Open Letter to Senior Lawyer: I’m Not a Tech Expert

young-lawyer-tech-consultant

Dear Senior Lawyer,

I am writing in response to your letter dated January 17, 2013. In it, you imply that it is my responsibility to help you write your blog, create video ads, and come up with unique and exciting ways to use technology in the practice of law. Although I consider myself tech-savvy, I believe your expectations are unrealistic.

As you point out, I have grown up around technology. I had my first cell phone in 2000. I joined Facebook when it was only open to other college students. I joined Twitter briefly when it first came out, and even had a Blogger account at the end of my college career. During this time I was also trying to pass exams and figure out my life. Then I spent three years learning the law. I’ve spent the last two figuring out starting to figure out how to be a lawyer.

In contrast, you’ve had the last twenty years to understand how law and technology fit together. You were already in law school when the Apple Macintosh was released. That means you’ve had the last thirty years to learn about new technologies as they develop. More importantly, you’ve been able to slowly incorporate those technologies into your practice. If you haven’t found a video solution that you like, or a system to stay up-to-date on industry developments, why should that be my problem? Why am I expected to have your solution?

How could my online footprint possibly compete with yours? Unless I started blogging in high school (as if that would have been a good idea) you have years of a head start. The idea that I could pick up video editing software in a flash begs the question why you haven’t. Possibly because it isn’t effortless?

I don’t dispute the value of technology to lawyers and clients alike. Nor do I discount the importance of an online footprint. But I resent the notion that I should be the one teaching you how to do these things simply because I am younger. Like you, I have followed the immersion of social media as a platform and learned about using it to promote my practice. But my age does not make me any more of an expert than you. Nor does it mean I should become your tech consultant.

(image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/alphadesigner/376805515/)

  • David Sugerman

    Amusing, but not so wise. Technology is displacing so many of your generation. Seems to me that a young lawyer’s best asset is her mastery and use of technology. Tutoring the middle aged and older and being a tech conduit is important.

    I am of the same era as the author of the piece to which you are responding. While her point and expectations may go too far, she is highlighting for you and others of your era the value you bring. Maybe it’s less important to you at your precise age and stage, but it’s a virtual roadmap on how young attorneys can bring value to small firms and solos. That would matter for those wanting to find their way in people-oriented practices.

    Lest I seem to harsh, kudos to you for focusing on the fundamentals. A law practice devoted to representing people is hard. That you recognize that and are doing the work is a good thing.

  • Jay

    I must agree with David. This seems like (assume it’s a real example) a missed opportunity to build a stronger mentor / mentee relationship with a senior attorney from whom you could learn the art of the practice of law, and to whom you could help teach the art of leveraging technology.

  • Andrew

    I have to agree with the others on this one. This situation should be viewed as an opportunity, not a burden. The fact that you are perceived to know something that the senior attorney does not is one of your biggest assets. I laud your focus on improving your substantive knowledge but, contrary to the implication of your response, it is just one component of the practice of law. To have a good career, you need, among other things: (1) susbtantive knowledge, (2) effective communication, (3) marketing and networking skills, (4) mentors and other support, and (5) something that distinguishes you from everyone else. If that sounds like a lot, that’s because it is! Being a lawyer is challenging and there are only so many hours in a day, which is why you should find ways to enjoy it and make some of those requirements less like work and more for your personal edification. For me, being perceived as a technology asset is one of those ways. Maybe technology isn’t your thing, but you can use that perception to build a relationship that opens up the door for other areas that fit your personality.

  • DRB

    I don’t doubt the value of increasing the mentor/mentee relationship. But in past firms (because of my IT degree) I’ve been treated like the IT help desk instead of a lawyer sometimes. It is a fine line between helping the non-tech learn about technology and becoming the “cheap” alternative to calling the IT people to fix problems.

    • http://myshingle.com/ Carolyn Elefant

      This is a valid point. I do try to complement any tech-type work that I ask lawyers to do with substantive legal work. I respect that they are lawyers and should be treated as such.

