The rolodex, the rotary telephone, and the typewriter used to be ubiquitous in every office across America. Today, unless you are in a museum, you would be hard-pressed to find those items in any professional environment.
With technology changing at a rapid rate, it is possible what you are using at your firm could be going the way of the dinosaur too. Over time, that could cost you both clients and money, and possibly even your law license.
Outdated Tech Can Hurt Your Ability to Bring in and Retain Clients
Clients today expect a pleasant, headache-free experience when they call your office or visit your website. Even if your legal services are the best available, not measuring up when it comes to technology will give the perception that you are slow, outdated, or otherwise not qualified to handle the client’s legal matter.
In fact, a 2013 Microsoft survey found 91 percent of people would stop doing business with a company because of its outdated technology. And with smartphones and tablets now the norm, firms are expected to have websites that are mobile-responsive (i.e., that adjust content depending on screen size).
Outdated Tech Could Create Ethical Issues
Lawyers are obligated to maintain competence in representing their clients, and a majority of states “have amended their rules of ethical conduct to include ‘technology competence’ as a fundamental duty of practicing attorneys.” For example, the American Bar Association’s Model Rule 1.1 , comment  states:
To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology, engage in continuing study and education and comply with all continuing legal education requirements to which the lawyer is subject.
Like other ethical duties, this “duty of technology competence” is “continuing, training is important, and mere exposure to technology is not enough.”
Moreover, “if law firms do not secure their client communications and other data, they could violate the attorney-client privilege, lose clients, be subject to malpractice actions, damage their reputation, and possibly also lose their license to practice law.”
Outdated Tech Can Make You More Susceptible to a Cyber Attack
It goes without saying that the older a car or appliance is, the more likely it is to experience a problem. The same can be said for the antiquated technology possibly being used by your firm.
Older technology makes it easier for hackers to find and exploit vulnerabilities. The problem is magnified when the publisher has stopped providing support for the product because newer versions have become available.
A 2014 study from security firm Cenzic found that 96 percent of all applications tested had at least one serious security vulnerability. Additionally, a 2015 State of IT report found 66 percent of companies were still running Windows XP and 60 percent were using Windows Server 2003, two systems Microsoft no longer supports.
Old software and devices substantially increase the chances of a security incident because they haven’t been updated to address the latest security threats.
Outdated Tech Can Keep You From Recruiting and Retaining Younger Talent
Millennials are now solidly of age to be in the legal workforce. You may be a parent to one, a boss of one, or one yourself.
This group will make up 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025. Top consulting companies like Accenture and Ernst & Young are already on the bandwagon, with 2/3 of their employees falling into the millennial category.
Millennials tend to be technologically savvy and enjoy contributing to places that value fresh, new, and collaborative software. Furthermore, millennials want to work with technology that allows them to be productive from any location.
The bottom line is that millennials want to work hard and contribute, but also want employers to provide them with the right tools to do so. If you are unable or unwilling to accommodate them, chances are your competitors will scoop them up.
Outdated Tech Can Cause Low Company Moral and Decreased Productivity
Keeping abreast of the latest technology doesn’t end at the recruitment process. Clinging to outdated tech can cause low employee morale, contribute to unhappiness in the workplace, and stifle an otherwise productive workforce.
Old technology runs slower and requires more time-consuming maintenance. Computers that are more than four years old cost 21 hours of productivity when factoring in repairs, updates and security fixes.
Attrition is also a risk posed by outdated technology. Employees who wrestle with daily technical issues are more likely to seek a job with fewer technology-related headaches.
What Can Your Firm Do?
If you aren’t embracing new technology, your firm is probably already behind. According to the National Association for Law Placement, the recruiting of lawyers with a technical background doubled from 2016 to 2017. The supply is low and the demand is high, and hiring one may not be easy, but could be beneficial in attracting new clients.
Another option would be to get Continuing Legal Education credits, focused on tech. Florida began requiring this in 2017, and other states have similar programs in place. Many of these courses focus on cyber security, data encryption and social media skills. Having a solid grasp of complex technological issues will also help you translate those issues to a judge, jury, or peers.
You can implement some important tech advances almost immediately. Some good starting points include:
- Go Paperless. This decision is not only better for the environment, but more efficient for you and your clients. Plus, electronic signatures can be done wherever there’s an internet connection. The client won’t have to come into your office and can sign a document at their convenience. Of course, all files should be backed up in case of any equipment failure.
- Consider Agile Project Management. The Agile movement emphasizes a smoother workflow, faster timelines, and more adaptable project planning. This helps you focus on the most important tasks and maximize value for your clients. The goal is that you will deliver superior value and gain repeat customers and referrals.
- Explore Blockchain Technology. Blockchain allows for transaction records to be kept digitally and shared securely throughout a public network. The technology is helping law firms draft contracts, verify documents, and more. That would allow attorneys to spend less time focusing on routine tasks and more focusing on legal insights.
- Legal Automation and Artificial Intelligence. We’re nowhere close to a courtroom full of robots, but AI has been creeping into the legal field for years. Again, the key word here is efficiency. Machines can sort and analyze documentsmuch faster than a human, don’t need a break from tiring, monotonous work, and can even help predict legal outcomes. Deloitte predicts that by 2036, 100,000 legal roles will be automated.
Law firms are not tech companies, but the need to address technology issues is an ethical requirement. Moreover, when formulating a tech strategy, firms should keep in mind the financial benefits from employee and client satisfaction that technology can bring.
Failing to do so might threaten to your firm’s reputation, workforce, and bottom line.
Don’t be scared of new technology. Embracing it presents the opportunity to widen your client base and help you stand out from others in your field.
This article first appeared in Bloomberg Law on 9/27/2018.