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According to the LawSites blog, as of this writing, there are 36 states that have adopted the ABA’s updated Model Rule 1.1, which states that lawyers should maintain technology competence. The rule is purposefully vague to allow for the constant changes in technology that the legal industry is encountering. Unfortunately, the vagueness can create some anxiety for lawyers who want to meet the requirements of the rule. What does the ABA mean by “technology competence”, and how can lawyers achieve competence?
To better understand the expectations of the ABA and the states embracing its rules, it is necessary to take a closer look at how technology has impacted legal representation and ways that it can improve a lawyer’s practice.
Your main goal as a lawyer has always been to represent your client to the best of your ability. It was once enough to be knowledgeable in your legal area to ensure competent representation, but skilled representation today also means being able to use technology to improve efficiency, security and ideally the results you get for clients.
Update to ABA Model Rule 1.1
To get a grasp on what technology competence means for you and your practice, it is helpful to read the updated ABA rules:
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 you can see, the rule is not terribly specific about what it means to be competent in technology for a lawyer. It states that you should, “…keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology…” However, if you consider what the relevant technologies are in law—and their benefits and risks—you can get a clearer idea of how to approach tech in your own practice.
Relevant Technology in Law
There are some technologies that are quite relevant to the practice of law and are being used by lawyers across the country and the globe. These include:
Discovery has always been the backbone of case building, but electronic tools have increased the power and efficiency of the discovery process in numerous ways. These tools allow for more comprehensive preservation of information, more thorough review of information and faster production of information. Failing to leverage electronic tools in the discovery process is doing clients a disservice.
You do not have to be a professional internet investigator to get a lot of benefit out of internet searches. Just being able to do simple internet searches for information can make the investigation process faster and more thorough than it otherwise would be. There are also numerous tools available online for conducting investigations.
Considering that most of the information you obtain for clients and from clients will be digital, it is incredibly important that you take basic cyber security measures to protect that information. From hackers looking to blackmail victims to government agencies reviewing every bit of information they can get their hands on, there is a multitude of actors who can target your data and compromise your practice.
Understanding the Technology Used by Clients
The clients you represent are using technology in a myriad of ways. You need to have a basic understanding—or possibly a much more in-depth understanding—of what tech they are using and how they use it. That means educating yourself not only on legal tech but also on any tech pertinent to your clients and their legal needs.
There are a variety of tech tools that can make you more effective in the courtroom. They can help you better organize, present and explain information to your audience. Every little advantage you can get can make a difference when presenting your case.
Legal Technologies that Make Business Easier and More Efficient
Many legal technology tools are fairly mundane, but that does not make them any less useful. You can leverage them to provide your legal services with less work on your end. File sharing, automated document assembly and electronic court scheduling are all useful.
Your ability to serve your clients is improved in many different ways through technology competence. While it may take time and effort to improve your competency, the benefits of doing so can be significant for both your clients and your practice.
To learn more about legal technologies that might benefit your firm, please contact our managed IT services team.