In his July 24 column, Samuel C. Stretton continues to espouse his theory that the use of technology by lawyers is expensive, difficult and decreases efficiency. Unfortunately, Stretton’s opinion demonstrates a complete lack of understanding about the types of technology available to attorneys and the many ways in which their use not only improves efficiency, but also reduces costs while allowing lawyers to provide better services to clients.
In reality, lawyers and their staffs need to be competent in their knowledge and use of the technology relevant to their practices. No, they don’t need to know how their computers run. I don’t know how mine runs. But I do know what technology is available to make me a better lawyer, and that makes me more competent.
I wear two hats — I am a practicing attorney and a consultant who assists law firms with the implementation of technology. My experience as a solo (and now small-firm) attorney is a classic example of why Stretton is uninformed and why lawyers need to understand and embrace technology rather than assume that they just “can’t do it.”
When I decided to open my law firm seven years ago, I had no clients. I could not afford staff in light of the fact that I could not even afford to pay myself. Instead, I invested in the types of basic technology that would allow me to practice efficiently. I purchased case management software, litigation management software and some of the more common programs used in most law firms. In addition, I invested in a high-quality scanner and as well-equipped a computer as I could afford.
As clients began to hire me, I was able to provide services quickly and efficiently, while having a paperless office. I could and am still able to locate any document in three seconds or less and my overhead for postage, copying, paper and related costs is minimal. (We buy one case of copy paper every three or four months, for example.) As a result, I could respond to clients and other counsel promptly. More importantly, as my firm grew, I hired lawyers, not support staff.
First, I hired a part-time attorney, then a full-time attorney. Eventually, we grew to a firm with two full-time attorneys and still no support staff. Because we use technology, none of us can imagine practicing in the technological Dark Age of which Stretton is so enamored.
Second, when my firm had grown sufficiently, we hired a paralegal with advanced technology skills who could complement our legal skills. The result: We have virtually no paper, and yet provide the type of client service that Stretton believes to be impossible.
More importantly, I work with other law firms to show them that the way we practice is not only possible, it is the way of the present. My clients (and I) are not geeks. We don’t program and we don’t administer our networks. What we do is use technology to maximize our efforts.
How? By becoming competent. We train our clients to use technology. After all, none of us came out of the womb knowing how to use Microsoft Outlook or Word, or how to scan a document. Nor were we born knowing how to write a brief. Yet, somehow, it is acceptable to Stretton that lawyers should know the law, but it is unacceptable to him that they should also be knowledgeable about the technology that can make them better attorneys — and can save them money.
The American Bar Association proposal to include knowledge of emerging legal technology as part of the definition of “competence” under the Model Rules of Professional Conduct is not controversial, except to Stretton.
Every group with which I am affiliated, including state, local and national bar associations, agrees with the recommendation. Why? Because no lawyer would go to a doctor who doesn’t use those “new-fangled” MRIs because they weren’t around when the doctor was in medical school.
When I graduated law school, there were no computers, Shepard’s was a book and we used carbon paper and typewriters. Would a client think I was competent if I explained that I don’t use computer/online research to prepare a brief? The answer is obvious.
While technology can be scary, so was riding a bike the first time I tried. And so was arguing a case the first time I entered a courtroom. But in time, I learned how to be a better lawyer and along the way I learned that using technology is not only a tool, but an essential one in my arsenal. Perhaps if Stretton gave technology a chance, he would learn the same lesson.
Daniel J. Siegel, of the Law Offices of Daniel J. Siegel in Havertown, Pa., represents clients who need a will, who are buying or selling a home, starting a business or who need a lawyer in district court.