Keeping up with technological advancements can be challenging, but the alternative could hurt the profitability of your firm, and in extreme cases could even threaten its viability.
It’s natural for people to get used to certain tools and procedures to the point where new things seem unnecessary.
However, a recent Microsoft survey reported that outdated technology would cause 91 percent of people to look elsewhere for services from a company. For law firms, this could not only mean lost opportunities to improve efficiencies, but it could also affect the competitive quality of service for current clients and scare off new ones.
Moreover, with the prevalence of data breach hacks exploiting outdated technology, a law firm’s failure to update its technology could even prove devastating.
Using outdated technology is not just inefficient and unattractive to clients. It could also land attorneys in ethical hot water from a disciplinary body.
Acquiring and Retaining Clients
Clients naturally want to feel confident that they are getting the best representation that they can. Outdated websites and equipment do not send that impression. In addition, interfacing with obsolete technology is often a massive inconvenience. With so much competition in the legal space, inconvenience could be the difference between landing and keeping a client and losing them.
For example, having a great website is not enough on its own. The ubiquity of mobile devices means that if a website is not optimized to adjust formatting based on screen size, a large portion of your audience might see a jumbled mess as their first impression of your firm.
Acquiring and Retaining New Talent
New lawyers want to have access to the best tools available to do their jobs as effectively as possible. A firm that scrapes by using outdated technology and methods is a huge turnoff to the new crop of lawyers who are aware of the latest technological trends. Moreover, outdated technology frankly makes their jobs more difficult.
Given the option of going to a firm with state of the art equipment and programs that allow them to work anywhere they can get an internet connection, or a firm with outdated tech that keeps them chained to their desks, the choice seems pretty clear.
Competency is one of the pillars of legal professional ethics. The effective use of the most up to date technology was deemed so important that “technology competence” was added to the American Bar Association’s Model Rule 1.1 regarding competency.
The comment to ABA Model Rule 1.1 states plainly:
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.
Competence is not just a bar to be cleared once and never worried about again. It is a continuing obligation to remain current on every aspect of the craft that can help attorneys better serve their clients.
These violations are serious and could lead to liability in private litigation, disciplinary action, or even a lost law license.
For example, because outdated technology is often easily hacked, using outdated technology is worse than not using it at all. Data breaches caused by negligent or reckless use of unsafe and insecure software could not only result in lawsuits that are difficult to defend, but they could also constitute ethical violations.
The adage “If it isn’t broke, doesn’t fix it,” does not hold up quite as well in the digital age. Tech companies are constantly innovating and rolling out new programs.
Even if it seems like new software does the same things as previous versions, security updates are not always noticeable to the user, and it is still important to stay current. Companies will stop supporting outdated programs, and programs that stop receiving support are more susceptible to cyber-attack.
According to a recent State of IT report, 66 percent of companies were still using long outdated operating systems that are no longer receiving support from their manufacturers.
Cyber-threats evolve every day, and unsupported programs don’t receive patches to address new threats.
Even systems that were considered extremely safe in the past can become a liability of they are not properly updated.
Then there’s the issue of employee morale. Working with obsolete technology makes work more difficult. Employees who know they could be working with better tech can become resentful of the fact that they are stuck doing things the hard way.
Resentment is a torpedo to law office morale. As morale falls, so too does productivity.
Furthermore, the upkeep of out of date technology is a not a waste of time. According to tech writer, Juliana Lee, computers 4 years or older can cost up to 21 hours of productivity to deal with security issues and necessary updates.
If the issue becomes too prevalent, outdated tech is more than enough to drive employees away.
If the issue becomes too prevalent, outdated tech is more than enough to drive employees away. seek out positions where they are not.
It can be difficult to maintain the necessary level to technological advancement if a law firm’s management is not particularly tech-savvy. Hiring IT consultants or tech-savvy attorneys is one way to address the issue. However, this is easier said than done, as IT consultants and tech-savvy attorneys are in high demand.
There are a few steps you could take starting now to improve the state of your technological competency.
For example, in many cases, it is more convenient for everyone for a firm to go paperless. Being able to save and retrieve documents and drafts from anywhere is certainly convenient. Not having to pay for the internal or third-party facilities to save mountains of paper makes good business sense as well.
Electronic signatures make it easier than ever to conduct business entirely over the internet. In fact, it may be in your firm’s best interest to incorporate blockchain technology into its tech repertoire.
It can be used to verify documents and securely sign new one. It is another new technology that helps lawyers focus on the practice of law instead of rote tasks.
In addition, incorporating automation to applicable legal tasks is the future of the legal profession. According to Deloitte, 100,000 legal roles will be automated by 2036. Artificial intelligence (AI) has greatly expanded what computers can handle. This burgeoning technology is taking a lot off of the plates of lawyers. From legal research to contract review, even reducing the hassles of billing, many necessary but boring tasks are now under the purview of AI.
Staying abreast of technological innovations is now a part of what it means to be a lawyer. It is not just a convenience to clients and employees. It is an ethical obligation.
It may seem like an expensive endeavor to suddenly modernize after years of doing things a certain way. However, technological improvements will likely save law firms money in the long run, and make them more competitive as outdated firms struggle to compete with their more tech-savvy rivals.
There is no need to fear cutting-edge technology. Although there can be a bit of a learning curve, many of the innovations offered will likely be designed for ease of use.
This article was first published in Evolve the Law on 7/23/2019.