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Law Technology Today
Technology training: Beyond the manual
By Joshua Poje
ABA Legal Technology Resource Center
When it comes to new technology, lawyers find themselves in a Catch-22. They’re told, on one hand, that adopting new technology will make them more efficient and help them adapt to a changing market. On the other hand, the technology is often so complicated and the documentation so lacking that any potential productivity gains are offset by the time wasted in implementing, configuring and using that technology. As a result, many lawyers eschew new technology or waste money on technology that ends up underutilized or unused entirely.
Much of the difficulty with implementing new technology comes from a lack of practical, effective training. According to the 2013 Legal Technology Survey Report, nearly one-third of respondents (including nearly half of solo practitioner respondents) reported that they have no technology training available to them.
In reality, any lawyer with an Internet connection has access to a wide variety of free training tools, and those tools are often more useful than the support materials shipped with new technology.
YouTube and online videos
Most people think of YouTube as an entertainment venue. And indeed, it is overflowing with entertainment — everything from skateboarding bulldogs to the latest music videos. But in addition to the lighter fare, YouTube is loaded with useful videos, including hands-on product reviews, software demonstrations and tutorials.
Interested in learning how to set up one of those convenient fillable PDF forms? A search for "Acrobat fillable form" returns more than 9,500 results. Worried about securing your email? A search for "secure email" returns more than 350,000 videos ranging from tips to product demos to the latest news. And if you think the videos are limited to the most popular mainstream products, you’re wrong: A quick search for a popular legal case-management tool returns more than 1,000 hits.
The videos posted on YouTube and similar services like Vimeo tend to be short — less than 10 minutes — but that isn’t necessarily a drawback. Rather than sacrificing entire days to training, these short, topical videos can be squeezed between meetings and calls and usually provide specific guidance that you can put into practice immediately. They’re published by a variety of sources, including technology trainers, vendors, enthusiastic end users and even bar associations.
One word of caution: You may want to ignore the comments on videos online, which can range from off-topic to downright offensive.
Go to the source: Vendors
Documentation provided with new technology can be disappointing and frustrating. Manuals, if they’re included at all, tend to be either tiny, useless pamphlets or ponderous technical tomes. The good news, however, is that most vendors today are supplementing the technical manuals with free, practical online training tools.
One good example of this vendor outreach comes from Adobe, which hosts a blog focused on the legal market: Acrobat for Legal Professionals. On the blog, Acrobat pros post step-by-step guides to a variety of functions useful for lawyers, like adding dynamic exhibit stamps to a PDF or preventing editing of Bates. Simply by following the blog, lawyers can pick up new tips and tricks that will help them use Acrobat more effectively in their practices.
Acrobat isn’t alone in offering additional online support for its products. Microsoft offers an extensive support site for Microsoft Office — Microsoft Office Online — which includes detailed tutorials, free templates and additional clip art. Several cloud computing vendors offer regular training webinars for their customers and/or an archive of video tutorials.
Use your peers
Vendors and technology professionals aren’t the only source of technology guidance. Another place to turn for technology help is your peers — fellow attorneys and legal professionals who are using the technology in a similar setting every single day. If you gather 20 lawyers all using the same piece of software, the chances are good that each of those lawyers will have a tip or trick that the other 19 have never tried. Building a network of legal professionals through blogs, Twitter, email discussion lists and social media can provide invaluable technology support and training, not to mention all of the traditional benefits of professional networking.
And, of course, be sure to look into the resources available from your bar association. Sections, divisions and forums focused on your practice area can be a great way of connecting with lawyers who are wrestling with similar obstacles and may have found solutions that haven’t yet occurred to you. Bar associations also offer you a platform for giving back to your peers: If you have a success story to share or a tip you think might be useful, offer to write an article for an entity magazine, newsletter or blog.
Making the most of technology
There’s a simple reason most lawyers turn to technology: They want to be better, more efficient practitioners. Adopting technology without learning how to use it, however, leads to little more than frustration and disappointment. Lawyers who look beyond the manual will find a host of useful and free training resources that can help them use their technology more effectively and, perhaps, be better lawyers for it.
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