January 01, 2017

How to Avoid a Big Technology Fail

Victoria R. Clark

Technology develops fast. Once a supportive tool that made work easier, it has quickly become essential to the legal profession. With e-filing, there’s no longer a need to fight traffic to get down to the courthouse before 5 p.m.

In 2018 and beyond, your professional (and personal) life will heavily rely on technology. Here are some of the biggest mistakes you can make and hopefully avoid when using technology.

Mistake #1: Resisting New Technology

New technology is coming. That is a fact, and there is no way to avoid it. It is imperative that lawyers find ways to continuously incorporate new technologies into their practice. If you’re afraid of or resistant to learning about and incorporating new technology into your practice, you will have a difficult road ahead.

The government is well-known for being slow to adapt to new technology. If you’ve worked for the government, you’re well-aware of slow computers and the lack of new technologies that you enjoy with your own personal devices. It is still important to keep abreast of new technologies that can improve your practice even if they are not yet offered in your own workplace so that you don’t fall too behind the curve.

Why would anyone resist new technology?

Cost: It’s cheaper to continue to use what you have than to pay for upgrades. However, consider the long-term consequences of failing to adapt. Loss of productivity can eat into time that could be better spent making money.

Comfort: Learning new things can take time, and you may not want to get accustomed to something new, especially after just getting the hang of the last technology you adopted. Remember that these new developments are typically intended to make your worklife even easier than it is now. Taking the time to research and incorporate a highly recommended new technology, program, or application into your practice can reap many benefits down the road. A year from now, you’ll wonder why you did things the old way!

Confusion: Most lawyers use technology, yet cannot explain how exactly it works. There is probably some technology you’ve heard about but have avoided because you do not really know what it entails. (Blockchain, anyone?) Don’t be intimidated; there are many opportunities for training. Now is the best time to read up and explore new tools that may help you in your current practice.

Mistake #2: Abusing Technology

Even worse than avoiding technology is abusing it. Using technology in an improper way can lead to mistakes in litigation, criminal trouble for attorneys, and even disbarment.

Technology can be tempting, in that it can lure us into wanting to take shortcuts. Don’t. Electronic calendars, one of the most basic uses of technology for attorneys, are essential to a busy attorney. However, it can be easy to let that electronic calendar become a crutch.

You may also have the opportunity to use technology to advance your personal interests. Take it from this former prosecutor who is now incarcerated for wiretapping an ex-love interest, and the numerous other attorneys who have been disbarred, prosecuted, and fined for abusing technology in the workplace—always use technology ethically and legally. When in doubt, put the technology down and seek legal advice.

Mistake #3: Wasting Technology

Once you’ve decided to use new technology, and to use it in the right way, embrace it! If you’ve paid for technology and have taken the time to learn it, you are in the best position for making that technology work for you.

The first way to make the technology work for you is to take advantage of all the features that make it an asset to your practice. Most applications, programs, or technology services provide free set-up, tutorials, and in-person trainings. Take advantage of these offerings to get the most out of your technology investment.

Second, make sure that you have thought through and planned out your intended use of the technology. For example, PowerPoint presentations are a useful tool for closing arguments in litigation. An attorney spends hours putting together a presentation only to go to court to find that the courtroom is not equipped with the technology to show the presentation to the judge and jury. Or even if the presentation is shown, opposing counsel objects to several of the slides, resulting in a choppy closing argument that is nothing but a distraction to jurors. This can be avoided by planning ahead, calling the court beforehand, and learning the procedure for using technology in the courtroom.

One of the most sought after skills that young lawyers have to offer is the ability to quickly adopt new technology and incorporate it into their practice. As developers continue to find ways to make our lives and our practice easier, it is extremely important that attorneys embrace technology and use it responsibly.

Victoria R. Clark

Victoria R. Clark is an attorney in Washington, DC.