There are no longer any valid excuses for failing to use technology in your law firm. In the battle between remaining competitive and minding your bottom line, technology should be your weapon of choice.
Technology can be used to accomplish multiple important purposes in a law firm, including improving client service, fulfilling operational needs, and streamlining systems. We also know technology can be overwhelming, especially considering the time it takes to learn a new skill.
It’s okay if you’re not quite there yet. Don’t let that stop you from striving to reach a certain level of tech competence to remain efficient and compliant.
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What Is Legal Technology Competence?
Tech competence, in its most basic sense, is the ability to use technology in your firm successfully and efficiently. Competence goes beyond possessing basic knowledge of the tech you use. Instead, to be competent, you must understand how and when technology is used in your firm, how your staff is trained on your tech, and the security of your tech.
It also means putting processes in place to periodically assess if your tech is working as expected and meeting your team’s needs.
Why Is Technological Competency Important?
A lack of tech competence can result in shortcomings that affect your firm, your team, and your clients. For instance, we know that most of the tech found in lawyers’ offices aren’t fully understood and are therefore used poorly.
Most states now have ethical rules in place requiring lawyers to be technologically competent. Additionally, the model rules set forth by the ABA require competency. According to Rule 1.1: Competence:
“A lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.”
Back in 2012, the ABA added the eighth comment to this rule, which states:
“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, engage in continuing study and education and comply with all continuing legal education requirements to which the lawyer is subject.”
As all lawyers know and understand, failing to meet these ethical standards can result in consequences from fines to disbarment. You must take tech competence seriously to deliver the highest quality representation to your clients.
Changing Billing Methods
Law firm billing methods continue to evolve. Now, more lawyers are (finally) ditching the billable hour and instead choosing billing methods such as subscriptions, sliding-scale arrangements, and flat fees.
If you choose to implement any of these new billing methods, you must embrace tech tools to make it happen. And, to ensure you don’t overbill your clients and that you receive payment for your work, you must be competent in the tools you choose.
Your clients expect you to deliver high-quality service in all areas of your practice, from client intake to final invoicing. If you’re a forward-looking firm, you’ll have tech tools involved in each step of the process.
For example, you may enter onboarding details inside a law practice management software. You may create depositions using Microsoft Word. You might use billing software for invoicing and payment. You must understand how to effectively use each tool to deliver the best client experience in each area.
Security & Adaptability
We no longer work in the same ways we used to. Due to recent events such as the COVID-19 pandemic, many firms are developing remote work strategies to help protect their teams and clients. Technology is the foundation for successful remote work.
All members of your firm should be able to use tech to work remotely in a productive and secure manner. For example, your team will need to be competent in using tools that enable collaboration, communication, and task management. They’ll also need to be competent in tech and data security to help protect client information and data from wandering eyes.
Your team won’t be able to “get up to speed” on their own. You must support their remote work needs by providing the right technology and competency training.
Technology for Lawyers: The Basics
We know you’re an attorney, not a tech guru. You may already feel overwhelmed at the thought of balancing your current responsibilities, let alone adding technology competency to the mix. Set the overwhelm aside and start with the basics.
Here are some tips you can use today to approach technology competency within your firm:
· Keep it simple. Use what you already have. Don’t go out and purchase several new tech tools for the sake of looking competent. Instead, spend time exploring and learning the tools you already use daily. Remember, legal technology is for making your life easier, not more complex.
· Build incrementally. In our book, we talk about the importance of practicing relentless incrementalism—the process of slowly and relentlessly taking small actions that will bring you closer and closer to your ideal. When you’re ready to build onto your tech repertoire, do so incrementally. You don’t have to become a completely tech-driven firm in a day, week, or month. When you add a new tool, spend time learning how to use it effectively. Then, share that knowledge with your team. Make sure everyone is competent in one tool before moving forward.
· Find parts of your workflow that can benefit from technology. Many times, your workflows will tell you exactly what tech you need and when you need it. Start with the parts of your workflows that can benefit immediately from technology. For example, do you need a task management tool to move projects forward? Or a videoconferencing tool for remote team meetings? Start with those tools first.
· Speak with other lawyers in your community. There are plenty of other attorneys out there in the same boat as you. Talk to them about how they’re approaching technology competency in their firms. Discuss what tools they’ve found to be critical to their workflows. We can learn a lot from each other.
How to Train Your Team on Technology
As your firm’s leader, technology competency starts with you. Yet, your team will be in the trenches of the tools you implement within your firm daily. You must train your team on how to use existing and new tech tools efficiently and safely. How can you make it happen?
· Get on the same page. With each tool you use, define how your team should use it and when. Consistency in how you use your technology is more important than what tech you’re using. Consider creating some SOPs or standard operating procedures to share with your team.
· Appoint a trainer within your firm. Give someone in your office the responsibility of organizing relevant tech training for your team. This individual would be responsible for sourcing training on new software and business tools as well as ensuring each team member has completed the necessary training.
· Start with the basics. Start with the simple tools you use daily to keep training approachable. For example, start with email, Microsoft Word, Excel, and your phone system. Next, you can move on to workflows, task management, automation, and more.
· Utilize online training modules and tools. Many software providers such as Microsoft provide online training modules on their websites for free. Take advantage of them.
Tech Training & Evaluation Must Be a Regular Process
Today’s breakthrough technology is tomorrow’s old news. Tech really does move that fast. To keep up, we must continue to evolve, try new things, and dedicate time to staying up to date. Evaluate your firm’s technology regularly to ensure it still works for you and continue training to ensure you’re using updates to your tech tools correctly.
Learn More About Technology Competence by Downloading Chapter One of the Small Firm Roadmap
Being technologically competent is critical for your firm’s success. Our new book “The Small Firm Roadmap” can help you discover your next steps. Download the first chapter for free today.