Technology Education – Of Lawyers and "Geeks"

Published in ScanSnap, July 2013

Today the world of the law is more than ever the world of the computer. Certainly the ubiquitous use of PCs and laptops in the law office, and of smart phones and tablets as lawyers' constant companions, attest to this. But having technology tools available is not the same thing as lawyers knowing how to use them as an integral part of practice dynamics. It is in this kind of technology education that too many small firms and solo lawyers come up short.

These lawyers are behind the technology curve, even to the point of not using email or not keeping electronic files of client records. Those that do use technology often do not spend enough or maintain upgrades to keep it current. Surveys on law firm technology use indicate that while the majority of large law firms upgrade their computers and software every two-to-three years, many small firms and sole practitioners go as long as six years or more between upgrades. They justify this to themselves by citing cost, time to learn and implement the new technologies, and uncertainty that new technology will increase efficiency and work quality.

Such firms are in danger of a malpractice accusation. They may have outdated software and hardware, may not be using case management or document assembly software, or may not be backing up and storing client electronic files at all – even when scanning is an easy and effective option for them. Rule 1.1 in the American Bar Association's Rules of Professional Conduct requires that a lawyer be competent to handle a given matter, measured as the standard of care in the local community. When some lawyers are significantly more sophisticated in the use of technology for trial support, file management and the like, lawyers who do not meet this standard may be perceived as willfully less competent than their competitors. That is malpractice, particularly in light a 2012 revision to Rule 1.1 that calls on lawyers to "keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology."

Bear in mind that the education issue here is not that lawyers' need to be "tech geeks." Technical knowledge about things like online video production, blogging, website management, social media competency and mobile computing may be good in its place – largely, the business development function. The lawyer who understands the technology behind these tools will not risk being technologically irrelevant. But there is a vast difference between irrelevance and incompetence. And giving due attention to the education issues of technology competence has become essential to efficiently serve clients and effectively meet professional standards.

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