June 01, 2018 TECHNOLOGY

Ask Techie

Welcome to our new, monthly column, where a panel of experts answers your questions about using technology in your law practice.

This month we answer readers’ questions about public WiFi, online calendars, and technology competence.

Q: I have heard that we should not use public WiFi. What about the WiFi in my hotel when I travel?

A: Public WiFi remains a dangerous means of accessing the Internet. The fact that it has grown ubiquitous does not change that. Public WiFi includes the WiFi in your hotel room (as well as the WiFi in the lobby or the conference center). Simply put, consider any WiFi network not controlled by you or your firm to be “public.” Using public WiFi remains as risky as having unprotected sex with a stranger. You might have a good experience and come away without medical consequences; but you might catch something you do not want to have. I consider it an unnecessary risk. I still favor carrying your own cellular WiFi hot spot with you, especially now that you can get international coverage for about the same cost as you pay for domestic by getting a sim card from an international provider, such as KnowRoaming. The sim cards they provide work in your cell phone, your tablet, or a cellular WiFi hot spot device. You can get cellular WiFi hot spot devices readily. My current favorite is the Huawei Mobil WiFi E5788. It is a bit more expensive than others but can handle LTE up to 1 GB per second.

You can also improve your safety by using a virtual private network (VPN). You can set up your own VPN or subscribe to one of the many that are available from providers. Of that class of VPN, I currently like VPN Unlimited the best and use it most frequently. Although VPNs provide better protection for you, they have a downside in that they can sometimes slow the connection speed and sometimes interfere with the connection. For this reason, I recommend you consider having two, so that if one is problematic from a particular location, you can switch to the other and, hopefully, have better luck. The best analogy I can find to help you understand how a VPN works comes from the local transit system where I live. It has a tube that it built through the water in the San Francisco Bay to allow the trains to run through the bay between Oakland and San Francisco. If you think of the Bay as cyberspace, the tube as a VPN, and the train carrying the passengers as your Internet communications, you pretty much understand how a VPN operates.


Q: Are online calendaring services secure and confidential enough to use to set client appointments?

A: Online scheduling services are secure enough to use for setting client appointments. Online services such as ScheduleOnce will read and write to your calendar program, but what clients/potential clients see is only time slots that represent your real-time availability, without the details of what is happening when you are not available. When choosing an online scheduling service, make sure of the capabilities you need. For instance, Setmore is a free scheduling platform lawyers can use, but it does not appear capable of reading your calendar to know when you are not available. It only knows the availability you set in its web interface, which means you risk double-booking if you change your calendar to add an appointment but forget to update your availability on the web calendar. You should also confirm that the software integrates with your calendar program, such as Outlook or Google Calendar, so you will not have to juggle multiple calendars to keep everything up-to-date.


Q: What does technology competence mean and how do I get there?

A: With more than half the states in the country adopting some formal requirement for technology competence, it is time to assess your skill and comfort level and address any shortcomings you may have when it comes to the use of technology. Technology competence refers to the duty lawyers have to be competent in their use of technology in the practice of law, as well as competence in the technology their clients are using. In 2012 the American Bar Association modified its Model Rules, adding the requirement that lawyers stay aware of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and the risks associated with relevant technology. This would include understanding the benefits and risks associated with:

  • electronically stored client information;
  • electronic discovery;
  • how clients use technology to offer services or make their products;
  • and more.

If you are uncertain of your skill level, there are companies such as Procertas that offer a legal technology assessment and training module to identify and address weak points.


What’s YOUR Question?

If you have a technology question, please forward it to Managing Editor Rob Salkin (robert.salkin@americanbar.org) at your earliest convenience. Our response team selects the questions for response and publication. Our regular response team includes Jeffrey Allen, Wells H. Anderson, Ashley Hallene, Al Harrison, Nerino J. Petro Jr., and J. Anthony Vittal; we may, from time to time, have guest authors. We publish submitted questions anonymously, just in case you do not want someone else to know you asked the question.

Please send in your questions today!


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