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The Technological Future of the Legal Profession

May 11, 2011

Released April 2, 2010, The New York State Bar Association’s Report of the Task Force on the Future of the Legal Profession contains a wealth of information for lawyers to consider. Geared not at technologists, but at the lawyers they support, the report describes a number of trends and recommends a number of strategies to greet the future.

As a bit of a futurist, very little of this comes as any surprise. In the face of recent meetings and discussions, two very specific recommendations stood out: 

  • Define the Goals for Applying Technology to a Legal Practice
  • Educate and Train Lawyers to Understand and Use Technology More Effectively

In what is likely my favorite quote from the report, the NYSBA states, “Adopting technological solutions without considering the goals to be achieved by that technology has led many firms down the path of spending large sums of money to acquire computer hardware and software that are underutilized, or worse, that result in increased frustration and reduced productivity.” 

While I love my iPad and find the recent decisions of some firms to purchase and distribute the tablet to their lawyers intriguing, I found myself wondering what they hope to achieve in this initiative. I don’t consider iPads enterprise-friendly. As far as I know, there isn’t a way to image them. Outside of some cloud solutions, I find transferring files from the device cumbersome. At first look, this move looks guaranteed to cause some measure of frustration and might lead to reduced productivity. 

Who is fit to judge a firm’s motivations however? If they hope to achieve greater prestige and the appearance of technical savvy, this certainly seems a step in the right direction. That they consider the goals in advance of such a move lies at the heart of the NYSBA’s recommendation. Too often, law firms look towards a shiny, new technology or stand-alone issue and seek to utilize and/or resolve such in an isolated environment. The report recommends, (and I agree) a systems-based, comprehensive, examination of how work flows through an organization. Adoption of new hardware and software, at the very least, should improve work product while reducing cost, increase client satisfaction, and/or help support more mobile and flexible work arrangement. I would find my lawyer showing up to a meeting with an iPad kind of cool. I’d like it even better if that pairing could save me money, too.

A technology will not meet the goals set for it if it goes unused. In the time of decreasing hours devoted to lawyer training, the NYSBA recommends educating lawyers in ways to use technology in general practice. The report hopes practitioners start early, stating, “Law schools throughout the state should place greater emphasis on practical courses in various aspects of legal technology such as eDiscovery, document management technology, advanced online legal research, legal technology in the courtroom, and project management.” The NYSBA stresses that firms should also invest in the training of new and established lawyers warning, “If senior attorneys do not take a lead role in implementing a firm’s strategic investments in technology, the firm is unlikely to develop a culture that will allow technological innovation to succeed.”

I can only echo the report’s recommendations. I believe trends to reduce training durations in the face of maintaining a billable hour to be short sighted. What a lawyer might learn in an effectively led session will lead to a greater return given the goals of a project. This may mean sacrificing more traditionally-based training sessions in favor of more practical and task-based offerings.

Beyond these two ideas, the report touches on a number of emerging trends and tools and offers more thoughts on how best to meet the future. Interested readers will find it at:

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