It would be interesting to survey exactly how many law firm partners were comfortable working in Microsoft Excel and Office. In fact, it would probably suffice and be sufficiently telling to test them on basic Microsoft Word aptitude alone. Although there is no data to support this supposition, it would be my guess that, in the case of computer programs and law-partner proficiency, very few would pass the bar.
What should be the standard for computer knowledge in the workplace? Does extensive experience in the industry of law make up for a deficiency in information technology skills?
Before the digital age, businesses used the typewriter and hired typists to conduct its clerical work. The majority of clerical jobs were filled by women, which became the rising working class in the late 1800s.
“In response to business demand for trained typists, business colleges, which previously taught penmanship and mathematics, began to offer typing courses,” writes Donald Hoke in his paper, “The Woman and the Typewriter: A Case Study in Technological innovation and Social Change.”
The appearance of the typewriter seemed to serve as a social catalyst, allowing women to penetrate the workforce during a time and in an area where they were marginalized.
“The entrance of women into certain sectors of the work force and the profound social and economic changes that took place in the late 19th century would probably have occurred eventually even without the typewriter. Nevertheless, they did occur when they did in large part because of the typewriter, and our society has assumed a particular shape as a result,” concludes Hoke.
In a similar way, technology has changed the way law is practiced today.
These days, discovery is filled with e-mail correspondence, social media messages, and time-stamped status updates. Even Facebook is discoverable.
Intelligent e-discovery software is deliberately designed to filter by search terms and key words (even Twitter hash tags) for legal-specific purposes.
In addition, the nature of disputes has changed.
Just this week the news was discussing how workplace policy banning employees from using a cell phone to photograph other employees infringed on “protected concerted activity.” Cell phone and camera phone policies are abound—not just in the office, but also in schools, in most federal buildings, and at law firms.
Furthermore, disputes are no longer he-said, she-said. Litigation involves e-mail chains, spam, pokes, and new-gen jargon. It’s now, he tweets, she tweets. To best understand the client, lawyers must adapt, which involves e-mail communication and Skype phone calls.
Not to mention, the process of filing disputes is now electronic.
Traditional means of practicing law still exist, just with a shiny new prefix. Well, e-nough!
Just like the market shift in the late 19th century with women in the workplace, technology is a beneficial force in law practice—as long as attorneys and firms embrace the innovation.
Unfortunately, many lawyers are still stuck in the past. Their resistance to technology does not make them old-fashioned, it makes them inefficient.
Professionals can no longer pass off blogging, social media, cloud sharing, e-filing, or e-anything as a temporary fad. Nowadays it’s the top-tier lawyers who are lagging behind while the first-year associates band together, open shop, and nab clients with their high-tech expertise in a mobile-app era.
Old-school Law firms who want to compete should start with three, simple steps.
- Establish comprehensive, mandatory training for associates and staff regarding in-house legal software and tools.
- Don’t make excuses for law firm partners and senior associates: everybody attends technology training.
- New hires take a basic computer test during the interview process with a set, minimum performance requirement: again, no exceptions.
The field of law has certainly evolved. And it’s not enough that your law-practice policies reflect changes in the market, your attorneys’ attitudes and acceptance of this change must e-volve, too.