Thirty years of our firm’s existence is a period of a whole generation. This prompts some thoughts on how the lawyer’s work has changed over the years. In my opinion, the most significant changes, which have had a really huge impact on the modern legal practice, result from the telecommunications revolution.
I remember when in the first weeks of our law firm’s operation as part of the American law firm Altheimer & Gray, which took place in the autumn of 1990, I had to urgently contact a partner responsible for the then negotiated terms of his client’s large investment in Poland. That was the time when not only were there no mobile phones, but practically, with a few exceptions, there were no automatic phone calls to other countries. In order to call someone abroad, you had to dial the number of the international exchange and ask for a connection with a destination phone number you gave. I remember that after I made voice contact with a lady operating the telephone exchange and gave her the number in Chicago, I was asked whether I wanted an instant call or a normal one. In my ignorance, I asked what the difference was. In response, I heard that instant calls to the U.S. are made within 18 hours, and normal calls within 48 hours!
After some time, our American partners managed to establish that it was possible to make phone calls much faster through the automatic connection existing between Poland and Denmark. You had to call the Danish branch of the American telecommunication giant AT&T and provide the subscriber card number of the U.S.-based Altheimer & Gray, after which an AT&T operator connected you with Chicago using the automatic link between Denmark and the USA. Instead of ten or more hours, the waiting time for an instant call to Chicago was reduced to a few, but no more than ten or so, minutes.
The next stage of the telecommunication revolution in international phone calls came with the popularity of satellite telephony services offered to business customers by Komertel in the early 1990s. The reliability and technical quality of the calls was far from satisfactory compared to today’s standards in this area, but we were more than happy because we could call the U.S. and other countries at any time without the intermediation of international telephone exchanges (or at least we could try).
This was the way voice calls could be made at the time, but what about the transfer of documents and letters? The services provided by Komertel also made it possible to install an already forgotten device, a fax machine. What kind of transmission was it! Under favourable conditions, i.e. good quality of connection, in a minute you could send/receive a maximum of two pages. As it is easy to calculate, the transmission of a draft contract of one hundred and several dozen pages (standard for American conditions) took at least one hour, but in practice it took 2-3 hours. This was because the phone call was often interrupted or its quality deteriorated to such an extent that the received document was naturally encrypted, i.e. the letters were completely blurred and overlapping, which made the text completely illegible. Our assistants who were working at the time, probably with some sentiment but also with relief that this is already a thing of the past, recall the long evenings (due to the 7-hour difference in time between Warsaw and Chicago) spent at the fax machine trying to receive the documents being transmitted.
Try to imagine how today’s law firm where, thanks to the Internet, documents that have several hundred pages are sent within a few seconds, would function in the telecommunications conditions that existed 30 years ago.