Things You Didn’t Learn in Law School: The Benefits of Technology

Old school

(Photo credit: Cristian Carrara)

Is technology is superfluous to the practice of law? After all, being a lawyer is all about representing your clients, applying your legal knowledge, and advocating, so what’s technology got to do with it?

Actually, quite a lot. The reason? Because when you make informed decisions about choosing and using technology, you’re better able to streamline your practice, so you can focus on practicing law and representing your clients instead of running the backend of your law practice.

In other words, technology makes it possible for you to be a better lawyer, which is why it’s surprising that more law schools don’t teach their students the ins and outs of technology and the ways that it can be used to simplify law practice management. That’s also why the failure of law schools to teach technology skills is on our list of the Top 10 Things You Didn’t Learn in Law School.

Technology is changing the practice of law

Unfortunately, most law schools completely ignore technology-related skills when designing their curriculums, whether it’s legal software, Internet-based technology, e-discovery, or online marketing tools. And, as Kevin O’Keefe recently noted at Real Lawyers Have Blogs, some law schools are actually advising against using some of these tools, specifically social media and blogs.

And those aren’t the only ways that law schools are failing their students when it comes to 21st century technologies. As discussed in a recent Information Week blog post, law schools are dropping the technology ball across the board:

Legal education’s inability to adapt to technology is undermining law schools around the country, argued noted legal scholar Oliver R. Goodenough in a talk Tuesday at Harvard’s Berkman Center for The Internet and Society.

“Legal education in this country is in crisis,” Goodenough said. That’s true for two reasons, he said: One, because the traditional law firm has run its course as an efficient way to provide law services at scale, and two, because technology is radically remaking the practice of law, and law schools are being slow to respond.

This institutional failure is particularly alarming in light of the ABA’s recent amendment to the comments of Model Rule 1.1 to include in Comment 8, which requires that lawyers be proficient in technology:

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, engage in continuing study and education and comply with all continuing legal education requirements to which the lawyer is subject.

Robert Ambrogi addressed the effects of this rule and of technology on the practice of law in a presentation, “10 Ways Technology is Rewiring Law Practice.” In the presentation, Bob explains that technology has leveled the playing field, allowing solo and small firm lawyers to compete with large law firms in ways never before seen. Take a look at the enlightening slide deck from his presentation (hat tip: Richard Granat):

A paperless office is the first step

So how can technology improve client representation? By reducing attorneys’ costs, improving efficiency, and providing lawyers with access to both legal information and client files, no matter where they may be. Of course, one of the first steps to take in order to reap the benefits of technology is to go paperless, as John Gilbert explains at Attorney at Work:
Forever, it seems, the “paperless law office” has been the Holy Grail for technology-focused law firms. They understand that storing paper onsite is expensive — after all, the firm pays as much per square foot to store paper as it does to house a partner — and paper remains at risk to flood, fire or similar disasters. Paper stored offsite is also expensive to store and retrieve. Added to that, there can be significant penalties for removing and destroying old files. Either way, information contained on paper is harder to organize, search for and search through.
In that same post, he also explains the pros and cons of a paperless office and provides a thorough list of “how-tos” as well, so if you haven’t yet gone paperless, this post is a great place to start.
And once you’ve transitioned to a paperless office, you’ll truly be in a position to make technology work for your practice, drastically improving firm processes, client communication and your firm’s bottom line. Because once all of your files are digital, you have far more flexibility when it comes to incorporating 21st century technologies into your workflow.

Cloud computing improves client representation

One of the best ways to do this is to integrate cloud computing platforms into your law practice, whether for time tracking and billing, document management, client communication, or a full-fledged law practice management platform that includes all of these functions and more.
The many benefits of cloud-based legal software are discussed in this recent ABA GPSolo article. Also addressed are the many issues you need to think about when deciding which types of functions you should move to the cloud in order to increase your firm’s efficiencies and bottom line. As explained in the article, there are many benefits to moving to the cloud:

The biggest benefit of CPM (cloud practice management)…reduced need for expensive hardware, software, and maintenance…

Another benefit of CPM is mobility; now your software and files are accessible wherever you have Internet access, and many programs have an app for your mobile device as well…Your calendar, files, and information are all immediately accessible and up-to-date…

Perhaps the biggest benefits of CPM are the reduction of psychological stress and “soft” cost. You spend less energy and valuable, unbillable time addressing software problems and dealing with computer downtime…With CPM, you outsource the burdens and problems of updating and maintaining your practice management software.

In other words, technology can drastically change an attorney’s day-to-day life. No longer are lawyers confined to their offices, chained to their desk top computers, or burdened with IT maintenance. Instead, lawyers can reduce the time spent running their practices and focus on providing their clients with the best representation possible.

Because technology offers lawyers–and their clients–so many benefits, it’s difficult to understand why so many law schools fail to include technology and law practice management courses in their curriculum. Hopefully, that will change over time as law schools respond to market demand–the sooner the better.

–Nicole Black