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The Importance of Technology Proficiency – Part I

Published: Jan 23, 2023

 Career Readiness       Law       Productivity       Workplace Issues       
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As an attorney, you’ve established yourself as a resource (and possibly an expert) in an area of the law where clients will seek your guidance and representation. And in this relationship, you need to instill confidence in your clients. There’s no easier way to have clients question your abilities and lose faith in you than to be inadequate in your work.

One such area where shortcomings may impact how you are regarded—and, in turn,your business prospects—is technological proficiency. Regardless of how good you are as a lawyer, gaffes and technological incompetence may turn clients away. Even the American Bar Association recognizes the importance of keeping up with technology—since 2001, it has surveyed attorneys on technology use and, in 2012, it adopted Comment 8 to Rule 1.1 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which reads: “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. …”[i] In 2022, Hawaii became the 40th state to adopt an “express duty of technological competence for lawyers.”[ii]

Why Attorneys Have Fallen Behind the Tech Times

Clients often get frustrated with their attorneys because there is a gap between clients’ expectations for technology proficiency and the reality of lawyers’ ability.[iii] There are several possible explanations for why lawyers may be technologically deficient:

  • For busy attorneys accustomed to the pressures of billing requirements, many feel they cannot justify the time it takes to be on technology’s cutting edge.
  • Many lawyers’ issues may be attributed to age and limited experience or familiarity with technology, as the median age for lawyers—46.5—is more than four years older than the median age of all U.S. workers, and nearly 13% of all lawyers are 65 or older, while overall only 7% of the American workforce is over 65.[iv]
  • Sacrosanct in the lives of attorneys is the protection of client confidentiality and attorney/client privilege, both of which may be threatened by too eagerly adopting new, potentially faulty technologies before they are fully proven to be safe and secure. It’s not worth risking your law license over something unproven and/or beyond your control.
  • The investment in technology may be hard for lawyers to make if there isn’t a “direct and immediate economic improvement” or return on that investment.[v]

Why Attorneys Need to Stay Technologically Current

For law firms and lawyers, accepting and learning new technologies isn’t an option—it’s a necessity. They need to keep up because other firms and lawyers are, and being deficient means losing business or going out of business altogether. Yes, the pandemic hastened the pace of technology adoption because of remote/virtual work requirements. But on a macro level, taking advantage of new legal tech products can solve or prevent many issues by streamlining processes, increasing efficiency and productivity, optimizing workflow, and allowing for better client service.[vi] Certain technologies allow lawyers to analyze and synthesize data to locate areas of legal risk, including harassment or discrimination issues, accounting issues, and issues of fraud.[vii]

It’s not as if lawyers don’t understand the importance of speaking their client’s technological language. In a 2022 survey, almost nine out of 10 attorneys acknowledged that technology improved their ability to serve clients and meet their demands.[viii] However, firms shouldn’t feel compelled to be the first one out of the gate and the earliest adopter of all new technology. Sometimes it’s best to be prudent and patient so that bugs with new programs can be resolved before a large investment of time or money is made.[ix]

Additionally, lawyers and law firms need to be more efficient and provide better client service because other competition has joined the fray. Alternative legal service providers (ALSPs), including the big four accounting firms of EY, PwC, Deloitte, and KPMG, have blossomed and continue to grow. These are “non-law-firm providers or law firms with purpose-built delivery services that perform legal support work at a lower cost than traditional law firms and corporate legal departments.”[x] (ALSPs were a $10.7 billion business in 2020[xi] and $15.8 billion in 2022, and are expected to become a nearly $25.2 billion market by 2028.[xii]) Beyond their ability to provide legal support services at lower costs, ALSPs rely heavily on their tech prowess.[xiii]

Next week, we’ll take a look at how attorneys and law firms can stay ahead of and take advantage of technology, and also what law schools can do to prepare lawyers for using tech tools in their practices.

[i] American Bar Association. (2022, November 30). 2022 Technology Training. https://www.americanbar.org/groups/law_practice/publications/techreport/2022/tech-training/

[ii] Berman, M. (2022, March 31). 40th State Adopts a Duty of Technological Competence – Is It a Good Idea? E-Discovery LLC. https://www.ediscoveryllc.com/40th-state-adopts-a-duty-of-technological-competence-is-it-a-good-idea/

[iii] Coyer, C. (2023, January 5). Evolving Education: 3 Recently Launched Law School Legal Tech Programs. Law.com. https://www.law.com/legaltechnews/2023/01/05/evolving-education-3-recently-launched-law-school-legal-tech-programs/

[iv] American Bar Association. (2022). Profile of the Legal Profession 2022, Demographics. https://www.abalegalprofile.com/demographics.php#:~:text=The%20median%20age%20for%20lawyers,younger%20than%20the%20typical%20lawyer.

[v] Thomson Reuters. (2019, September 5). 3 reasons why law firms are resistant to technology. https://legal.thomsonreuters.com/blog/3-reasons-why-law-firms-are-resistant-to-technology/

[vi] Thomson Reuters. (2021, August 3). Technology in law is the new norm. https://legal.thomsonreuters.com/blog/technology-in-law-is-the-new-norm/

[vii] Milner, S., Williams, J.M., and Childress, W. (2020, April 8). INSIGHT: Tomorrow’s Lawyer Must Embrace Innovation, Technology. Bloomberg Law. https://news.bloomberglaw.com/us-law-week/insight-tomorrows-lawyer-must-embrace-innovation-technology

[viii] Pikulski, R., Onyiri, P., and Ouyang, L. (2022, May 6). ANALYSIS: Lawyers’ Top Legal Tech Tools—And Biggest Blind Spots. Bloomberg Law. https://news.bloomberglaw.com/bloomberg-law-analysis/analysis-lawyers-top-legal-tech-tools-and-biggest-blind-spots

[ix] Thomson Reuters. (2022, December 28). Why attorneys need to keep up with legal tech advances. https://legal.thomsonreuters.com/blog/why-attorneys-need-to-keep-up-with-legal-tech-advances/

[x] Gartner. (n.d.). Alternative Legal Service Providers (ALSPs) Reviews and Ratings. https://www.gartner.com/reviews/market/alternative-legal-service-providers-alsps

[xi] Thomson Reuters. Why attorneys need to keep up with legal tech advances.

[xii] EIN Presswire. (2023, January 4). Alternative Legal Service Providers (ALSP) Market Size is projected to reach USD 25.17 bn by 2028 – Douglas Insights. https://www.einnews.com/pr_news/609470853/alternative-legal-service-providers-alsp-market-size-is-projected-to-reach-usd-25-17-bn-by-2028-douglas-insights#:~:text=The%20market%20for%20Alternative%20Legal,growing%20at%20an%208.4%25%20CAGR.

[xiii] Warren, Z. (2022, October 12). Corporate law departments want expertise from ALSPs – even more than tech and low costs. Thomson Reuters. https://www.thomsonreuters.com/en-us/posts/legal/corporate-law-departments-alsps-expertise/

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