Law Office Workflow – A Comparison to the NYSE and the NASDAQ Processes

For the first two weeks of 2016, investors in the stock market have suffered through a sudden and painful decline. Some call it historical in both its speed and voracity. The images most of us have of traders in lab-coat looking jackets with large ID letters on the front are likely from the New York Stock Exchange or NYSE. Those traders handle buys and sells in an auction-like environment, usually using hand signals, or shouting at the specialist designed to represent the stock being traded. There is a physical building in lower Manhattan where this takes place every day.

In contrast is the NASDAQ, which stands for the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotation system. The NASDAQ, (now formally called the NASD for National Association of Securities Dealers) unlike the NYSE is not a physical exchange, though it handles over 2 BILLION trades a day.

From Rather than being an auction market, the NASDAQ is a communications network between thousands of computers. Instead of brokers calling out orders, market makers place their names on a list of buyers and sellers, which is then distributed by the NASDAQ in a split second to thousands of other computers. If you wish to buy a stock that trades on the NASDAQ, your broker will either call up a market maker with the information of your trade or enter your order into a Nasdaq-sponsored online execution system.

The Analogy to Law Practice

Just as the marketplace for trading corporate securities has come a long way in the last 40-50 years, so has the process for legal practitioners. The easiest observation to look back on is the physical space that documents consumed in and for law practices. There were literally (and in some cases they remain) entire warehouses filled with documents related to cases long since settled, and rather than risk throwing away a piece of paper that had testimonials, agreements, signatures, and the like, firms would stack boxes higher and higher, taking up expensive square footage in office buildings. Eventually, many would be resigned to a remote, offsite location where bar code readers and wireless handheld devices could track their contents down in the event of a sudden need for a document to be produced.

In recent years, much like the stock exchanges, there have been significant advancements both in the technology, and the courts acceptance of alternative evidence besides paper. The advent of e-discovery meant that client data stored in computer databases were as equal in evidence as the paper that it replaced. No longer would attorneys have to show up in court with boxes of paper to support their case. Instead, a summary of what existed in a file could be used in pre-trial, and if necessary, a fast reprint could be done from the computer databases.