One of the most overused idioms in the English language is the phrase, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” However, this phrase contains a major flaw, and it’s not the (mis)spelling of the word, “isn’t.”
The aforementioned cliché assumes tangible and inanimate objects can be treated in the same way. When a watch stops keeping time, it’s safe to assume the watch needs repair rather than believe that time, itself, has broken down.
But, when the outcome of a trial or a project is failure, it’s difficult to determine what or who is at fault. Is the project management system to blame, or its various operating people and parts?
Imagine most complaints against lawyers—they don’t return phone calls, they’re billing practices are inconsistent or unfair, they’re unable to keep track of calendar items, to name a few. Well, each of these items has a simple electronic solution. Law firms could eliminate these trivial complaints with the correct and continued use of technology. At least, that’s what the experts at Legal Ease would have us believe.
“In my experience, the lawyers who are the most resistant to technology and the most insistent that their systems work well are the very lawyers who complain that they work too many hours, are overwhelmed, or have clients who are overly demanding.”
These days, technology is vital to the practice of law. Clients are contacted via email, documents filed electronically with the courts, and private data stored in clouds in cyberspace instead of folders in office space. A recent study by Andrew Adkins at the Legal Technology Institute (LTI) notes that despite this transformation, lawyers are still electronically ill-equipped.
“According to the LTI study, less than 40% of small firm and legal department respondents use metadata cleanup software, and only 25% of respondents overall use encryption software although almost all lawyers send sensitive documents and information to clients via email.”
Attorney-client privilege is the cornerstone of the practice of law. And yet, lawyers don’t think twice about sending their clients lengthy emails without proper encryption codes, or transferring confidential documents via FTP servers to experts without adequate security measures. It’s not a lack of knowing the firm’s options, it’s a matter of implementing one or more of them.
“Survey respondents said that the biggest obstacles to their adoption of case management solutions were the costs involved (both at startup and for maintenance) and the learning curve of integrating such a system into their existing business, and yet one must wonder how many of these same firms have calculated the costs of failing to implement this kind of technology.”
In the current economic climate, law firms cannot afford to assume their finances and client list are protected. Fortune 500 companies have contracted alongside public spending. This means litigious corporate clients are looking for the “right” law firm–a place that will accommodate their limited profits and patience. Whereas photocopying a stack of financial records is costly, scanning to PDF is (relatively) cost-free. Technology-savvy firms market themselves as such. This not only attracts clients, but also retains old ones.
The Legal Ease Blog warns, “A breakdown isn’t the only reason to make a change or try something new—a horse and buggy can still get you from one place to another, typewriters still type and carbon paper can still make copies—but how many people are still using them?”
It’s time to retire outdated practices and phrases. Howry LLP’s collapse serves as a warning to law firms to properly innovate and digitize their services.
If your firm administrators can’t remember the last time the IT department bought case-related hardware of software, chances are, your firm is non-competitive in the market. Even if your firm has stayed at the top of the pack in terms of electronics, it’s still important to stay active in researching new developments in legal technology.
So, to make a long story short, make no bones about it, the ball’s in your court (or something like that).
To learn more about electronic document security, attend C4Cm’s course, “Electronic Documents: Avoiding the Ethical Pitfalls of Metadata.”