  • http://.www.personalpublicrelations.com Bonnie Russell

    Super on-point response, minus one *glaring* exception. As was mentioned in the original “letter” the young student thought wise, emerged from law school thinking like a 48 year old. This won’t bode well for a large, or interesting practice.

  • http://myshingle.com/ Carolyn Elefant

    Josh, Thanks for the retort. (For those who didn’t chase down the link, I’m the senior lawyer). You’re right – I did have 25 years to figure out how law and technology work together. But what surprises me is that the overlap still isn’t seamless for many younger lawyers. Perhaps my expectations are too high, but it seems to me that someone who has grown up on computers treats them the way that lawyers of my generation treated telephones or typing. No one had to show me how to use a telephone in my practice or figure out how to use word to process a document. I just did it. I guess I have just been assuming that many in the younger generation have been using FB, Twitter, powerpoint and video that it comes as second nature.
    You are also right that my lack of video skills isn’t your problem. That’s because you are a business owner; you work for yourself, not me. But many other new lawyers haven’t taken that route and if they want to gain experience by working for a lawyer (instead of doing it on their own as you are), they have to bring something to the table. If new lawyers can free me up from the hour a day that I might spend on blogging, tweeting or working on a presentation for a conference or a client, that’s an hour that I can spend to take the time to explain the components of the template that I use for certain court submissions instead of just having them blindly fill in the blanks. Or to sit down and go through a marked up document instead of tossing it on the desk. If someone wants to work for me in today’s climate, sad to say, but my business is their problem because if I don’t have business they don’t have work.
    Finally, with regard to the point about video. It’s not easy for me to video edit but I have never been very strong with video technology. But even if it’s not easy, new lawyers have time on their hands that I don’t and can master it. Back when my firm was new (and I was younger and had more energy), I learned HTML and slashcode. It was very time consuming and I wish I had the same time and patience that I had back then to master new skills. I don’t, but many in your generation do.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      You are absolutely right that tech savvy younger lawyers are a lot more rare than one would think. But so are experienced lawyers who are able to appreciate that.

      At least on the tech side, I was (still am, I suppose) exactly the sort of young lawyer say you are looking for, but I worked for several lawyers and law firms that seems to place zero value on my tech skills. Fortunately, I think I was a pretty good lawyer for my level of experience, anyway.

      Regardless whether you are right or Josh is, I don’t think there are many firms where a tech-savvy young lawyer will meet an experienced lawyer who values that tech-savviness.

      • Gyi

        @Sam, Ditto.

      • DRB

        Totally agree with Sam.

      • Brandon

        Second.

    • http://www.kylesmithlaw.com/ Kyle Smith

      Carolyn: Thanks for your article and thanks for your response to Josh’s post. I’m glad this kind of discussion is going on.

      In your OP, you seem to expect a lot of understanding about legal marketing from the lawyers you hire. It sounds like your main criticism of young lawyers is that they don’t understand how tech tools are used in a law practice. So, it’s not a tech-savvy problem as much as it is a legal marketing problem. I’m sure a lot of young lawyers have a good understanding of technology and social media, but almost no lawyers coming out of law school have an understanding of legal marketing. How would a young lawyer know good legal marketing strategies unless they had previously owned a business?

      I think your expectations are on par with expecting a young lawyer to know how to network in high-pressure social situations: “You’ve been talking and making friends your whole life, why don’t you know how to do that in a business setting or networking event?” In reality, this extension of a person’s pre-existing social skills has never been practiced by most young lawyers and they need an older lawyer to show them the ropes. Along the same lines, most young lawyers have never owned a business before so they need their supervising attorney to explain or show them how to exploit their online footprint.

      • JenattheRoc

        I completely agree here. I am a young lawyer who has used her tech savvy to “drag” her employer into the 21st century, so I understand Carolyn’s point that my knowledge is an asset and can help set me apart from my peers. However, I am also a lawyer who is business minded (unlike many of my peers), so I went out of my way to learn about the business of law and ways to incorporate technology into my practice (by reading things like Lawyerist and My Shingle). Most new law school graduates can barely file a document with the clerk. They have no idea what the actual practice of law is like, either substantively or from a business perspective. If you are looking for someone to teach you how to send a tweet or check-in on foursquare, the 25 year old is probably the way to go. If you want someone to teach you how to effectively use those products to market your business then I’d look for someone with some BUSINESS experience.

