Like anyone whose livelihood is based on intellectual capital, the best investments that lawyers can make are those directed at increasing their education, acumen, and professional ability. Are they making sure they have the skills needed to excel in the current, technology-driven legal services market? Are they keeping up with rapidly changing technologies, laws, and ethical obligations? Do these lawyers have a plan for riding the wave of innovation that’s sweeping the legal profession?
In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen Covey identified continuous education/self-improvement as one of the keys to professional and personal success. His term “sharpening the saw” describes the role that an ongoing commitment to education plays in ensuring that individuals have the capacity to consistently function at a high level in the workplace.
This is particularly true for lawyers operating in today’s dynamic, highly competitive legal market. After all, a lawyer’s worth is directly related to that lawyer’s ability to use technology to deliver value to the client.
And we’ve all seen the embarrassing things that can happen when lawyers carelessly deploy emerging technologies like ChatGPT and Google Bard to deliver legal services. It’s not so easy to be tech-savvy.
Here are six ways that lawyers can make sure they’re at the top of their technology game.
1. Follow the Leaders
Each year the Association of Corporate Counsel recognizes legal departments that are leading the way in using technology to deliver value to corporate clients. Innovations in data analytics, process management, value-based fees, knowledge management systems, and legal service metrics have all been singled out for recognition by the ACC Value Champions program.
Reviewing the work of prior ACC Value Champions is a good way for law firms to find inspiration and become educated on legal technology best practices in today’s market.
Innovation in the delivery of legal services is recognized annually in the FastCase50 Awards list – another good source of education and inspiration for law firm leaders.
2. Become Active in State Bar Associations
Contributing to the work of state bar associations is a great opportunity to not only learn about the state of play in legal technology and how technology impacts traditional legal processes, it’s a unique opportunity to shape the future direction of the law. State bar groups like State Bar of Texas Computer and Technology Section and the New York State Bar Association Committee on Technology and the Legal Profession are open to any member of those bars.
From the Texas bar’s website: > The mission of the State Bar of Texas Computer Law & Technology Council is to provide leadership on emerging issues at the intersection of law, science, and technology; to promote sound policy and public understanding on such issues; and to enhance the professional development of its members via training and publications.
The New York bar’s description of its work is similarly sweeping:
The Committee on Technology and the Legal Profession will identify subjects concerning technology that will impact the delivery of legal services now and in the future and (a) make recommendations to other NYSBA entities and staff to provide CLE and other tools to assist NYSBA members in enhancing their practices, adapting to technological innovation, and achieving reasonable technological competence in all aspects of their practices, including (without limitation) e-discovery, artificial intelligence, data privacy and cybersecurity; (b) enhance protection of the public by developing and recommending needed regulations and best practices for legal technology companies and, where appropriate, by working collaboratively with legal technology companies and entrepreneurs who provide forms, referrals, artificial intelligence and other for-profit law-related services directly to legal consumers; and (c) evaluate and recommend ways to use new legal technologies to bridge the “justice gap” and provide better access to courts and legal services for those unable to afford lawyers.
Many other state bars have similarly ambitious “law and technology” committees. These are all great ways for lawyers to keep their fingers on the pulse of technology-related topics within their jurisdictions.
3. Monitor Legal Ethics Opinions
Professional ethics opinions deliver a wealth of valuable technology information while announcing new ethical considerations and obligations. State ethics opinions (e.g., Duty to Understand Technology, Including Cybersecurity (Michigan RI-381, Feb. 20, 2020), and national bar opinions (e.g., American Bar Association Formal Opinion 498 (Virtual Practice), March 10, 2021), are mini research papers on the topic at hand – well worth careful study, regardless of jurisdiction.
4. Track Judicial Initiatives
The future role of technology in the legal profession can be glimpsed in the efforts of state judicial leaders who are working to solve access to justice problems in their courthouses. In Utah, for example, Utah Supreme Court Office of Legal Services Innovation is attempting to spur the development of innovative legal services offerings that promise to make legal services more affordable and available to persons who need them. In most cases, there is a strong technology angle.
The Utah website lists dozens of technology innovations and entrepreneurial efforts that might be worthy of consideration and wider adoption across the country.
Lawyers interested in the “courtroom of the future” can monitor the activities of the National Center for State Courts. NCSC brings together judicial leaders and courtroom technologists from across the country; often, new courtroom procedures in state courts emerged from NCSC activities. NCSC’s annual Court Technology Conference is a great way to see how the courtroom justice system will be operating in the very near future.
In 2022, NCSC’s recommended guidelines for remote hearings proved enormously influential across the country.
5. Master the Technology Suite
It’s imperative for lawyers to master whatever technology their firm has acquired for professional use. We’re well past the time when a lawyer’s inability to manage cell phones and email correspondence was tolerated. And judges seem to have lost patience with lawyers who are unable to effectively participate in a videoconference, whether that’s a virtual court hearing or a remote deposition.
Bottom line for lawyers: Learn how to use technology. Don’t be content to muddle through. Take the time to learn the software inside and out. Become an expert. Get training from the vendor or a consultant, if necessary. Be as competent with technology as you are with any other aspect of your law practice.
6. Polish Your On-Screen Presence
Similarly, it’s time to acknowledge that “on-screen advocacy” is just as important as “courtroom advocacy.” So much of law practice today is conducted virtually – from client conferences to virtual hearings to remote depositions. Even the most prepared and forthright litigators can appear furtive and unpolished if they lack basic on-camera presentation skills. Professional competence today means being able to effectively advocate for the client on a computer monitor. Fortunately, there is no shortage of media trainers willing to teach lawyers how to look good on camera.
So those are six ways that lawyers can ensure they have the technology competence necessary to thrive in the modern legal marketplace. And none of them involved taking a continuing legal education class.
In fact, when it comes to technology, meeting a state bar’s minimum CLE requirement is probably just the beginning – not the end – of a lawyer’s professional obligation to be technologically competent. By tracking the innovations of leading law firms, by monitoring the emerging “courtroom of the future,” and by becoming fully engaged in their state bar’s educational and policy development efforts, lawyers will ensure that they truly are trusted advisors to clients in a rapidly changing world.