It seems like there are CLEs and ads and blog posts everywhere telling you to learn legal technology. Some of them are from purveyors of legal technology, which can cause intense eye rolling, but I’m sure a lot of you are looking at all of these warnings the same way you look at a crazy person with a sandwich board saying the end of the world is coming. Why do you need to learn legal technology? Here’s why:
Work More Efficiently
Whether you are in family law, tax law, real estate transactional, personal injury, or any other area of the law, you are likely spending time doing things that you don’t need to be doing. Let’s say I’m wrong and all you do all day is sit in your office and dictate into your trusty mini cassette recorder Dictaphone and you don’t need any fancy cloud servers or ediscovery production protocols or whatever. What about people in your office transcribing your audio tapes? What if they could do it ten times faster because you used Dragon Dictate’s legal edition dictation software and your secretary could do other things like assist with accounts receivable or organize your files or take a paid vacation? It’s not all about working smarter, it’s about avoiding disasters too. What if you have a big filing due and you get a last minute ex parte that you need to oppose, but can’t divert resources from the filing? If you work faster, smarter, and more efficiently, you can avoid malpractice traps like that.
Chances are that there are several things you can do in your office faster and better if you look for the right solutions.
For those of you who care about ethics, learning the basics of legal technology should be on the forefront of your mind. Do you get work emails on your phone? What security level do you have on your phone? Do you clear the hard drive of your leased copy machines before you return them? Do co-workers in your office email documents to themselves to access from home or Dropbox them to themselves? Do you have a wifi account for guests/opposing counsel/clients, or do they connect to your main office wifi? Do you talk to your clients about auto deletion policies when you sign up a case? What about when they first contact you for a consultation about legal representation but before they have signed your retainer agreement? What if their company’s servers overwrote relevant information that the plaintiff would be entitled to after they spoke to you at an initial consultation and before they signed the retainer agreement? Did you have an obligation to inform them about potential issues with their data retention policies?
The state bar ethics police are not just there to give you a hard time and make sure you follow hyper-technicalities. They are there to make sure you have not made the same mistakes attorneys in the past have made that have caused harm to their clients and to their reputations.
Get Better Clients
In a recent Gallup poll, they found that only 18% of people would rate the ethical standards of lawyers high or very high, while over twice that many rated us low or very low, and the rest had us at about average. The general distrust of lawyers is not new. Even the Bible speaks more highly of prostitutes than it does of lawyers. Potential new clients are in the same boat – they are coming to you with skepticism, hoping that you are not going to rip them off or overbill them. So, if you are a lawyer and you are meeting with a potential new client in your office and your secretary stations and associate desks are covered in paper and everyone looks busy, you might be thinking to yourself, “He’s going to see how busy we are and know we are important.” What he’s probably really thinking is, “What a bunch of slobs. They are probably going to lose my stuff before they lose my case.”
It’s the Future
Things are changing. We are moving towards mobile technology. We are moving towards the cloud. Court filing systems are going paperless and requiring you to OCR and add PDF bookmarks before uploading documents with exhibits. You can sit there with you trusty Windows Vista laptop and refuse to move with the current, but you’ll be left behind. What do you do when you send a request for production for opposing counsel’s Facebook data and get an objection that it’s overbroad? What do you do when your designated expert needs files, including patient medical records, right away, and wants you to Dropbox them before he goes on vacation before his deposition? How do you do that ethically and securely?
There are a number of reasons to learn technology, and every single one revolves around you making more money, having more time off, and not ruining your clients’ lives. So, probably spend some time looking into it.
Jeff Bennion is a solo practitioner at the Law Office of Jeff Bennion. He serves as a member of the Board of Directors of San Diego’s plaintiffs’ trial lawyers association, Consumer Attorneys of San Diego. He is also the Education Chair and Executive Committee member of the State Bar of California’s Law Practice Management and Technology section. He is a member of the Advisory Council and instructor at UCSD’s Litigation Technology Management program. His opinions are his own. Follow him on Twitter here or on Facebook here, or contact him by email at email@example.com.