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Technology has always influenced the practice of law. In the past century alone, lawyers have progressed from paper-only writing and record-keeping to high-speed and high-capacity communication and data storage systems that would be unimaginable to lawyers one hundred years ago. The legal profession has had to adapt through every new phase of these technology revolutions. The pervasive influence of the many changes in computers and telecommunications on the practice of law is manifest in the broad range of technology that is second nature to many lawyers today. Computerized research, text and data processing, e-mail and instant messaging, cellular phones, personal digital assistants and hand-held text messaging (to name just a few), are all commonly used. Yet despite a broad and increasing embrace of technology by the profession, for the most part, lawyers today learn about technology in ways that have not changed in years. Most law schools, for example, offer little formal technology skills training. Introductory legal writing classes eventually teach students to use computerized research, but most schools prefer a “paper first” approach. Thus, students are first taught to use treatises, legal encyclopedias and the West and Shepards systems. They are generally only introduced to computer systems after they have mastered the paper systems. Introduction to computerized research, moreover, is often dominated by programs offered under the auspices of the major research companies. Other forms of technology skills training are rarely offered. Essentially, what law students learn about technology during law school they learn on their own. Law firms and government agencies do not often advance the cause of technology skills education much further. Most firms succumb to powerful incentives to standardize their technology offerings. Although most lawyers can turn on their computers, send and receive e-mails, create documents and surf the Internet, more advanced functions are often reserved to information technology specialists. New systems, moreover, are generally chosen by a set of technology experts, then “rolled out” to the lawyers, who must accept them as essentially the only option. But there are cracks in this one-step-at-a-time process. Recent developments have greatly accelerated the pace at which new technology becomes available, and the need for lawyers to become broadly “tech savvy” and adaptable: A large (and growing) technology industry, dedicated to serving the legal profession, has developed. New features, and entire new operations, are regularly introduced. Many of these technological developments have the potential to increase lawyer productivity quite significantly. Late adopters of such technology may be at a competitive disadvantage. Clients increasingly demand diverse technological capabilities from their lawyers. Cost-consciousness, for example, leads some clients to insist on electronic billing. Clients, moreover, expect their lawyers to accommodate their various technology platforms and operations to the clients’ needs and systems. Courts and regulatory agencies increasingly expect law firms to be able to file and retrieve information electronically. New electronic discovery and record-keeping requirements also increasingly mandate technological mastery. Some firms are beginning to trumpet their technology capabilities to their clients and their law student recruits. Increasingly, competitive pressures may compel firms to seek out the most effective systems for introducing new technological capabilities to their lawyers. Skills training goals What, then, are the fundamental elements of technology skills training for lawyers? Must every lawyer become a computer programmer and systems operator? No such radical departure is necessary (or feasible). More limited goals are quite achievable. First, lawyers must develop a “planned change” approach to technology. The stark awareness that technological systems will change frequently, and rapidly, during the course of a lawyer’s career, must become an essential element of every lawyer’s education. Lawyers must “learn how to learn” about new technology. Second, lawyers must learn to become “comparison shoppers,” identifying their specific professional needs, and the needs of their clients, and insisting that vendors of products and services fully meet such needs. Bar associations and other legal professional groups must help their members identify appropriate standards for technology, and drive technology in the most helpful directions. Third, lawyers must learn the essential value of networking. From electronic data rooms and shared editing of deal documents to online discovery document repositories, new technological solutions can save time and money as lawyers perform their tasks. Networking can also help produce some of the “knowledge management” benefits that are increasingly vital to the profession. Finally, lawyers must learn to emphasize interoperability of systems, such that new devices and software can be integrated effectively into existing routines and operations. Instead of periodic, jarring “great leaps forward,” lawyers must learn to integrate new systems as a regular part of their practice. They must also become better able to communicate and cooperate with a variety of alternative systems operated by their clients, their co-counsel, courts and agencies. Start during law school Who is best positioned to provide these lessons? Clearly, technology skills training must begin at the earliest possible level, in law school (or perhaps even at the college level). First-year legal writing courses in law school could easily be expanded to include basic technology skills instruction. Upper-level specialized technology courses, seminars and internships can also be envisioned. Cross-disciplinary programs (permitting interaction between law students and computer scientists) might also be useful. Law school training certainly should not be limited to learning computerized legal research or even basic word-processing skills. Law students can and should learn about key elements of technology that may shape their future careers. One can easily imagine law school courses on electronic discovery, for example, or courses on the privacy implications of modern data management. One can even imagine L.L.M.-level programs entirely dedicated to information technology law. Some law schools already appear to be headed in this direction. Institutes of technology, within the law school setting, or perhaps joint law/computer science degree programs, may increasingly produce a cadre of lawyer/technician specialists, who may be highly prized by recruiters. But course offerings and specialty skills development at the law school level will almost certainly not suffice to put essential technology skills in the hands of all practitioners (especially those for whom law school is only a distant memory). More technology skills training sponsored by bar associations, law firms and CLE providers is essential. There are some quite hopeful trends in this regard: Certain technology-related topics, such as electronic discovery, have become “front burner” issues, with a great variety of training courses and skills development opportunities (many sponsored by the plethora of vendors in this area). Such courses not only raise awareness about the specific issues, they also foster interest in technology in general. The Internet offers unprecedented opportunity to gain technological knowledge. The breadth of information available through the Internet contributes to a highly competitive environment for technology providers, such that rote dependence on single sources will increasingly be abandoned, in favor of more robust and diverse use of technology. Ironically, some of the smallest, and newest, law firms may provide some of the greatest competitive pressure in favor of technology training. Such firms, employing some of the newest technology, and staffed with some of the most tech-savvy recent law school graduates, may be much more nimble and adaptable than their older, larger cousins. Client praise for such firms may cause larger law firms to focus greater efforts on technology skills training. The march of new technology is never-ending. No lawyer is the master of all technology today, and none will be tomorrow. But it is possible to give lawyers enough understanding to permit them to avoid the “future shock” that can accompany rapid changes in technology. Lawyers can learn to embrace new technology, and shape it to their needs. The profession can (and must) shed its “last to join the party” approach to technology. Steven C. Bennett is a partner in the New York office of Jones Day, and a member of the firm’s training committee and its technology-issues practice team.

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