Lawyers Uneducated About Technology

[This article originally appeared in the Florida Bar Journal, January 2016 and is in response to a specific question posed to me, and using data from Florida.  Slight changes have been made to convert from print to online format.]

The biggest technology challenge for Florida lawyers is education.  Lawyers feel poorly prepared to use technology, with only 40 percent feeling prepared on leaving law school.  At the same time, most lawyers consider new and advanced technology to have an impact on their ability to practice law successfully.  The collision of this lack of preparedness and technology’s impact may influence its adoption.  In Florida, adoption of practice management systems is low, with large numbers of lawyers failing to use case management (77 percent) or document management (85 percent) systems.

This dynamic is under additional pressure with the commentary to Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.1, suggesting that lawyers be aware of changing practice technology.  This guidance means that, no matter how much or little technology lawyers use, they need to keep a weather eye on the landscape.

Education is difficult to acquire when it comes to technology, though.  The legal profession used to have a multitude of publications – such as Law Office Computing – dedicated solely to technology and how lawyers use it.  No longer.  The survivors, often bar association publications, cover a broader swath now.

Just like legal research, there are two useful approaches:  random and focused.  A random approach is similar to reading a magazine.  You will find information that is inapplicable to your practice mixed in with the useful.  There are a variety of podcasts that you can download to an app on your phone or tablet.  For example, The Florida Bar Podcast can be located on Legal Talk Network.  You can listen to podcasts (Jim Callison and Sharon D. Nelson‘s, or one from Canada) at your leisure, and store away information until you need it.

Develop the habit of checking in.  Download a podcast but know that you can skip it if the first minute or so doesn’t grab you.  Similarly, you can follow some of the many blogs dealing with law practice technology – skim the headlines, as you do with a newspaper.  A few examples are Lawyerist’s tech posts and Bob Ambrogi’s LawSites.  Technolawyer’s Blawgworld, a free email subscription, sends you posts they have found each week.

A newsfeed app, such as Feedly or Flipboard, and an email app can bring those posts to your tablet or phone as well.  The random approach will help you slowly acclimatize to new terms of art – two factor, hybrid cloud, ransomware – even if you do not have any particular need to know them at the time.  it is similar to CLE in that way.

The focused approach is more like legal research:  Do it when you have a specific need, such as when you closed a document without saving it and want to know if you can retrieve it.  You can always Google a focused question, using plain language, such as “How do I recover a Word document?”  (Hopefully your question is not one such as “What is this bitcoin I have to use to ransom my encrypted client files?”)  Just as other lawyers are the number one resource when you have a legal question, informed colleagues can be your best starting point.  Most Florida lawyers have internal or external technology support.  Use them.  You can do this proactively, perhaps by asking them about something you have read or heard.

Do not be reluctant to Google a topic.  There’s a wealth of free, reliable information on the Internet to help you understand your options.  Most technology in a law practice is not legal-specific.  There are huge communities of other professionals using the same software in the same way, so there is a high probability that someone else has had the same problem.  Perhaps there is a comparison of other programs with the one you use.

You can find some of these for legal software at the ABA.  Wikipedia has a surprising number of comparison charts and lists of types of products.  There are even sites like AlternativeTo that will show you software choices that are similar to ones you use.  These resources aren’t comprehensive – as there may not be such a thing, by you are trying to become educated, not omniscient.  The more human and information resources you use, the more informed you will be.

The biggest technology challenge to the Florida law practice is not the technology itself.  It is understanding what is available and how to us it within your unique practice.  Once you tackle technology, your ability to manage its impact on your ability to practice successfully will improve.