Is technology competence a risk issue?
Will your clients be asking you to prove your lawyers are tech savvy?
It has been an extraordinary year with some noticeable increases in many law firms’ profits, more mergers and acquisitions, growing corporate legal departments and, of course, the shift to remote working and the new technologies which enable it. At the same time there are always issues around cyber threats and clients’ increasing concern about the security of their data is understandable after more than one serious data breach. It is very evident that in the majority of cases the problem lies, not with the technology, but with the users of it! it is now an accepted fact that the majority of breaches occur due to human error and most law firms have embraced the need to keep their staff up to date with the latest threats.
I have often asked the question “Do lawyers recognize that technology skills are an essential part of being a good lawyer” and was not surprised to find that many people working in the industry agreed with me that they don’t!
One example… “I did not scrape and claw my way to firm partner to replace my secretary with a PC”. And how about this one, reported by a senior solicitor in Australia a few years ago? She said that a “Partner who used a non-interfaced Dictaphone and had his secretary print emails – he was 15 years YOUNGER than me - so it is not a generational issue”
Cyber security and data protection aside there are other less obvious risks associated with poor tech skills. It is now several years since ALM Legal Intelligence conducted a survey in conjunction with Microsystems and I fear the situation has not improved much:
The survey asked the same questions of both law firms and legal departments. One question in particular showed a startling disconnect between how law firms view their need for technological competence and how corporate counsel view that need. The question was … Have you ever been fired/fired outside counsel due to sub-par document quality or delivery? 90% of law firms said unequivocally that they have not been fired for sub-par document quality. Conversely, 51% of corporate counsel said that they have fired their outside counsel for sub-par document quality. I fear that situation remains much the same.
As far as document quality is concerned too little is done to ensure consistency. It may seem so much easier to re-use an existing filed document and just make a few adjustments – however the firm’s templates and house style may have changed and there may be hidden tracking or metadata. Without a good understanding of how a document is structured and how styles are used a legal document can be a minefield. How many legal professionals understand styles? Is the latest Word functionality really understood by the majority of lawyers? Yet it is fundamental to the production of good quality documents.
The way law firms transact their business has changed dramatically over the last fifteen years, most notably with the increasing use of IT and email. However, process efficiencies relating to core business functions have been somewhat neglected. Having invested many thousands of pounds on the implementation of Document Management Systems to store and retrieve information, there are still very few firms which have defined processes surrounding the production of documents, even though this is absolutely fundamental to their businesses.
In a briefing on legal efficiency in June 2010, Richard Susskind a trusted legal technology specialist said: “Lawyers are in the business of generating documents and for over 30 years we have had technologies that will help support this process, make it more reliable and quicker – and somehow we just haven’t embraced that.” There is some good news in that the majority of the US Bar Associations state “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 (…)"
About 10 years ago the issues outlined contributed to the formation of a coalition of legal IT training, legal technology professionals and lawyers who realised that the situation was becoming critical. They formed the Legal Technology Core Competencies Certification Coalition (LTC4) and voluntarily spent almost 4 years of their time identifying the core competencies for lawyers and their support staff. The result was a set of 9 workflow-based learning plans around working with and managing legal documents and emails; time recording, remote working, CRM and security awareness. These competencies are regularly reviewed by LTC4 volunteers and have become the benchmark by which a firm can reassure its clients that their employees not only know their tech (regardless of which applications they use) but can actually prove they do.
LTC4 is a not-for-profit organisation with the aim of improving skills across the industry and now offers their individual Learning Plans via its website together with assistance with assessment towards Certification. Law firms, legal departments and law schools across the world have become part of the coalition and are able to use these Plans to structure their training programmes and work towards individual LTC4 certification for their employees – there are two streams one for attorneys and another for support staff. Certification is key – assessment methods can vary and LTC4’s own Certification Pod are there to help with their development.
Clients will surely become even more demanding of quality and security as the world opens up again. They will expect the firms they instruct to not only use best-of-breed technologies but that they also take document quality, cyber security and the necessary technology skills seriously. How much more reassurance would there be if the firm could state in response to proposals that their legal professionals were LTC4 Certified as competent with technology including cyber security?