It is 1999 and email has been used in business communications for, in most cases, under five years. It might be a couple of days before an email to a law firm partner generates a reply dictated and then typed up by a PA.

Forward to 2004. Lunch with a managing partner might involve a frequent check of a flashing BlackBerry, along with grumbles about how being permanently contactable has created new pressures.

The technology has changed (how many Apple products do you own?), but in some ways behaviour has not. With regard to IT, lawyers are rarely ‘early adopters’.

Yet, the degree to which IT is changing law is accelerating. The Gazette acknowledges this today with the first of a monthly feature on cutting-edge trends in legal technology.

It is not that IT will replace lawyers, nothwithstanding the LCJ’s enthusiasm for exploiting the advantages of technology and digitisation. But the practice of law cannot be divorced from its context – and lawyers now need to be comfortable talking in terms of robots, automation, big data and e-discovery.

Beyond the jargon the object remains the same – to do more for less. But how does one conceive of the potential productivity gains in a profession that still clings (if ever more tenuously) to the chargeable hour? Joanna Goodman has some answers.