By: Michael H. Payne
I find it interesting that some of the younger attorneys I know, and most of the older ones too, do not share my fascination with computer technology. Perhaps my interest is not shared by younger attorneys because they find no novelty in something they have lived with for most of their lives. They have no frame of reference for what it was like in the pre-digital age, and they have no baseline with which to compare the analog and digital worlds. The resulting digital apathy is unfortunate because the practice of law benefits greatly from the application of computer technology and the functionality of that technology is growing exponentially.
In the early days of the digital age, technology involved the transition from typewriters to electronic word processing. Even that undeniably useful technology was resisted by some attorneys because they did not want to invest in computer hardware, they did not want to learn how to use the software, or their legal assistants were fearful of the unknown. There was the inevitable resistance to change that has always been characteristic of the legal profession. Of course, the passage of time has shown that word processing makes us more efficient, although some would argue that since it is no longer necessary to get it right the first time, we have become somewhat lazy and sloppy. It is, after all, easy to change our minds, correct mistakes, and make wholesale changes to a document. The end result, however, is a more polished product.
When electronic legal research became available in the early 1980s, many attorneys preferred the tactile feel of holding a book in their hands to looking at a computer screen, and they felt more comfortable with West Digests as a starting place for legal research. They did not trust keyword searching and were not willing to invest the time needed to perfect the skill required to perfect online legal research. Now, of course, law books and law libraries have virtually become extinct, and an attorney who cannot perform legal research online is at a disadvantage. You cannot read a case if you do not know how to find a case.
Today, there are tools and emerging technologies that did not exist a little over a decade ago. The iPhone, which has become the communication device of choice for many attorneys, was released on June 29, 2007, and the iPad first became available on April 3, 2010. The advances in smartphone and tablet-computing technology have been outstanding in terms of processing power, storage capacity, screen resolution and the availability of applications. There are hundreds of apps that facilitate document creation, document management, legal research, marketing, billing, scheduling, cloud storage, among many others. These apps are readily available on both iOS and Android devices.
It is one thing to find and install the apps, but it is quite another to master their use. Although there are many tasks that can be effectively delegated to an administrative assistant, paralegal or junior attorney, there are others that even partners should learn how to perform. It starts with mastery of the device itself. If you can do little more than turn on your smartphone or tablet, and then perform only the most elementary tasks (phone calls, texts, email, web surfing and checking social media), you will find that your children are light years ahead of you in technological competence. There is a learning curve that must be endured to make effective use of new technology, but it is almost always easier than it looks. It requires persistence, reading instructions or watching instructional videos and benefitting from trial and error. My point is that you cannot expect to make effective use of computer software and mobile apps if you do not know how to use the devices on which the software and apps reside.
Technological tools can no longer be regarded as toys to be safely ignored. Aside from making use of the available tools for practical reasons, the use and understanding of technology has been addressed in competency standards adopted by at least 28 states. In fact, Pennsylvania Rule of Professional Conduct, Rule 1.1(h), provides that “To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology …” It is no longer safe to defer to others to worry about the “technology stuff.”
There are rapidly developing and emerging technologies that involve artificial intelligence, e-discovery, and cybersecurity that attorneys must understand. In an article titled “Tech-Savvy Attorneys in Heavy Demand Amid Emerging Tech,” written by Roger Yu for Bloomberg Law on Feb. 22, Yu wrote that new technology competency standards “require lawyers to keep abreast of the risks and benefits of technology relevant to their practice (referencing data analysis by attorney Robert J. Ambrogi).” As Yu explains, the bottom line according to Ambrogi is that “lawyers need to understand cyber risks, encryption and even basic social media skills that can be relevant during discovery.” (Ambrogi practices media and technology law and has found that there are clients who have been harmed by their own lawyer’s incompetence in technology).
It all starts with becoming comfortable with technological devices and then learning how to use related software applications. There is no reason to be intimidated, and once you develop the skills, you will wonder how you practiced law without them. As explained in my recent article, “From the Legal Pad to the iPad Pro: The End of Paper is Near,” many tasks once reserved for computers can now be performed on tablets. For example, there are apps for word processing, document assembly, legal research, organizing deposition and trial exhibits, creating presentations, organizing electronic trial notebooks, synopsizing deposition and trial transcripts, annotating documents, reading books and articles, watching videos and listening to podcasts, among others. While much of the underlying work can be delegated to assistants and subordinates, the attorney will benefit from being comfortable with the operation of the device and the applications that were utilized. Spend the time—it is worth it!
Reprinted with permission from the January 23, 2019 edition of “The Legal Intelligencer” © 2019 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. For information, contact 877-257-3382, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.almreprints.com.