Do you remember the days of legal research in books? Shepardizing cases took days and you didn't have access to the most recently decided cases? How about the days of coding documents with sticky notes, notepads, and dictated indices? Remember when Lotus was the dominant email program?
Ah, how technology has changed the legal profession. Now we're in the days of e-discovery, predictive coding, tablets, live streaming, paperless offices and more. But despite the shift to computer technology in the legal field, most law firms are still woefully behind. Many firms are still using Windows XP, which is now considered to be a major security risk, and others are still using paper and fax machines way more than necessary.
I don't think anyone will argue that modern technology has hurt the practice of law. Some curmudgeon may argue that technology is bad because it makes him more efficient and therefore unable to bill as many hours, but that's silly. Any good lawyer wants to provide a good outcome for their client as efficiently as possible. If you try to bleed a client with inefficient time, you won't keep the client for long. So if technology makes lawyers more efficient and thereby better able to represent their clients, why are many lawyers still slow to adopt new technology?
I have a few theories.
- Many lawyers aren’t super-technical. While technology can improve performance, it only helps if you understand how to use it and are comfortable with it. It doesn't matter how great the software is – ultimately, it won’t serve its intended purpose.
- Lawyers don’t see the long-term benefit. Learning software takes time. It’s an investment and it trades off with short-term billable hours. Also, changing processes is hard and time-consuming. You often don’t see immediate benefits from any gains you might obtain either in your own daily routine or in your firm’s productivity. Learning the software and changing procedures is put off until there’s an immense need for it which can be stressful, especially if you don’t know how to use it (see my point above).
- A lot of software really isn’t that good. Since time literally is money for many lawyers, it’s a total waste to spend time learning software that’s too slow, buggy, or otherwise doesn’t do what it is supposed to.
The obvious problem is that these and other barriers actually slow the adoption of useful technology in the legal profession. Clearly, using the latest programs can improve a lawyer’s practice and the resulting outcomes for their clients. So what do need to do to become a tech-savvy lawyer?
- Look for how-to videos on the software company’s site. Watch snippets to see if the software looks intuitive and useful. Spend no more than 10 minutes doing this. You’re not learning the software, you’re just trying to get a feel for it.
- Get a personalized demo, but don’t just sit there. Tell them up front what you want to see, your concerns, and how you see yourself using the software if it works. You control the demo. Good trainers using good software should be able to address your concerns and quickly hit the high points.
- Do a few quick searches online to find competitors for the software you’re evaluating. Check the prices. See if any of the companies have existing customers on their site who are willing to vouch for the software.
- If you’re not very technical then hire someone who is. Don’t hire an enormous company that charges as much as you do on an hourly basis. What you need is a computer-savvy person who can help. They don’t need to be in the computer industry or work for you full-time. Find someone you can pay on a contract basis when needed.
- Attend tech-related CLEs. Often they provide good software tips and you get credit at the same time.
- Read legal tech blogs to stay on top of trends and hear from early adopters. Here are a few suggestions - Future Lawyer, Attorney At Work's Legal Technology section, and LawSites by Robert Ambrogi (who also co-hosts the legal affairs podcast Lawyer2Lawyer).
The bottom line is that you should try to embrace new technology. Paperless offices are growing and, when done right, can save dramatic amounts of time and money. You don’t have to do it all at once, but incremental steps can be a major boon over time.