Technology is shaping the practice of law and changing how legal services are being delivered. Formal Opinion 477R of the ABA recognizes the increasing impact of technology on the practice of law and the duty of lawyers to develop an understanding of that technology.
Since 1983, the ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.1 has read: “A lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.” However, in 2012 the ABA adopted amendments to the Model Rules, including updating the Comments to Rule 1.1 on lawyer technological competency.
Comment 8 to Rule 1.1 provides the following: “To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology (…)” Thus, to provide competent representation to their clients, lawyers necessarily need to understand basic features of the relevant technology that affect the legal industry.
This change has been reflected in more than 30 states that have amended their rules of ethical conduct to include “technology competence” as a fundamental ethical duty. For example, Florida has a mandatory continuing legal education (CLE) requirement of three hours of technology every three years. However, three hours is a very short amount of time for lawyers to study the myriad of technologies that affect the legal profession.
Technology proficiency doesn’t mean you should only know how to use software such as Microsoft Office or Adobe Acrobat. According to the National Jurist, law firms are increasingly looking for lawyers with specialized skills to the practice of law, suggesting that data analytics, e-discovery, artificial intelligence, blockchain, and cybersecurity are the main areas of technology in which lawyers are expected to be competent.
Technology proficiency doesn’t mean that you need to be an expert or have an in-depth knowledge of every single technology that interacts with the legal profession. What technology proficiency means is that you should have the ability to think critically about the use of technology and how it can impact your clients.
It seems that every day some new terms and acronyms bubble up from the tech industry such as data mining, no-code software, net neutrality, 5G, UX (user experience), UI (user interface), SaaS (Software as a Service), DDoS (denial-of-service attack), etc. So, what does a lawyer really need to know about technology? Below is a series of reasonable technology skills and tools you should consider:
Law firms will expect attorneys have basic tech skills, and a lack of technical competence could constitute unethical conduct. However, tech skills are not obtained with a little “light studying.” While it may seem tedious and repetitive to learn these skills, technology proficiency will translate into a valuable asset for a law firm. Technological competence isn’t a simple CLE requirement: it is a fundamental building block of the contemporary legal industry.