Is it Legal Malpractice to "Not Be Good With Computers?"

Published in Droid Lawyer January 24, 2013
by Jeffrey Taylor

Now, I won't question Carolyn's prowess at solo practice, since she literally wrote the book on it, and I'm even surprised she chides that "You should be dragging me into the 21st century, not the other way around," since Carolyn's been blogging long before I've been lawyering.

The fact that Carolyn even has to write this post is remarkable, since I would expect many new lawyers to possess the requisite technological skills and knowledge. Yet, my experience with "fresh meat lawyers" is far too similar: they lack too few usable legal skills, and surprisingly have too few technological skills. I could close my practice and retire today if I had $10.00 for every intern, wanna-be associate, opposing counsel, or assistant who told me "I'm good at typing, but I don't do too much with computers."

As Carolyn points out, these new lawyers are the ones growing up with technology. New lawyers have more resources available today than any previous generation. Amazingly, even I can remember a time when I had to go the library to research a class project in the encyclopedias.

On his Law Biz Blog, Ed Poll submits his opinion that not being good with technology may constitute legal malpractice:

What Ed highlights is very relevant to today's society. More and more, lawyers are using technology to be more proficient and provide quality services. Not being among that group has certain disadvantages and certainly doesn't benefit the client.

Carolyn's point is that new lawyers need to make strides to showcase other skills, since their legal products are worthless. Ed has a similar view, but is more generalized toward all attorneys. Is it reasonable to expect someone at the dusk of their career to embrace technology and accelerate? Probably not. For someone at the threshold though, or maybe in between, the necessity is very real.

Ed brings up the Canadian requirement that "lawyer[s] should serve the client in a conscientious, diligent and efficient manner so as to provide a quality of service at least equal to that which lawyers generally would expect of a competent lawyer in a like situation." CBA Rules of Professional Conduct, Ch. 2 Rule 4. The American Bar Association promulgated Rule 1.1, which suggests a similar level of competency. Arguably, professional competence includes technical competence.

I can't believe the number of attorneys using smartphones and tablets, yet they can't coherently converse about non-law, tech-relevant topics. Nobody's arguing that one needs to be in the business of computer repair. Ed and certainly Carolyn, suggest that technical knowledge about simple things like video production, blogging, websites, blogging, using RSS, blogging, and even mobile computing, is the important factor. Did I mention blogging? Don't even get me started on the number of law firms banning or restricting an attorney's online presence. Where's the innovation?

Carolyn effectively pleads for new grads to be proactive about social media and technology, because these are the tools lawyers use everyday. Young lawyers need to understand the power of social media, blogs, and sites like YouTube so they can effectively counsel their clients, and if necessary, build a client base.

So, while your technological incompetence won't get you disbarred or disciplined, you're quickly and quietly becoming irrelevant.

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