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 …. ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20, Resolution 105A

To me, that seems like a pretty low bar. Then I sat in on a seminar where a judge tried to explain a new-ish e-filing system to a room full of lawyers. Luddites were everywhere. It made me realize that technological competence may actually be a pretty high bar for many lawyers.

The good news is that most lawyers in the room did seem to realize that they needed to get with the program. However, as I overheard conversations, many planned to rely on staff to learn to scan documents, format documents in Acrobat (not “Adobe,” folks), and figure out how to file them with the court. (One just double-checked the spelling of P-D-F with his neighbor so he could share it with his legal assistant.)

Entrusting your professional responsibilities to staff does not seem ideal. You can outsource ethical compliance, but you cannot outsource the professional responsibility; if you fail in your duty, you are going to get the complaint.

Technological competence is no longer optional. Procedural rules now include provisions related to e-filing and e-discovery. Estate plans need to include digital assets. Businesses need to keep their own digital assets confidential. Internet research competence may be mandatory. Software and social media come with security and privacy implications — and even if you aren’t using social media, your clients are.

Lawyers: it’s time to stop being mystified by that box on your desk or in your lap (or in your hand). You have an ethical duty to understand that box, because that box and the networks it connects to are what you use to serve your clients.

(image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kellypietphotography/6920351472/)