    • Nixon

      “…new lawyers have time on their hands that I don’t and can master it… It was very time consuming and I wish I had the same time and patience that I had back then to master new skills. I don’t, but many in your generation do.”

      That’s the kind of lazy assumption which led to the piece in the first place, isn’t it? “You’re younger than me, therefore you should have the time and patience to do this stuff that I know nothing about.” The fact is that maybe us youngins have a head start in some areas, having grown up with the technology. Maybe we’re happy to show you how to use Twitter, or set up a Facebook page. But expecting us to be able to run a sophisticated legal marketing campaign while also pulling our weight with the client work, having unrealistic time expectations for both, is a rather different kettle of fish.

      “Back when your firm was young”, could you – never mind your age then or now – could you have learned HTML and slashcode (and used it to its fullest potential) if you were in the position of this hypothetical young lawyer, i.e. if you’d been working for someone else, rather than yourself? Would you have been willing to grant you – or this young lawyer with the video editing – the same “time on their hands” (on your dime) to master their new skills, the ones that should aftera all come easy because they’re young? Or are you expecting them to already know what to do – having used all that youthful time and patience doing something other than, say, studying law – before they even get through your door? (Because these don’t seem to be mutually compatible approaches.)

      • http://myshingle.com/ Carolyn Elefant

        I think you missed the point of my article though I also wasn’t very precise. I was focused on lawyers just out of school who have neither substantive legal experience nor practical skills that I can use in my office. If I were to hire a relatively new lawyer who already had a year or two of work experience at a clerkship or firm, that person could easily handle much of my substantive work capably, and so lack of tech skills wouldn’t be as important.
        I am also not expecting new lawyers to come up with a marketing campaign. But, I would like to be able to say “I want you to tweet about new developments in social media. Please set up an RSS feed or gmail alert to capture new developments and tweet them.” If I told new lawyers to research new developments on LEXIS, they could do it without further explanation. If I told new lawyers to type up my handwritten notes on social media on a computer, they could do that readily (for the record, I’d never ask them to do basic admin work). Why is it unreasonable for me to expect the same degree of seamlessness when it comes to posting a blog post or tracking industry developments?

        • JA

          Carolyn, your expectations (and your associate’s) have to go back to the outset of the employment relationship. It would be wrong to spring your technical expectations on your associate only the hire — “dammit Jim, I’m a lawyer, not a blogger!” Were social media and blog skills requested in your want ad or the interview? Did the candidate offer them as a selling point?

    • Jill T.

      I can appreciate both sides of this discussion and each side certainly has some merit. What I can say without hesitation is that the legal profession as a whole, although expanding in its use of technology, has always been resistant. More important however is that few experienced lawyers, regardless of their appreciation of said technology, find it valuable enough (or maybe its the associate they don’t value?) that they would adjust their billable hour expectations of the associate who provides the requested assistance. Much like the more traditional elbow rubbing on the golf course or at parties (from which associates are often excluded entirely), an associate with a 2000 or greater billable requirement might understandably resent the expectation that they commit countless other, unrewarded hours to increasing yours and their own tech savvy. Either the experience of the younger generation with technology is valuable enough to us that we’re willing to put our money where our mouth is or I can hardly blame the young associate who would prefer to practice law in the hope that he/she might meet the yearly quota.

  • http://litigationtech.com Ted Brooks

    Both articles were fun reading. I landed here first, but then read Carolyn’s original piece first, thanks to your well-placed link. There’s something to be said for doing things in their proper order.

    Speaking of, it appears that the “proper order” of business for attorneys young and old would be first to learn and practice law, and then to worry about technology, marketing, video editing, and other non-legal tasks. Some will naturally do better at these things than others, but few will do them as well as a dedicated professional anyway. Sure, you might be able to learn some software well enough to cobble together a video, but you’re not likely to be nearly as efficient as someone who does it every day – nor is it likely to be of the same quality.

