YourABA: December 2012
YourABA December 2012 Masthead

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Tech reflections: Looking back at 2012

By Joshua Poje
ABA Legal Technology Resource Center

If January is the time to plan for the coming year and set your New Year’s resolutions, December should be the time to remember what’s passed and reflect on any lessons learned.

The last 12 months have offered no shortage of interesting and instructive events. As you consider your tech agenda for 2013, here are a few suggestions and reminders:

  • Be prepared for disasters.In late October, Hurricane Sandy struck portions of the Caribbean as well as the mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States, causing widespread power outages, wind damage and severe flooding. While Sandy was a vivid demonstration of the destruction a hurricane can cause to lives, homes and businesses, smaller and less newsworthy disasters can be just as disruptive if they happen to strike your practice. Fires, minor floods, even theft can cause significant damage to your practice and your clients if you aren’t prepared.

    How do you protect your firm? First, protect yourself against data loss with a robust data backup plan. Your plan should ensure that critical files are backed up at least daily, that all files are backed up redundantly (more than one copy of the file in more than one geographic location) and that you’re capable of restoring lost files quickly and reliably if an emergency arises.

    Beyond data, you should also have a business continuity plan that addresses how attorneys and staff will access critical data if disaster strikes, how employees will be notified and communicate with one another if the office is closed, and how calendars will be accessed to ensure deadlines are met and meetings are rescheduled appropriately.

  • Keep ethics in mind when using technology. Legal technology experts have been stressing the intersection of technology and ethics for years, most notably in the areas of e-discovery, metadata and cloud computing. In 2012, this relationship was underscored by a series of important ethics opinions and the approval of several amendments to the Rules of Professional Conduct. The comments to Rule 1.1 (competence), for example, were amended to specifically remind lawyers to stay current with “the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.” Additional changes focused on technology and client development and technology and confidentiality. As you review your technology and plan for the future, professional responsibility implications should be part of your basic decision process right along with product features and price.

  • Protect sensitive data. Each year seems to bring a new round of major security stories, and 2012 was no exception. Among the leading headlines this year: The first major Mac OS X virus emerged; intelligence community leaks confirmed government involvement in several prominent cyberattacks; security threats targeting the Android mobile operating system skyrocketed; and prominent online companies including LinkedIn and Dropbox suffered password leaks.

    To protect sensitive client data, lawyers should embrace best practices for data security. Most obviously, lawyers should use secure passwords including 10-plus characters (uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols) and should avoid using the same password for multiple services. Software should be kept up to date, physical security (e.g., device locks, asset tagging, not leaving mobile devices unattended) should be emphasized, and encryption should be used wherever possible.

  • Technology reshapes the way lawyers practice law. Lawyers were early and enthusiastic adopters of mobile technology, particularly smartphones. That trend seems to be continuing now with tablets. According to the ABA’s “2012 Legal Technology Survey Report,” approximately 33 percent of respondent lawyers reported using a tablet device to work outside of the office. Of those, 91 percent were using Apple’s iPad. Lawyers are also increasingly embracing secure portals as a means of interacting with their clients (25 percent reported using them in 2012) and are finding some success in using social media for client development (39 percent of the respondents who maintained a blog had retained a client as a result).

  • Major upgrade decisions are looming. Windows 8 officially hit the market in the fall of 2012, bringing major changes to the operating system. Factor in the surging popularity of Apple products, driven in part by the iPad, and lawyers face some major choices: Do you upgrade to Windows 8, make the switch to Mac OS X or hold position for the time being? Changing operating systems is not a decision to take lightly. While new operating systems often offer improved reliability and fancy new features, the switch can be disruptive and force additional investments in new software and hardware. Now is the time to reflect on your current setup and to consider whether making a big change is a smart investment for your practice.

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