ATLANTA — With a large, established book of business generating a steady flow of billable hours, litigator Byron Arnold is a valued partner at mega-firm Prince & Easton. Yet somehow, more than ten years into the 21st century, he remains proud of the fact he possesses only the slightest level of computer savvy.
“You don’t get to where I am by distracting yourself with the latest electronic gizmos and gadgets,” boasted Arnold, 67, sitting back on a leather couch in his office. “I remember when we started placing computers in the attorney offices. I suppose that’s nice for the younger attorneys who grew up with the Pac-Mans and whatnot, but the practice of law is about hard work. If you make the connections, file the motions, and manage the courtroom then that’s all you need.”
In the age of rising law firm technology, working with Arnold’s practice style leads to some interesting arrangements. When senior associate Samantha McNeil needs to email Arnold information, she either prints it out and hands it to him or emails it to his assistant who prints it out and puts it in his in-pile folder.
“It’s kind of adorable –when he’s at home or on vacation he has her fax [the emails] to him,” laughed McNeil, “I’ve had to print out entire websites for him to review as we plan for trial. Working on his projects is a little slower, but I don’t mind because he reminds me of my uncle. Only my uncle is ten years older and knows how to use email and check stocks.”
At one point the highest paid partner in the firm, some say Arnold’s dedication to old fashion business techniques have reduced his efficiency over time. Still, his unwavering workmanlike ethic has kept him in the upper half of the several hundred partners.
Colleague and firm managing partner Jason Stevens smiles when he talks about his firm’s resident Luddite: “No one puts in the hours like [Arnold]. Guys like him are a marvelous and dying breed. Some people watch shows like Mad Men to see how life was in the 1960s, I just look at Byron.”
Prince & Easton IT Manager Roger Miller remembers the first and only time he interacted with Arnold: “About five years ago he came up to me and wanted to confirm that email was faster than express mail. He then asked if it were something I could teach his assistant to do. I didn’t want to tell him that she was already using email and only using express mail to follow his directions, so I told him I’d teach her.”
Miller noted that, while Arnold is on the far end of a spectrum, there are still a number of partners above the age of 50 who call his department to assist whenever they want to do things ranging from attaching files to emails to “getting the internet to work”. In the end, even if they never learn, he prefers that those attorneys contact him.
“We had one senior attorney who thought he was attaching documents but actually kept sending internal links from our document management system,” Miller shook his head, “once he figured out that his clients weren’t getting documents we were able to go back and re-send the correct documents, but it had apparently gone on for months. He was an IP litigator and, of course, IT got the blame for that one.”
A journalism major before he entered law school, Arnold was a fast typist when he started at Prince & Easton in 1967. However, he found himself the odd man out and stopped regularly typing documents after a few months.
“I remember the partners would joke that I was a part of the typing pool,” recalled Arnold, “if I wanted to get any serious work I learned to follow their example and do things the way they did. In the end they were right, things were faster when I didn’t have to do all my own typing. All this new stuff is just an extension of that lesson.”
Arnold’s most recent technological step forward was a firm-issued mobile phone he grudgingly accepted at the insistence of the firm executive committee in 2008, though he still has not figured out how to set up its voice mail.