August 27, 2013 Articles

Take Control of Technology Before It Takes Control of You

By Shannon Spangler and Anne Kershaw

Lawyers are often tagged as slow technology adopters. Our profession is a traditional one, and our business model does not necessarily reward efficiency. We are failure- and risk-averse, and we are deeply suspicious of new ideas. Lawyers rank “two standard deviations above the normal population in a trait called skepticism . . .” and “we can find fault in anything.” Thus, we are pessimists who see “‘difficulty in every opportunity.’” Mazzone, Erik, “The Innovation Imperative: Adapt or Die?ABA Law Practice Magazine, July/August 2013; see alsoWeb 2.0 Still a No-go,” ABA Journal, September 1, 2008.

The digital world has moved ahead, leaving lawyers in its wake. Are you running to catch up? If not, you should be.

Why Run to Catch Up?

You owe it to your clients. You owe your clients a duty of competence, and the ABA Model Rules now explicitly extend this duty to knowing “the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.” Model Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 1.1 and Comment [8].

Your clients will love you for it. Clients have concluded that there is a misalignment between cost and value when it comes to legal services, and they are voting with their feet. They no longer will “overpay[ ] for underqualified professionals to do work badly and inefficiently because it serves the law firm’s . . . financial model.” Mazzone, supra; see also Flaherty, Casey, “The Origin of the Outside Counsel Tech Audit,” Law Technology News, January 25, 2013. While we might not blame the high cost of legal services solely on inept and insufficient use of technology, it plays a role. Be the tech-savvy lawyer your clients want you to be, as well as someone they can count on for efficient service delivery.

You will be better, faster, smarter, and more agile. Your technology tools waste more time than they save. You either don’t know or can’t remember how they work, so you flounder around, trying one thing and another until you give up in frustration. The tech-savvy lawyer has foolproof approaches to learning technology efficiently and effectively. Technology’s benefit is also its burden. There are too many resources and too much data. Now you have mountains of paper and scores of email folders, embarrassing data volumes on your hard drives, and access to dozens of file shares and numerous searchable document management spaces. The tech-savvy lawyer has ways of effectively managing technology’s progeny.

You can do this. Be a tech-savvy lawyer. Create your personal technology competency strategy. Become competent enough to feel in the game, using the strategies and tactics we describe below.

But I’m No Runner . . . .

Many of us reject management training outright as an unnecessary distraction from serving our clients, but management techniques are exactly what we need to help develop a personal strategy for technology competency.

We will show you how three management disciplines—used in combination—will help you develop your personal technology competency strategy. “Change management” will help shift your perspective about technology permanently, providing concrete techniques to become a tech-savvy lawyer. “Knowledge strategy” will help integrate your approaches to learning, knowledge development, and knowledge sharing with your overarching professional and personal objectives and strategies. The third discipline requires nothing more than commitment and a can-do attitude: do-it-yourself tech learning.

Change Management

We still don’t get it. “Change is the only constant.” Heraclitus said this in about 500 BCE. And still we struggle with how to do change well. Thus, in the mid-1990s, John Kotter developed an eight-stage process for managing change successfully. Kotter, J., Leading Change, Harvard Business Review Press, Boston (2012).Kotter later integrated his eight-stage change-management model into a strategic planning process. See Kotter, J., “Accelerate! How the Most Innovative Companies Capitalize on Today’s Rapid-Fire Strategic Challenges—and Still Make Their Numbers,” Harvard Business Review (Nov. 2012).

Just as business strategy enables an organization to gain an edge over its competitors and to remain a viable marketplace player, your personal strategy helps you to attain your objectives in your professional and personal lives. We combine elements of Kotter’s change-management and strategy-development models to suggest three activities that are critical to your efforts.

First, assemble the team. This is your board of directors, or guides—ideally a multidisciplinary team made up of trusted colleagues, tech-savvy friends and yes, even your children, who have the skills and willingness to help you toward your goals. You will confer authority on your team to assist you and hold you accountable.

Second, feel a sense of urgency.You must create a sense of urgency around this opportunity. You must articulate your strategic vision and then connect this vision to your overarching professional and personal objectives. Your vision appeals to your logical self and also strikes an emotional chord. Becoming a tech-savvy lawyer is no longer a “someday I will . . .” proposition.

