Beginning in 2012, bar associations across the United States began to add commentary to their ethical rules indicating that lawyers have an obligation to stay on top of changes in technology. Since 2012, as legal technology journalist Bob Ambrogi notes at LawSites, 25 states have now revised their rules to include this obligation. But despite the addition of this language to the rules, no jurisdiction has proactively required lawyers to take CLE courses in technology.
That changed last week when Florida adopted new language into its Bar Rules which requires lawyers to stay abreast of legal technology advancements while also mandating that lawyers complete 3 credits of legal technology CLE per biennial cycle. In an opinion issued on September 29th, the Supreme Court of Florida changed the number of biennial CLE credits required from 30 to 33 and mandated that 3 of those credits must be “in an approved technology program.”
The previous requirement of 30 CLE credits per biennial cycle had been in place for 31 years and this is the first time that the number of CLE credits required has been increased. This amendment after such a long period of time is a clear acknowledgement of the new legal landscape within which lawyers now practice. As explained in this Florida Bar News post, Florida’s Bar Board of Governors endorsed this then proposed change in August of 2015 after acknowledging the influence of technological change on the practice of law over the past decade:
Lawyers now have to be familiar with social media issues, e-discovery, e-filing, legal outsourcing, web-based conferences, cloud computing and record keeping, how electronic records are stored and secured, webinars, protecting their electronic communications with clients, and other issues…(And) technology training (i)s necessary because, without at least some exposure, lawyers would not have a grasp of basics they should know about available technology and how it affects the modern practice of law.
The committee that spearheaded this amendment to Florida’s Bar Rules was lead by Florida attorney John M. Stewart, who, as described in an ABA Journal article, became convinced over time that understanding technology was of the utmost importance to lawyers practicing law in the 21st century:
During the course of his committee’s work, Stewart found himself evolving from tech-skeptic to convert. “Not only did I learn how important it was, I saw the value in what it could do for my practice,” Stewart says. “I guess religion found me rather than the other way around.”
This new technology CLE requirement represents an important departure from business as usual in the legal profession. Technology is clearly affecting the practice of law and state bars across the country are taking notice. Florida may be the first to enact this new CLE requirement, but it certainly won’t be the last.
Technology is changing the way that legal services are delivered and allowing lawyers to provide the best representation possible to their clients. It only makes sense that lawyers should take steps to understand technology and how it can be used to improve their practices and help them to be more receptive, responsive counselors to their clients. Requiring lawyers to obtain technology CLE credits is one way to ensure that this learning process is taking place while simultaneously improving lawyers’ practices and the experiences of their clients. Bravo Florida for leading the way and recognizing how important it is for lawyers to understand technology!