Lawyers and Technology, (Still) a Sad State of Affairs

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.



  1. Avatar Chris Hill says:

    Great post Sam. While I’m not as up on things as many, I can’t imaging practicing as a solo without access to the cloud or the technological advantages of e-filing, OCR, etc. Of course, I don’t have staff to farm this out to either.

  2. Avatar Chad says:

    Yesterday an invite from from a lawyer to what I later learned was a law school alumni dinner. It was sent by his assistant on behalf of “Mr. Luddite” and the luddite assistant herself didn’t BCC the very large distribution list and attached a Word Perfect document that I couldn’t open. Not sure why I bothered asking for a PDF — I guess I was bored/curious to see how she would respond — and I got the contents of the WPD pasted into the body of an email. Sometimes I feel like people should have to pass a test before they can be permitted to use email.

  3. Avatar Jennifer Moore says:

    How frustrating it is to be technically competent in a room full of people who have been practicing law with nothing more than a dictaphone and a law library pass. I found myself really wondering about the one guy who said, “Pretend I don’t know anything about efiling, scanners or computers…” I really didn’t have to pretend, actually.

  4. Avatar Kara says:

    This is the reason I didn’t go to Solo Small this year. I went last year and every technology session was very frustrating because the bulk of time was spent explaining basic computer functions. The last straw was during a session about being a mobile attorney and someone raised their hand to say all they wanted to be taught was how to check their voicemail.

  5. Avatar Mike says:

    You know, lawyers have been practicing law and doing a pretty damn good job at it for centuries without the technology that we all love to discuss. I have been in practice for 30 years and hopefully have adapted to our 21st century amenities. But I have two partners,with more experience than me, whose technical prowess stops with the button on their desktop dictaphone and their paper calendar and tickler system. Those “luddites” bring in more clients and more revenue than me and maintain repuatations within our bar as two of the best lawyers in their practice areas.

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