Third, keep it going. You must sustain momentum. This may require setting aside a specific time each day to play with technology tools. It may mean buying new tools. Attend seminars and trade shows that will open your eyes to the new ways others are thinking about technology, the Internet, and social sharing. Celebrate what you’ve learned by showing off for your colleagues, nieces and nephews, and your sister who works in Silicon Valley. Recognize that building your own technology capability relies on the same skills that allow you to parse new statutes, build new practice groups, and learn new clients’ industries.

Think of Your Technology Competency Strategy as a Knowledge Strategy

Knowledge strategy is the management discipline that integrates actionable, collective knowledge with a company’s overarching business objectives. It harnesses the power of an organization’s collective knowledge to gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace and prepare it for the future. It recognizes that a culture of learning and collaboration is a key to innovation.

Individuals have the same needs: We must develop knowledge, capture it, and leverage it to further professional and personal goals. Below, we borrow several analytical techniques from the knowledge strategy discipline to help you develop a personal technology competency strategy.

Perform a knowledge audit. Explore and document your approaches to learning, and identify your technology competency needs. Your audit might include these areas of inquiry:

  • How do I learn best? Are you a reader? Or would you rather have someone demonstrate a process for you?

  • What technology competence gaps are most painful? What causes you the most frustration or embarrassment? Prepare a hierarchy of technology competence gaps, from the "there's no excuse not to know this" to the "it sure would be nice to be able to. . . ."

  • What spawn of technology frightens you the most? We not only need to learn how to use the tools available to us, but we need to tame technology’s progeny. Identify where you feel overwhelmed most often.

  • What technology tools eat your time? We all have tools that we must or should use, but we can't remember how—or we're not using their full range of functionality. Identify the software already in your toolbox that you could make better use of as well as new tools you want to add.

Play to your strengths. Just as an organization should leverage the best aspects of its culture to implement new strategies, you should play to your strengths. Build your knowledge strategy around existing skills and follow your passions. If you need to learn to navigate the Adobe suite of products better, and you're passionate about photography, start by learning Photoshop. You can then capitalize on what you've learned to understand other Adobe products.

Match your strategies to your objectives. Give careful thought to the intersection of your knowledge needs, your technology competency vision, and your professional objectives. Look particularly to whom you want to be in the future. Match your technology competency strategy to your career and personal plans: Identify nascent ambitions, create scenarios, and then identify where your knowledge assets should be developed and used to support responses.

Take stock. You will have identified your value proposition and vision for your technology competency strategy, but how will you know if you're making progress? With the help of your guides, identify milestones and measures to help you gauge your implementation progress, refine your approach, and declare victories.

Do-It-Yourself Technology Learning

You are not a blank slate. As lawyers, we know that we can anticipate and extrapolate from one body of law to another, or from one regulatory scheme to the next. Technology learning works the same way. Learn one technology tool and you’ve built a foundation for understanding the next. Leverage what you already know. Email? Internet shopping? You learned how to use these tools; now move to the next level.

Engage your guides. Share your plan, ask for feedback, and decide on your first step. Ask for their guidance and support. They likely have favorite resources to point you to.

Identify general and specific resources.You may find these resources helpful, but there are many others out there. Don't be afraid to explore.

  • ABA resources, including CLE materials and books from the ABA store

  • "help" buttons—a good place to start if you are stumped by a particular software package

  • the software vendor's website

  • the "for Dummies" series and other books

  • Wikipedia, especially for basic vocabulary and foundational information

  • "how to" blogs and YouTube videos—among the many resources you will find through online research

  • tutorial subscriptions—, for example, is a subscription that provides tutorials on hundreds of different technology tools. There are others that you can purchase online from various vendors, but make sure you can test-drive before paying.

If you're interested in learning a tool but don't want to subscribe until you have checked it out, take advantage of free trial periods that most vendors offer. These frequently come along with a tutorial.


Don’t just read—do. Practice the new technology tool or process in the moment. Ideally, you will have two monitors, with your resources open on one screen and the tool on the other. If you need to dig a little deeper, do additional research. You wouldn’t write a brief with only one case citation; use several references to make sure you’re getting an accurate and complete picture of how to use the technology effectively.

