Talk with your boyfriend, you had better have the best possible case before launching proceedings. The criteria for running a test case are the same regardless of the nature of the litigation: timing and evidence. Your case will be off to a flying start if you instigate A Talk after a drunken incident, whereas going ballistic over a pair of socks on the bathroom floor will have you declared a vexatious litigant after two minutes of submissions. And make sure you tick every box on the “best girlfriend ever” checklist for a week before issuing proceedings, and your de facto should be making settlement offers in minutes.

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