    Being a “digital native” does not necessarily make one a digital expert.

  • http://FishtownLaw.com Leo

    Step One — Learn about the law.
    Step Two — Learn about techy doohickeys.
    Step Three — Profit?

  • JA

    At the risk of sounding highbrow, I want to point out that you misused the term “begs the question”. I admit this is a pet peeve of mine. “Begging the question” is not synonymous with RAISING a question, which is what you meant. Begging the question means that a person tries to use a premise of his argument to prove his conclusion. I rarely point that out to laymen, but doggone it, lawyers are professional advocates and communicators, so they should know (and act) better!

  • http://trial-technology.blogspot.com/ Ted Brooks

    Well, as a result of reading these two articles, I was inspired to add more of my own thoughts on the topic (see http://trial-technology.blogspot.com/2013/01/master-of-your-domain.html), and then also found another very interesting related piece on Law Technology News, where Kia is actually testing Associates from current and prospective firms in basic technology skills (see http://www.law.com/jsp/lawtechnologynews/PubArticleLTN.jsp?id=1202585496232). Something to think about.

  • http://www.texasemploymentlawblog.com Christopher McKinney

    Dear Junior Lawyer:

    Thank you for your complaint regarding your belief that you, as a second-year lawyer, should not be responsible for assisting me and the firm with technology issues and problems. However you should not that, as a second-year lawyer, you really don’t know that much about practicing law and are constantly looking to me for guidance. I am happy to do it of course because I view the thousands of dollars in salary and hours of mentoring time to be a long-term investment in you that will, one day, benefit the firm.

    I see now that I made a mistake.

    You are not interested in helping the firm in areas where you have a natural strength (you indicated you were tech-savvy) while we help you in areas where you are week (everything else). Obviously we don’t want you do do anything you do not wish to do. Unfortunately, your decision in this regard lowers your value to our practice.

    It is therefore with a heavy heart that I must inform you that today will be your last day with the firm. I truly wish you well in your future endeavors and hope you find someplace to work where you are not asked to contribute beyond your two-years’ worth of knowledge of the law. If you have any firm files on your home computer please email them back to me and then delete your copies. I will ask your replacement to help me make sure we get the files back into the server system.

    Sincerely,
    Senior Lawyer

    • http://www.texasemploymentlawblog.com Christopher McKinney

      Please ignore the typos. Senior Lawyers aren’t good at proof reading their Siri dictation.

  • http://phillylawblog.wordpress.com/ Jordan Rushie

    Josh, here is the thing, and the problem I have with your article…

    It suggests that young lawyers shouldn’t make themselves valuable to older lawyers. Rather, the profession should bend over backwards towards younger lawyers who have no clients and no legal skills.

    Business doesn’t work like that.

    Either make yourself valuable or go be unemployed. If you’re a young lawyer, anything you can do to make yourself valuable in a horrible work economic climate is a good situation.

  • Lilly

    There is currently running on TV a commercial – for H & R Block I think – about a family whose plumber also did their taxes.
    You all make great points, except that both sides are both talking as if they live in an attorney-only bubble. Need help with RSS feeds and tracking industry news and the like? Contact your Librarian. Need help editing marketing videos? Hire an IT guy or a marketing firm.
    People hire you because of your skills as a lawyer, not becasue you yourself are really good at sending tweets.

  • GettingReal

    Dear Carolyn,

    As a general advice to young lawyers, I think your original article is useless. This is so for three reasons :
    (1) the majority of firms are not actually cheap and hire *professionals* to do the work that requires specialized knowledge and skills (e.g. editing blog templates, SEO, video-editing, advertising, knowledge management, document management, knowing about new technologies);
    (2) chances are, a young tech savvy associate will have an uphill battle trying to “drag” an old-school firm into the XXI century (and will definitely be hated by everyone in the office as a result);
    (3) the majority of firms are not looking for SEO staff when hiring lawyers, they are looking for … well … lawyers!
    So if a young associate lawyer is looking for a job, it would be more useful for him or her to learn Mandarin than HTML.