Create a knowledge library. Be sure to capture what you’ve learned. Take a screen shot and put it in an electronic folder or repository. You can email it to yourself and pull it into an email folder. Or, if you must, print it and put it in a reference binder, organized by topic.


Integrate what you’ve learned. Knowledge must be integrated before you can act on it. Talk with your guides about what you’ve learned. They may point you to additional resources or show you shortcuts. Find an opportunity every day or two to review what you’ve learned. Better yet, incorporate it immediately into how you do your work.

Checklist for Developing Your Personal Knowledge Strategy

We hope the following checklist will help you chart a path toward technology competency. Here, we map change management and strategy development principles, knowledge strategy development techniques, and provide inspiration for do-it-yourself tactics to use in implementing your technology competency strategy.

Change Management and Strategy Principles

Knowledge Strategy Development Techniques

Action Items

Assemble the team.

Perform a knowledge audit—who among your friends and acquaint-ances should be a member of your support team? What does each bring to the table?

Find a group of like-minded lawyers, tech-savvy friends, and, yes, even your children, to serve as your technology guides.

Share your vision with your guides and ask them to hold you accountable.

Engage your team; solicit their help.

Establish a sense of urgency around an engaging objective.

Perform a knowledge audit—identify and prioritize technology knowledge gaps

Match strategies and objectives—your technology competency strategy should support your long-term career strategy.

Play to your strengths—Put power behind your commitment to learn and grow by connecting technology competency strategy to that about which you are most passionate.

Create a vision around being a tech-savvy lawyer and give that vision emotional power. How will your strategy accelerate your career and change your life? Ask your team for input.

Gather your resources and keep them in front of you—as a reminder that technology competency is a priority.

Don’t just read—do. If you read a blog or watch a video and do nothing else in the moment to cement the learning, you will have wasted your precious time.

Tackle a manageable but important project, either professional or personal, that can benefit from the use of a technology tool you would like to master.

Keep it going.

Play to your strengths—ensure early wins by establishing front-end milestones that propel you forward.

Take stock—track and celebrate your progress.

Create a knowledge library.

Let your technology competency strategy become integrated into your daily language and work planning.

Give your guides permission to intervene when they see learning opportunities for you.

Give yourself the gift of time to implement the strategy.

You can’t learn everything—set priorities and respect your time. Make choices. Is Twitter really for you?

At least once a month, look back at where you were and see how far you’ve come.

Technology Learning Assignments

We challenge you to get excited about learning new technology tricks and tools. Choose assignments from the list below, or make up your own. After a month has passed, do an internal scan. Do you already feel smarter and more capable? If the mood strikes, let us know how it's going.

Read and study.

  • Read Wired magazine to stay connected with what's new and on the horizon.

  • Don't just skip over terms you're not familiar with; use Internet resources to learn more.

  • Develop the habit of reading all of the choices offered under a drop-down menu or in a dialog box.

Learn what you already have.

  • Learn Excel (or another spreadsheet program) well enough to prepare a simple budget.

  • Click around the drop-down menus in Word or other word-processing package and learn something new at least once a week.

  • Do a simple set of slides in PowerPoint or another presentation tool; or, if you're more advanced, learn how to make animated slides or embed a video.

  • If your firm or company provides an intranet, explore every inch of it—and every inch of every tool it gives you access to.

Learn a new tool.

  • Choose a tool you've never worked with before. Maybe it's a presentation tool. Perhaps it is a photograph-editing program. Or perhaps you'd like to learn how to organize your personal life in one place, using a notebook program.

Learn about your computer.

  • Clean up your hard drive and run your antivirus software's clean-up tool.

  • Explore all of the places you can access through the start button on your computer, and find out why you would ever need to go there.

  • Set up your own printer or dual monitor configuration.

  • Check the volumes on your hard drives.

Leverage the Internet.

  • Keep a log of your searches. Are you looking up things yourself or just asking someone else to do them for you?

  • Identify the Internet news/resource sites that are most valuable for you and set up news feeds and alerts.

Leverage your mobile devices.

  • Using a Smart Phone with Internet access, download apps for LinkedIn and Twitter and use them.

Get comfortable with databases and document repositories.

  • Login to a document repository, read the instructions for searching, and then search.

  • Learn and use a database program—QuickBooks or Quicken, Access.

Keywords: woman advocate, litigation, technology, change management, clients