|Image [cc] Rachel|
As I was rolling around the Future Law conference via my Beam vehicle on Thursday, Twitter was lighting up with a series of tweets from the actual presentations (as well as about my robot form.) During his State of the Art of Legal Technology session, Professor Oliver Goodenough fielded a question that even he admitted was loaded. “What is the biggest obstacle to integrating technology in the legal field?” Everyone kind of chuckled when they heard the question because everyone saw the answer coming… “Lawyers.”
Now, to be fair to the audience and to Prof. Goodenough, the answer was a bit tongue and cheek, and the good professor did discuss the number of issues and situations that contribute to a lawyer’s inability to fully adapt new technologies, or to take advantage of certain advancements in technology. Not every advancement is practical for the lawyer to adopt. Not every lawyer has the ability, either personally or financially, to jump in and integrate new technologies that might streamline his or her practice. Now… that being said, let’s talk about low level advancements that are really no-brainers for practically every attorney to adapt, but which most are still struggling to adopt.
Casey Flaherty’s tweet to Ron Friedmann and I nailed this one. Even if you threw out all the really cool technology advancements in the past ten years, you still have one that most lawyers adopted twenty years ago… Microsoft Word. Casey has sent ripples throughout the legal profession by simply asking lawyers to show they know their way around a few tasks in MS Word. Little tasks such as formatting a pleading or contract in MS Word are things that could save attorneys, and clients, time and money.
The legal industry is flush with PDF documents, and equally flush with people that don’t know how to do anything much more than open a document in Adobe Reader. PDF documents can be edited, Bates stamping is a common task, and a number of other features that would allow attorneys to efficiently produce documents and file these documents with the court. For many, however, getting beyond scanning existing paper documents and attempting to OCR these (for the really advanced) is the big obstacle.
Being semi-proficient at Excel should almost be an entry-requirement for lawyers, and almost any other employee that deals with budgets or other data driven information. Sorting, filtering, creating simple Pivot Tables, and even some basic function utilities are very easy to learn, and can open opportunities to better understand information in a few simple clicks. Not knowing some of these basic functionalities is a disservice to yourself and your clients.
This is actually a tool that many attorneys use as an advanced time tracking and document storage device. Which is a great thing to know, but this is the wrong tool for those functions. Gigabytes of data being stored in your profile causes slowness for you and practically everyone else on your network. Learn how Outlook functions with your DMS, your CRM, and your time entry system. It is not a Swiss Army knife.
I could go on and on about the basic tools that attorneys could use to make their lives easier, cut down on risk, and save their clients money, but I’ll end with something that may seem like a more advance technology tool, Document Assembly. Ron Friedmann jumped on this on twitter in response to Prof. Goodenough’s answer. The fact that attorneys are handling complicated drafting of contracts and other documents without using a document assembly resource is simply risky behavior. For a profession that is so adverse to risk, not using this type of resource is counter to everything we advise our own clients. If you work with contracts and agreements… become familiar with a good document assembly tool.
Where Do We Go From Here?
I’m sure many of you are thinking of other simple or common tools that are underutilized in the legal industry. If we can’t get a good understanding of these basic tools, it erodes the foundation on which we would like to develop and implement more advance tools. So where do we start? I’d suggest establishing an organizational wide strategy to develop training and development for those entering your organization. Clearly established methods of training along with measurable results that show who is understanding these basic tasks, and who needs help. It’s taken us twenty years of using this technology to be this bad at it… let’s set out a three to five year plan to get a little bit better at using these basic technologies.