    Your advice encouraging use of twitter etc. while in law school is simply harmful. Reasons for that are obvious, and I won’t bother to repeat the obvious.

    On a somewhat different note – I cannot believe your “perspective” on the role of associate lawyers in a law firm:
    (1) you should probably pay your Associates a bit more and then hire someone who does not totally suck (and you might be surprised to find out that some of us actually know what we are talking about);
    (2) do your Associate Lawyers also do photocopying, phones, filing, binding and billing etc? Why not? Well, exactly! We are lawyers, not secretaries and, in the same fashion, not PR or SEO specialists. It seems to be you want a freeby – instead of paying for the service, you want your Associate to spend his/her own time looking into new technologies etc., and then give you that information for free … nice try, Carolyn! … this is called Consulting, and it costs a lot of money.
    (3) as you seem to recognize, you are not doing anyone any favors by mentoring your Associates – if they continue to suck, they will hurt your business. So the relationship you suggest is not really “tit-for-tat,” but more like “you want your cake and you want to eat it too”.
    (4) why on earth would you want to waste your and your associate’s talents doing something someone else can do better, faster and cheaper?
    (5) demanding a new associate to do business development for you is counter-productive: a) they suck at it (if not, they would be working on their own); b) they don’t know your field of law (and won’t learn if they don’t do legal work); c) unless you are willing to share in profits, what kind of incentive someone would have to make YOU and YOU ALONE more money?

    To conclude: stop being cheap and expect other people to do free work to make you more money, and then complain about how obnoxious young lawyers are because they don’t want to give you a freebie.

    P.S. That being said, if your Associate does not know how to post a blog entry/tweet, or cannot learn how to use your knowledge management/billing system, you should probably review your compensation model, because, guess what, you were right all along, your Associate does really suck!

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      While I don’t think Carolyn is right to expect her junior associates to function as her IT department and social media rock stars, your idea of an associate’s duties at a small firm is equally off.

      You don’t think you should be making copies or stamping envelopes? Okay. How much staff would you expect to see in a typical two- or three-lawyer firm? (Hint: the number is less than 1 and greater than -1.)

      • GettingReal

        Sam,

        Perhaps it depends on the area of law, but if you do litigation, having no legal assistant even in a firm of 1 makes your practice very difficult, as you waste a lot of time on paperwork, instead of spending it on law and business development.

        My point though was not that associates should not expect to get their hands dirty. Rather, I was trying to point out that hiring an associate to do clerical work is inefficient because associates do not have necessary skills to be great at it, nor is it reasonable for Carolyn to expect them to have those skills (the same thing goes for accounting, IT, PR and SEO etc.).

        • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

          Tell us a little about your practice. As someone who did civil litigation full time for the better part of 10 years, I feel like I have a pretty good idea whether stuffing my own envelopes was a waste of time.

  • Steven Finell

    I agree with Carolyn Elefant. The primary thrust of her piece was a wake-up call to the small number younger lawyers who, like Josh, have too narrow an idea of what being a lawyer means. She was reacting to his apparent disinterest in technology, marketing, and the economics law practice. The law is not, and never was, a collection of such technical skills as legal analysis and research, drafting documents, and knowing how to question witnesses at trial and in depositions (which, by the way, are very different skills)–although the law embraces all these legal-specific skills and more. Carolyn might (and I would) have the same reaction to a young lawyer, or would-be lawyer, who expressed utter disinterest in psychology, clients’ needs beyond their particular legal issues, current affairs, philosophy, and literature. The sooner young lawyers understand the breadth of today’s legal profession, and especially the requirements of their prospective or current practice setting (hint: small firms don’t have the same support staff as giant firms), the better it is for THEM. While even simple video editing might seem daunting to most lawyers who use Windows, it isn’t to Mac users.

    Carolyn is not among dwindling cadre of technophobic “senior lawyers” (although we all can still learn new tricks) , who can only run for help when an envelope jams in a laser printer. Rather, she is a pioneer in applying technology and sound business principles to law practice, especially in small firms. Carolyn teaches and inspires other lawyers, young and old, to be competitive with small and big firms alike in today’s challenging legal environment by doing as she has done.