What if you needed life-saving surgery and you were looking for the right doctor to perform it.
At the first doctor’s office, you walk in and notice that the receptionist has no computer. She is also answering a rotary phone. The nurse later takes your vitals with an ancient thermometer which requires that she shake the mercury down to the well before inserting under your tongue. When you finally meet the doctor, he explains that he has “done his homework” on your case by studying a dusty medical volume that he points to on a bookshelf.
Would you trust your care to this antiquated doctor? No way. In fact, you’d probably run screaming from his office.
Why? I’ll tell you why: because technology has clearly passed him by and that doesn’t just mean he could sell his old phone on eBay for a fortune. It likely means that the medical field has also passed him by. I think we can all agree that medicine has been utterly transformed by technology.
The same is true for the law profession. Clients will run screaming from a firm or an attorney that seems antiquated because they know that the legal profession has been utterly transformed by technology.
In a recent ABA Journal article, John Stewart and Casey Flaherty wrote:
“The courts already require electronic filing. Electronic filing, in turn, is predicated on a whole host of technological complements: word processing, PDFs, internet, email. Those technological complements introduce a new world of keeping client data confidential: electronic communication, encryption, metadata, mobile devices, the cloud.”
Yet, I am continuously amazed when I visit long-established firms and discover that a significant number of their attorneys are working with antiquated technologies, refusing to learn new ways of doing their work. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” they claim. Or “This has served me well for 40 years; there’s no need to change now.”
Younger attorneys and trainers lament opportunities lost and, often, they jump ship for firms with a more forward-looking vision. (Bye-bye young talent. Yet another side-effect of a firm’s unwillingness to advance its technological prowess.)
But, of course, even an old dog gets a bone now and then and some clients will stay with their attorneys and firms out of loyalty. Sadly, those loyal clients are the first ones burned by ransomware attacks and snagged in phishing scams. (If these words mean nothing to you, it is absolutely urgent that you seek tech help today!) These clients even end up paying more due to inefficiencies.
No wonder the American Bar Association adopted a change to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct a few years back to make clear that lawyers have a duty to be competent not only in the law and its practice, but also in technology. Here is the earth-shaking new rule in full:
Model Rule 1.1 states: “A lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.” And now Comment 8 to Model Rule 1.1 states: “ 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, engage in continuing study and education and comply with all [CLE] requirements to which the lawyer is subject.”
So, as you can see, Model Rule 1.1 basically says attorneys must provide “competent representation,” which has always been the case. To this, they added Comment 8 and I think Ivy Grey summed up the need for this added comment in a recent Law Technology Today article:
“A lawyer’s fundamental duty has always been to provide competent representation to her client. In the past, lawyers thought of competence as focused solely on the substantive knowledge of a certain area of law combined with the experience and ability to adequately represent a client in a specific engagement. As times changed, so did the view of what it meant to be competent.
“The technology update does not change the duty to maintain competence under Model Rule 1.1, it merely clarifies that maintaining technological competence is part of meeting that duty. In short: lawyers can no longer be proudly unaware of technology and still claim to ethically serve their clients’ needs.”
Here are a few reasons that the ABA may have adopted this new language:
Old Tech is More Expensive
- Slow: Imagine your legal assistant working on an old Selecta electric typewriter and using mimeograph paper to make copies. (Whoops! That whole paragraph is wrong! Gotta start over!) Now compare that to word processors, scanners and copiers. Old tech is slow. Slow projects take longer and cost your clients more money. And don’t fool yourself: clients are increasingly savvy about their ROI for legal help. If you take too long and charge more because you’re inefficient, you will be fired.
- Unorganized: Today’s clients expect to have access to their entire case file at the touch of a button. And if you’re making changes to existing documents, they don’t want you to courier hard copies across town or across the globe every time you make a change. Further, they want to be certain that you have a strong system for managing all of their documents. (File folders piled on your desk and floor do not instill confidence.) If you lack a document management system or don’t know how to use it well, you delay the case. How long do you think a client will put up with that? It’s expensive to lose clients.
Of course, there are myriad reasons that old technology is expensive… but I must move on.
Old Tech is Risky
- Unsecure: Today’s clients are increasingly asking about security measures at the law firms they consider hiring. In fact, I was recently told by a law firm IT professional that they had to fill out an RFP that asked if the firm had 100% participation in their security awareness trainings. Their prospective client doesn’t want to hire a firm that keeps its sensitive materials on old, unprotected servers. And they want to be sure that everyone in the firm is committed to security protocols. Old tech is risky.
- Get buy-in from the top dogs: Without support from at least one person in upper management (COO, HR veep, etc.) your efforts will likely fail. If YOU are that person for your firm, then you have a duty to throw yourself into this process!
- Form a technology committee: This committee would include representatives from across the firm to help design and launch a new training initiative.
- Administer individualized assessments: Often, the biggest hurdle to creating a training culture is the fact that people find training boring or think that it doesn’t meet their personal needs. Start by doing individualized assessments so that you can tailor instruction to each person’s skill level. (There is a relatively inexpensive technology that can make managing this process simple. It’s called a learning management system or LMS.)
- Increase attorney participation: The committee and assessments are then used to encourage attorney participation, helping them to understand the impact that improved technology efficiency would have on their workflow and output.
- Create customized training: Using the assessments, create customized learning paths for more tailored trainings. (Again, the LMS can do this for you.)
- Offer trainings that meet people where they are: An LMS enables you to offer desktop and mobile trainings so that people don’t have to stop everything they’re doing to learn. (Lunch-and-learns are giant time-sucks.)
- Award certifications: Reward people who achieve various levels of technology proficiency. (These certifications can ultimately be used in the RFP process to tout the firm’s technological advantages.
OK, so I think I’ve made my case: old tech may be the death of your firm. But there’s something that’s just as imperative: you could have every new tech on the market today but if your professionals don’t know how to use it, you might as well have a Selecta electric typewriter (with all of the same associated risks and downfalls).
I know change can be hard, but it can be done! Read on!
Create a Firm-Wide Learning Culture
I’ve written (and thought) a lot about what it takes to create a firm-wide learning culture. I’ve even created a step-by-step checklist for those who want to try. Read on!
I wrote a blog about one firm’s results after pursuing exactly this path. Read it here.
Consider this your Call to Tech-Arms!
If you are a tech-challenged lawyer, if your clients are asking for things you don’t even understand, if your staff can’t keep up with output expectations, if you faced a security breach, if the tech you have is out of date, if “tech-nay-sayers” at the firm are holding everyone else up: Then your firm will likely face difficulties in the future.
If you hope to experience success in five or 10 years, then it is imperative that you create a learning culture in your firm today. Today’s attorneys have an ethical duty to be responsive to changes in technologies for their clients and for themselves.
If you have any questions about this article, or if you need help assessing/implementing a learning culture plan, please contact me today.