General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionMagazine

American Bar Association
General Practice, Solo, and Small Firm Division
The Compleat Lawyer
Spring 1998
© American Bar Association. All rights reserved.

technology.law

BY J. MICHAEL JIMMERSON

J. Michael Jimmerson is a technology consultant and founder of Legal Counsel & Computing. He is the co-author of A Survival Guide for Road Warriors, a best-selling book on mobile computing for lawyers, published by the ABA. His next book, Windows for Lawyers, will be released in the fall of 1998. He can be reached by phone (773-506-9870), e-mail (jimmer@legalcounsel.com) or the Web (www.legalcounsel.com).

Computers have become commonplace in law firms. According to the Small Law Firm Technology Survey (1997) by the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center, 85 percent of lawyers in responding firms are using computers.

In 1990, only 59 percent of lawyers reported using a computer in their practice. Although this is a significant increase and the legal profession has benefited, we may never reach 100 percent for a variety of reasons. But there are still ways that we can bring our colleagues into the fold.

The primary reason for less than full adoption are the holdouts resisting the information revolution. Sometimes referred to as "NIMOs" (Not In My Office), these legal Luddites have eschewed, even rebuffed, the benefits that technology can bring. Obviously, part of the problem is a generation gap. Young lawyers just coming out of law school are comfortable with computers because they have been using them all their lives. They expect to have a desktop or notebook computer waiting when they join a firm. Using the Internet and keeping in touch via e-mail is second nature to them. The holdouts are typically older lawyers who began practicing before word processors and computers were available. However, even these "old-timers" can change their ways if they have an open mind.

Try a Little One-on-One Training

We must also recognize that resistance to computers often has nothing to do with technology itself. Having better, faster computers will not solve the problem. More often it has to do with personality issues. For example, some people are simply afraid of computers and therefore oppose their integration in the firm. Or a lawyer may consider typing on a keyboard beneath his or her station. The trick to dealing with these issues is to distance the problem from the technology and focus on the human factors.

If someone is afraid of using the computer, offering one-on-one training is often the best solution. Quite often, members of the firm are trained in a group and the technophobes will dread having their ignorance exposed. This can translate into resistance and hostility to technology if not handled appropriately. Avoid embarrassing situations and arrange for that person to be trained separately. A good trainer can overcome fear of the computer and whet the person's appetite to learn more. The cost will prove insignificant compared to the benefit of bringing that person on board.

Another technique that can open the door is to pinpoint a particular interest of a novice user, then show her how the computer can help. The key to this method is to be open-minded. Even if the activity is not legal or work-related, if it can break down the barrier, it will be worthwhile. For example, if she follows stocks or sports, set up the computer to make it easy for her to get updated scores or information. Once you get her hooked, moving on to other areas and applications will not be nearly as difficult.

Or a lawyer may allow a computer in his office but he never finds the power switch, making it nothing more than an expensive office decoration. Ironically, these types often point to the presence of the computer in their office to show they are "hip," typically in front of clients. Firms should not allow such waste. Computers are not window dressing, they are tools. If a lawyer is not using the computer, give it to someone who will. These people need to face the facts. If you are not learning how to use computers to better your practice, you are placing yourself at a serious disadvantage.

The worst thing that we can do is to enable inefficient and wasteful behavior. For example, consider a lawyer who uses e-mail by having her secretary print messages and then dictating back responses. The lawyer is not learning anything, and the secretary (and the firm) is only making the situation worse. The lawyer will never make any progress in this environment and the firm must intervene. Another example is distribution of routine memos or calendars. Savvy firms now use e-mail to deliver such information rather than waste paper. If a lawyer insists on getting a paper copy, he is only delaying the inevitable. The firm should have a policy that applies to everyone. The trick is to be firm but tactful. And most important, deal with the problem instead of avoiding it.

Anyone can learn to use a computer. I have seen the most techno-illiterate lawyers make substantial advances. Not everyone will become a power user, but anyone can get a productivity boost using technology. Don't just give up on those NIMOs, because you can teach an old dog new tricks.

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