Do you still dictate your memoranda for an assistant to type? Do you draft your arguments and briefs longhand rather than in word-processing software? Are all your files on paper rather than electronically stored? Is your computer mostly an expensive paperweight? If so, you just might be a Luddite lawyer.
You wouldn’t be alone. Many lawyers are not, shall we say, entirely comfortable with technology. And there are plenty of good reasons for this: the law attracts more people from a liberal-arts background than a hard scientific or technological background, the law changes slowly and accommodates those who adapt to change slowly, and judges and courts are themselves traditionalists. But these reasons do not excuse you for remaining behind the times.
In fact, compliance with ethical practice requirements demands that even the most technophobic lawyers overcome their reluctance. The American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct now encompass technology. In comment 8 to Model Rule 1.1, concerning the competence to practice law, the ABA specifies that lawyers should “keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.” Over half of all states have adopted this rule, leading some to say that lawyers who ignore technology are ethical violations waiting to happen.
What’s a Luddite lawyer to do?
1. Rely on a consultant.
Whether you use an individual IT professional or retain the services of a company or service provider, consider how you could incorporate professional technical assistance in your practice. Yes, your ethical duties may necessitate that you stay up to date, but that doesn’t mean that you must be an expert in everything—only that you consult sufficiently with experts.
2. Focus on your own efficiency.
Consider starting with smart solutions that will have the greatest positive effect on your efficiency. Are you using an automated billing program? Have you mastered your firm’s practice management software? Are you taking full advantage of the features available in your document management or document generation programs? Start by exploring the technology you already have and looking for places where you’re wasting valuable time on repeated actions. Chances are that you can improve your productivity, giving you more time to learn about other new approaches.
3. Look at your practice through a potential client’s eyes.
Brainstorm new ways that you can make yourself and your practice more accessible to your current or potential clients. Learning about the advantages that technology offers and the ways that it can improve your client relationships might be all the motivation you need to transform yourself from a technoneophyte to a confident early adopter!
4. Ask the younger generation for help.
Maybe you’re already getting help from your 15-year-old child, but that’s not who we mean! If you have younger associates in your practice group, consider asking one of them for help when you get stuck. The millennial generation is probably more comfortable than you are in navigating the online world, especially social media and online search sites. These younger lawyers may also relish the opportunity to know more than the “senior” (whether in title, in age, or both) partners, and to prove themselves as useful contributing members of the practice.
No matter how uncomfortable you are now with technology, you can improve—and your practice will reap the benefits. Don’t waste time lamenting what you don’t know. These days, as Aristotle said, the more you know, the more you know you don’t know.