Will Technology Make You a Better Lawyer?

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Recently, I’ve been discussing the ways that technology can benefit law practices as part of our 10-part series, “Things You Didn’t Learn in Law School.” Part of my premise has been that lawyers’ thoughtful use of technology reduces the time spent running their law practices so that they can instead focus on providing their clients with the best representation possible.

In the comments to my most recent post about the benefits of technology, it was suggested that a bad lawyer is a bad lawyer and technology cannot fix this deficiency. This is a great point and one that I felt deserved mention and required a response. So much so that I’d like to explore this idea and explain what I mean when I suggest that technology allows lawyer to provide their clients with better representation.

At the outset, let me clarify that it was never my intent to suggest that technology can improve an attorney’s skill. Instead, my point is that the effective use of technology allows attorneys of all skill levels to be “better” attorneys than they would be without it since the technology increases the amount of time available to actually practice law and reduces the amount of time spent on the minutiae of running their law practices.

The iPad is a great example of this phenomenon in action. Prior to its initial release, in March 2010, I predicted that iPads would increase lawyers’ productivity and explained how I believed they would use the iPad in this post:

For… lawyers, the ability to reduce the amount of paperwork and quickly and easily edit and annotate documents, as if writing on an electronic document, (will) be a deal breaker… (Lawyers will mark) up a pleading or contract, mak(e) notations in the margins to a draft appellate brief, or comment…on an internal memorandum. Such tasks, currently, are not accomplished easily while on the road, since neither laptops nor smartphones are well suited to those types of document annotations.

The iPad — with a larger screen and unique touch screen functionality — has the potential to change all of that.

Fast forward to 2013, where tablet use by lawyers is commonplace and lawyers are using mobile devices and cloud computing in their law practices more than ever before. In fact, according to the American Bar Association’s 2013 Legal Technology Survey, 91% of lawyers are now using smartphones, 48% of lawyers use tablets, and 31% of lawyers are using cloud computing.

And, it’s not just lawyers, it’s judges, too. Just last week I was at an Appellate Law CLE and during his presentation, ex-New York Court of Appeals Judge and now Federal Second Circuit Judge Richard Wesley extolled the many benefits of iPads. He explained that last year he convinced all of the Second Circuit judges to use iPads while at a judicial retreat—even the 80-year old judges. He told us that during oral arguments, the judges access Westlaw right from their iPads and also have PDFs of the briefs in front of them with hyperlnks to the cited cases.

After his talk, I approached Judge Wesley and asked him to share more about his iPad use. He explained that–no matter where he is–he’s able to access all cases and case-related documents, including briefs and exhibits, using his iPad. He also advised that he uses the PDF Expert app to annotate briefs and then send his notes on to his law clerks. Then he told me: “It’s great! I can work from wherever I happen to be! I love my iPad! It’s made me so much more productive!”

And it’s not just mobile devices that reduce the time lawyers spend managing their practices–cloud computing is another new technology that is positively  benefiting lawyers and their clients. That’s why lawyers who use web-based law practice management software often report that doing so saves them both time and money.

For example, in this recent blog post, Mark Brenner, an attorney who uses MyCase to run his law practice explained that MyCase facilitates client communication, thus reducing client complaints and resulting in happier clients. So by using our platform to communicate regularly with his clients, he’s able to ensure that his clients know exactly what’s going on with their cases, thus providing them with even better representation than he had in the past.

Cloud computing practice management software also makes it easy for attorneys to stay organized and on top of their busy law practices. In fact, one of our customers recently told me that he’s on the disciplinary bar committee in his state and that as a matter of course, attorneys on disciplinary probation are now required to use MyCase because it forces them to be organized. As a result, the probationary lawyers provide their clients with better representation.

In other words, technology makes lawyers better. It doesn’t increase their skill level–only hard work and experience can do that. But new technologies like mobile and cloud computing help to streamline lawyers’ practices and increase their productivity, which in turn allows them to provide better representation to their clients.

Technology is certainly not the end all be all solution and cannot make bad lawyers into good ones. But when lawyers make thoughtful decisions about technology and implement appropriate tools into their law practices, technology can undoubtedly improve their ability to provide their clients with the best representation possible.

–Nicole Black

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