When it comes to new technology, lawyers find themselves in a Catch-22. On the one hand, they’re told that adopting new technology will make them more efficient and free up their schedules. On the other hand, the technology is often so complicated and the instruction so lacking that any potential productivity gains are offset by time spent wresting with the new and unfamiliar technology. As a result, many lawyers eschew new technology or waste money on expensive technology that ends up underused or unused entirely.
Much of the difficulty with implementing new technology comes from a lack of effective training. According to the 2013 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report, nearly a third of respondents and nearly half of all solo practitioner respondents reported that they have no technology training available to them.
In truth, any lawyer with an Internet connection has access to a tremendous library of free training tools, and those tools are often more useful than the support materials shipped with new technology.
Start With YouTube
You may think of YouTube as the place you go to see skateboarding bulldogs and the latest music videos, but it’s also an enormous repository of hands-on product reviews, software demonstrations, tutorials and more. Go to YouTube and type in a natural language question (e.g., “How do I redact text in Adobe Acrobat?”) and you’ll usually be rewarded with a lengthy list of on-point videos. A few examples:
- How to create pleading paper using Microsoft Word
- How to use Bates stamping/numbering in Acrobat Pro X
- How to create a repeating appointment in Outlook
- How to index and search multiple PDFs in Acrobat
Online videos 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 they usually provide specific guidance that you can put into practice immediately.
Longer training videos and informational overviews abound as well. The Legal Technology Resource Center provides dozens of 30- to 60-minute tutorials on everything from moving your practice to the cloud to improving billing practices to using document automation to save time. For lawyers interested in diving deeper into technology, these longer webinars can be enormously helpful.
One word of caution with YouTube: You may want to ignore the comments on videos, 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, are often lengthy tomes given over to technical details that are beyond your needs. The information you do need is usually presented in a dry and mechanical fashion; important functions are explained rather than demonstrated. The good news, however, is that many vendors are supplementing these dry technical manuals with free, practical online training tools.
One 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 for a variety of functions that are useful to lawyers, such as how to clean up a scanned PDF in Acrobat XI or how to sign a PDF.
When it comes to free online training, the cloud movement has been enormously beneficial. Because most cloud products are charged on a recurring (i.e., monthly) basis, developers have a strong motivation to provide continuing support and engagement with their users. Many have achieved this by offering webinars and training seminars that focus both on their products and on the wide range of related legal technology and practice management issues that their users are facing.
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 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 other social media can provide invaluable technology support and training, not to mention all of the traditional benefits of professional networking.
There’s a simple reason most lawyers turn to technology: They want to be better, more efficient lawyers. Adopting technology without learning how to use it, however, is a path toward 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.