Staying Ethical through Legal Tech Competence



On November 10th, New Hampshire became the seventeenth state to officially adopt the ABA’s addition of technological competence to their Model Rules of Professional Conduct. The rules of conduct state that attorneys have an ethical duty to remain competent in law practices and legal studies, which now includes “the benefits and risks associated with relevant technologies.” There are three options the State Bar of California recommends should an attorney find him or herself “lacking the required competence” when technological needs arise; an attorney should acquire sufficient skill before performing services, consult competent counsel, or decline representation when the other two options are unavailable. California warns that lack of competency in technological issues may lead to an ethical violation of attorney duties or confidentiality.

Innovations like advanced analytics, cloud storage, and mobile communications are advancing rapidly, and many industries have already integrated new technologies. Now the legal industry needs to catch up in order to remain efficient and maintain quality of services. The legal sector has generally been slow in adopting new technologies, but voices in the industry are pushing for a movement towards technological competency programs for law firms. Bloomberg BNA outlined a strategy for “technical excellence” within a firm by focusing on three key aspects:

Mastery of the technology relevant to a firm’s core competencies, be it eDiscovery, forensics, or complex spreadsheetsWidespread adoption of technology already proven to enhance productivity, like assembly, automation, and management systems, allowing lawyers to focus more on unique challengesExperimentation with new technologies in a controlled environment and providing feedback to aid in the production of good technology

Bloomberg BNA iterates that practicing these three aspects in a law firm does not conclude whether a practice is good or bad, but is a method that firms should strive for to offer quality services and propel the legal industry as technologies continue to advance.

Similarly, Jay Deragon, a retired Management Consultant and Digital Strategist, writes about the “digital disruption” about to hit law firms. He predicts technology will transform the legal industry within the next five years, that it should be viewed as a philosophical change rather than a mechanical one, and that this change “creates value and relates to the market.” Deragon cites industry statistics that reveal 66% of firms prioritize growing revenues, yet 35% of firms are seeing a decline instead. Deragon argues that advancing a firm’s technical competencies can help solve the problem.

So where can law firms turn to enhance their competencies? Deragon, Bloomberg BNA, and other voices like Above The Law recommend looking to tech start-ups who have a business-savvy outsider’s viewpoint in order to fill the gaps. The aforementioned California Bar and Canada’s Slaw advise hiring IT consultants. The most important factor as technology continues to outpace the industry is to stay abreast of trends and to know when and how to adapt to changing needs. The legal industry cannot afford to get left in the digital dust.

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