Technology in the legal field is consistently shifting and changing, just as many areas of the underlying substantive law are constantly fluctuating. New technologies — just the same as new laws and interpretations of existing law — can be extremely intimidating to those who become irreparably paralyzed by the short terms of consistency that may be created.
Short periods of time without noticeable change in the law and technology can easily entice practitioners into a dangerous state of comfort and complacency. Change, however, is always and inevitably right around the corner. Specifically with regard to technological advancements, more seasoned practitioners, i.e., those who may not precisely qualify as "young lawyers," often tend to avoid the changes in technology all together, when possible, or otherwise rely upon their less seasoned counterparts to take the lead on a particular project that requires employment of certain advancements.
Personally, I have witnessed some lawyers who pass on firm-issued laptops based upon the fear that they will be required to relearn computer skills so painstakingly forced upon them by the desktop computer, refuse to use a smartphone because an operator to assist you at the simple twirl of the rotary phone dial is unavailable and opt for a yellow legal tab as opposed to the tablet computers that some younger generations are so accustomed to. More shockingly, at least from the viewpoint of an offspring of the computing and text-messaging generation, some more seasoned attorneys even choose telephone calls and in-person interactions over emails. The pure broadness of the spectrum of comfort level with technology that exists within some firms is astonishing, and young lawyers are often placed in the middle, and sometimes the lead, of the war between historical custom and advancement through technology.
With young lawyers more frequently taking the lead on technology issues, however, the knowledge gap can be closed significantly by following a few helpful suggestions. The increased employment of technology in the law, when advocated for effectively and properly employed, can substantially further efficiencies, make interactions regarding the potential to interject technology into a specific matter more meaningful and result in cost savings and better service for the client overall. However, in order to become effective technology teachers and liaisons, young lawyers must dispel common misconceptions that accompany the addition of technology and become advocates for the primary benefits of the advancements they rely upon. Although veteran practitioners may still question and remain skeptical of the latest advancements, young lawyers can continue to drive change and progression within firms and the legal industry as a whole in order to ensure that the profession continues to evolve with the outside world. If the legal industry remains technologically relevant, the profession will also continue to attract intelligent, innovative minds to further perpetuate its overall progression. Technology, accompanied by the inventive minds that drive the same, will remain the lifeblood of the law and the legal field for years to come.
Before effective advocacy of technology, young lawyers must learn to overcome multiple misconceptions that less knowledgeable colleagues will inevitably raise. First, many seasoned practitioners exhibit apprehension as to the mounting costs of technology. There is a prevailing view that because a computer is more expensive than the classic legal pad, technology, in turn and in general, entails a larger cash outlay than its more outdated counterparts. Electronic discovery, however, offers an ideal example of this widespread fallacy. For instance, although at first glance reviewing discovery documents in hard copy form may seem inexpensive versus the initial and upfront investment into an online discovery review tool, costs with traditional review mount quickly and perhaps less noticeably. Copying charges for paper documents escalate, while wasted attorney time and confusion related to paper review of a discovery project are obvious. Technology, counter to many veteran lawyers' perceptions, can offer substantial cost savings if employed correctly, in the discovery arena and beyond. The traditional method of performing a task does not necessarily entail fewer costs. Of course, the price of technology may not always be worth the return. Normally, investments in technology must be carefully reviewed and considered. Knowledgeable technology liaisons play a major role in determining when the investments are worth the returns they yield. Overall, it is important for young lawyers to help dispel the common myth that technology is always more expensive than the more traditional methods. The hidden costs of traditional solutions can further the argument in favor of advancement.
Next, as another primary misconception, because of the enhanced efficiencies available with technology, some lawyers worry that associate billable time will be reduced or otherwise eliminated. Thus, fewer available billable hours could harm the firm's bottom line, especially cumulatively across multiple matters. The counterargument to this misconception is easily stated but it is difficult to convince the skeptics. Technology-assisted assignments should not necessarily be viewed as "time savers." Instead, technology is better viewed as an efficiency tool. Associates are able to work more efficiently and effectively, and, thus, able to devote more time to matters or assignments that could otherwise be neglected or subject to the cutting of corners. Furthermore, as clients become more sophisticated and knowledgeable of available technologies, clients will expect firms to stay up-to-date with the latest technology efficiency tools. Clients will likely not be willing to pay for large bills from tasks that could be performed more efficiently with the assistance of technology. The efficiencies accompanying technological advances are expected by clients and the industry and of paramount importance overall. Firms that refuse to adapt to the changing scene will likely encounter more obvious problems than a few lost and scattered associate hours. The costs of falling beyond are simply too great.
In addition to dispelling common misconceptions, young lawyers acting as technology liaisons must ensure that the benefits of technology are equally well known and touted. Helping colleagues over the ledge of misconceptions only puts such individuals on sea level with technology. In other words, although the prejudice of technology is removed by fighting the myths, unfamiliar lawyers are likely not automatically in favor of opening the checkbooks for major technology investments.
Of primary concern to young lawyers, technology makes our lives immensely easier. Young attorneys are often no longer the victims of daily paper cuts and generally not put in danger by loose and tangling rolls of dictation tapes. Instead, we are able to function through sophisticated tools to make our tasks flow as efficiently and effectively as possible. We have been given the gifts of working remotely (although the expectations of working 24 hours a day from all corners of the globe that have wireless Internet access may be more of a curse than a blessing), while the advent of reliable videoconferencing and related services have lessened the need to travel for every meeting, deposition and other task. Technology has made the work-life balance of many young associates so much simpler and moved further toward a comfortable medium. Getting veteran lawyers on board with some of the advancements that can benefit them as well will only improve the balancing act even further.
Moreover, as another paramount benefit, technology takes cases to new levels and permits lawyers to accomplish tasks never before imaginable. For example, with social media collection tools, it is easier than ever to catch a loose-lipped, Internet-dwelling individual in a damaging lie, while new forensic programs and similar tracking tools expose even the most cunning transgressing employee. Technology has substantially assisted lawyers in the primary goal of the judicial system: attainment of truth.
Technology, like the law, is trapped in a consistent state of fluctuation. Young lawyers should take the lead as technological liaisons and teachers in charge of guiding more veteran practitioners through the never-ending maze of software, hardware, online tools and other advancements. By dispelling common misconceptions regarding technology and touting the benefits attendant to the same, young lawyers can occupy a valuable and noteworthy position in their firms and the legal field, while continuing to push advancement. Technology offers increased efficiencies for young associates, their firms and clients alike. Falling behind the technological learning curve, especially for young associates who are expected to stay current on advancements, is simply not an option.
Michael J. Joyce is an associate of the commercial law and litigation practice group in the Pittsburgh office of Dickie, McCamey & Chilcote, focusing his practice on commercial disputes and products liability matters. He can be reached at 412-281-7272 or email@example.com.