Every firm has them. Even more, everyone knows who they are. The attorneys I refer to as “technophobe and proud of it.” These are the attorneys who frequently have their assistants print out their emails so they can read them (yes, they still exist). When I was troubleshooting an issue recently I asked the attorney to check his Q: drive in Windows Explorer to make sure it was connected to the network properly. Response: “I wouldn’t know the Q: drive if it hit me over the head.”
More importantly, these are the attorneys whose willful refusal to become conversant with technology their firm’s will drag down its productivity and ability to respond to client needs. Lawyers sometimes need considerable flexibility to adapt to new laws and requirements: why shouldn’t they use similar flexibility in response to new technologies and ways to increase productivity? Sharon Nelson, co-author of the annual Solo and Small Firm Technology Guide put it bluntly: “The raw choice is that lawyers must choose between adaption and extinction.”
Many software companies, with Microsoft in the lead, have responded to this phenomenon by simplifying software and making it more “modern” and “easy to use.” Unfortunately, this most often comes at the price of “take-aways,” the loss of functionality that advanced users are particularly attached to. Any time I hear a sentence about a new version of software that starts “studies have shown that....” I know I’m about to lose some of my favorite functionality.
In fact, software that caters to backwardness in the name of “ease of use” is not doing anyone a favor. Dumbing down software, as Nicholas Carr so convincingly argues in The Glass Cage, often leads to a loss of productivity, not to increased efficiency.
I have written before about the Legal Technology Audit offered by Casey Flaherty and the Suffolk Law School. The Audit a series of workflows in Word, Acrobat and Excel. Users are graded on how much time it takes them to complete various tasks, including things like managing headers and footers or dealing with Track Changes or paragraph numbering in Word; some basic functions and Pivot Tables in Excel; and redaction and Bates Numbering in Acrobat. Users are graded as Beginner, Novice or Qualified.
When Casey Flaherty first introduced this at Kia Motors as part of qualifying law firms that wanted Kia’s legal business, all the AmLaw 100 firms that took it (and they presumably sent their most qualified people) failed. The firms that came closest to succeeding were smaller firms.
Clearly, it would be possible to use good rankings as a marketing tool with prospective clients, as well as internally in attorney reviews. More information can be found at Legal Technology Audit. On the other hand, there is a bit of a catch 22 here. If a firm has 10 attorneys, and two of them take the Audit and become “Qualified,” how will it look to a prospective client to say that “20% of the firm’s attorneys are computer qualified”? So a firm should make sure that becoming Qualified in terms of the Audit is a firm-wide commitment.
In a parallel vein, large law firms have formed a training consortium, LTC4TM (Legal Technology Core Competencies Certification Coalition). According to its web site, it is “a not-for-profit organization consisting of a steering group of over 70 senior training professionals from leading law firms in the USA, Canada, and the UK. The LTC4TM coalition has defined standard core competencies in the use of technology for legal professionals”. In a presentation given at ILTA in 2014, they claimed that over 50% of corporate legal departments surveyed have fired outside law firms for sub-par document quality or delivery (although only 3% of law firms surveyed would admit to being fired). Check them out at www.ltc4.org.
Clearly, the days of the technophobe lawyer who “can’t be bothered” to be efficient are numbered. The inimitable Steve Jobs described the problem as follows: we knew there was a problem with backward users, he said. But then, we realized they are almost all older and will die out. Problem solved.
In the meantime, smaller firms that are quicker on their feet can turn technological competence to advantage. By encouraging attorneys to take (and pass) the Suffolk/Flaherty audit or become involved in some of the LTC4 scenarios, they can market that proficiency as an advantage over larger, more sluggish, firms.