Scientists generally believe that the extinction of dinosaurs was precipitated by either an extraterrestrial impact or by massive volcanic activity, either of which so dramatically changed the Earth’s atmosphere that the only living creatures to survive were those able to adapt to Earth’s changes. Make no mistake, this did not happen overnight or even in a few decades. It took time.
Could we say the same thing about legal technology? The analogy, while perhaps odd, is apt I think because like whatever changed for Cretaceous creatures living 60 million years ago, I think we could say today that computers significantly altered the business and legal landscape. All due respect to founders Babbage and Turing, but it’s clear that the widespread use of computers as we know them today crashed on Earth about 40 years ago and this event disrupted how we work. Those who are unwilling or unable to adapt, like dinosaurs, will find it difficult to survive.
And so, it troubles me when I hear talk about the need for technology competence in the legal profession. I mean, we live in an age when almost everything we do, from banking to shopping to travel and communication, all involve the use of technology and micro-computers. Why is this even a topic of discussion?
The ABA and most state bar associations have all but mandated that lawyers need to be technologically competent. I’m not going to cite the rules and ethical canons. The question is why are we still talking about technology competence for lawyers? And perhaps the more important question is what exactly does this mean? What does it mean to be technologically competent in the legal industry today?
I don’t think anyone expects every lawyer to understand how to swap out the RAM on a computer, how to build a local area network, how to run a SQL query, or even to explain the latest “artificial” intelligence tool. It does not mean that every lawyer needs to complete some Microsoft platinum partner training or certification or take a coding class. What it means, in my view, is that lawyers — and other legal professionals, by the way — are willing to embrace and encourage the use of technology in the practice law. I believe the expectation is that lawyers get a clue and understand that the world has changed and the old way of doing things is just that — the old way.
For those in the legal operations world this is of particular importance because if your outside counsel has not embraced the latest innovations, you’re likely doing a disservice to your company.
I think it all started with word processing. In the legal profession, we no longer dictate words into a machine and have someone type them on a typewriter. Today, we type words on computers or use a model document and modify it. We’ve got algorithms that can tell us the best venue in which to file a legal action and the most favorable judge to appear before. Millions of documents can be analyzed and searched to find documents related to a particular topic. The number of hours and the labor-intensive effort that was once required to accomplish this just a few years ago is now I think unimaginable. Contract clauses are vetted and reconciled, intellectual property filings are done online, and knowledge management has disrupted legal research. A new LLC can be spun up in a fraction of the time it once took. Clients can analyze law firm invoices and red flag certain words. Even document productions in discovery — we now deliver them online. Some say that distributed ledger technologies are the new frontier.
Look, I’ve had lawyers say to me that today’s technologies are an attempt to put lawyers out of work, and that’s just nonsense. Frankly, it’s not much different than the “fear” politics that seem to permeate political discourse today. Everyone needs to understand that technology is just a tool. It’s no different than an electric drill or nail gun, neither of which put carpenters out of work.
The bottom line is that there are basically two things you can do to become technology competent: Learn some new things or hire someone who knows those things.
Technology has barely left any aspect of legal practice untouched. We are beyond the point of debating whether legal professionals need to be technologically competent. The better question is when will all of the legal industry fully embrace technology?
Technology is here to stay and it’s not going anywhere any time soon (although I’ve always secretly wondered what would happen if we ever lost electricity).
Mike Quartararo is the managing director of eDPM Advisory Services, a consulting firm providing e-discovery, project management and legal technology advisory and training services to the legal industry. He is also the author of the 2016 book Project Management in Electronic Discovery. Mike has many years of experience delivering e-discovery, project management, and legal technology solutions to law firms and Fortune 500 corporations across the globe and is widely considered an expert on project management, e-discovery and legal matter management. You can reach him via email at email@example.com. Follow him on twitter @edpmadvisory.