June 06, 2011

Technology Training: Beyond the Manual

Joshua Poje

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 free their schedules.  On the other hand, the technology is often so complicated and the documentation so lacking that any potential productivity gains are offset by time spent training and wresting with the technology.  As a result, many lawyers eschew new technology or waste money on 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 2009 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report, approximately one in four 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 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 sillier fare, YouTube is loaded with useful videos including hands on product reviews, software demonstrations, and tutorials.

For example, a quick search on YouTube for Microsoft Outlook turns up nearly 2,400 results as of September 2009.  The results include a guide to backing up Microsoft Outlook files, a tutorial on automatic signatures, and even a preview of the upcoming Outlook 2010.  The vendors themselves often release videos, such as this video of Office 2007 Tips from Microsoft Small Business.

Online videos like those hosted by YouTube (similar sites include Vimeo and Viddler) tend to be short -- under 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.

One word of caution: you may want to ignore the comments on videos, which can range from off-topic to 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 dry and mechanical; 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.

A prime 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 Numbering. 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 their products.  Microsoft, for example, offers an extensive support site for Microsoft Office -- Microsoft Office Online -- which includes detailed tutorials, free templates, and additional clip art.  Several Software as a Service 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 twenty 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 nineteen has never tried.  Building a network of legal professionals through blogs, Twitter, e-mail discussion lists and other social media can provide invaluable technology support and training, not to mention all of the traditional benefits of professional networking.

Here are some places to start connecting with your peers:


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 towards 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.

This article first appeared in YourABA e-newsletter, a monthly publication distributed via email to all ABA members.  Learn more about the benefits of belonging to the American Bar Association.

Joshua Poje