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Management Assistance Program

Technology and the Legal Profession

By Jim Calloway

Much has been written about the antipathy of the legal profession toward adoption of modern technology. “The relationship between lawyers and technology is complicated” begins a column in Forbes magazine titled “Lawyers and Technology: Frenemies or Collaborators?” by Mark A. Cohen, noting many lawyers “curious ambivalence” toward adopting technology. That observation is no surprise to those in the field of legal technology.

Recently, a lawyer contacted me because a client had restored a smartphone to the factory settings that contained some very important text messages. There were other complications. I gave him the name of an expert. He later sent us both an email that included a good-natured tirade about his hatred of smartphones. “I call them ‘instruments of the devil.’ …Being a Luddite could mean that I will remain the only sane person living in a world of cellphone zombies.”

Every month or so, some lawyer introduces themself to me with the phrase, “I’m a dinosaur.” Other lawyers often enjoy pulling out an ancient flip phone, sometimes patched with tape, to show me their phone of choice.

OBA Practice Management Advisor Julie Bays had been on the job just a few months when she offered to email a lawyer some material. “I refuse to use email” was the blunt response. No problem. We still know how to use envelopes and stamps.

I wonder if in the early days of telephone services some lawyers refused to use that “instrument of the devil.” I can recall that fax machines were quickly adopted by law firms because of the savings in time and money. Local courier services were not cheap and overnight delivery to other states paled in comparison to faxing, but let’s face it, faxing was easy.

Speaking of faxing, as I was preparing to write this column, I noted a tweet from an Oklahoma City lawyer, which is reproduced below with permission.

On the other hand, I know a lot of lawyers, in Oklahoma and across the country, who are very sophisticated users of technology. Some of the smartest legal technologists I know are lawyers. Sometimes an Oklahoma lawyer will contact me with a technology question and also share a new technology tip with me.

TECHNOLOGY COMPETENCY

Since almost all of us are going to be using tech-based tools for the rest of our careers, I thought this technology-themed issue of the Oklahoma Bar Journal would be a good opportunity to share some skill-building tools for lawyers.

Oklahoma is one of the majority of states where a comment about technology competency has been added to the Rules of Professional Conduct noting that a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and “the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.”1

So, what are some basic technology concepts that most Oklahoma lawyers should understand and skills most lawyers should have?

I will note that some of these are dependent on your practice areas. A lawyer who only does estate planning may not have to understand much about Facebook, but a lawyer handling contested family law matters certainly does.

Here are a few suggested topics for some summertime reading and skill building.

FASTCASE

Oklahoma lawyers receive Fastcase as a free OBA member benefit. I am surprised some Oklahoma lawyers still haven’t used this powerful tool yet. Even if you choose to use another commercial research service, you should know how to use Fastcase if you ever need a backup or if an opinion you need is not included in your subscription database. There are a couple of things Fastcase does better than most other services, like creating a public link to an opinion that you can share with others, including those who don’t have access to Fastcase. Printing an opinion to PDF or Word in Fastcase yields a very readable result. Fastcase also has other cutting-edge features that you may not appreciate without having some Fastcase training. Right now, the default view is Fastcase 6, but you can toggle to use Fastcase 7
right now by clicking on the little FC button in the upper right-hand corner, next to the “Welcome” and your name. Fastcase 7 will become the default this summer.

Improving Your Fastcase Competency

  • If you have never tried Fastcase before, give it a try. You can log into your OBA-provided account on your MyOKBar profile page.
  • Visit www.fastcase.com
    support/ to view on-demand video tutorials, but also to register for Fastcase’s online CLE webinars that will help you appreciate the differences of this service. At a minimum, you will want to register for “Introduction to Legal Research” on Fastcase.
  • After your training, create a public link to an opinion and also print an opinion to PDF or Word. There is a greater chance to retain the skill if you try it yourself.
  • If you have a challenge or need assistance with Fastcase, reach out to Fastcase support. Call 866-773-2782 (select option 2) Monday-Friday
    9 a.m.-9 p.m. CST or email support@fastcase.com.
  • We have expanded the CLE offerings at our Solo & Small Firm Conference to include Fastcase training. A Fastcase team member will also be available for individual consultations during the conference.

DIGITAL INFORMATION SECURITY

There are many things written on digital information security. We have copies of the book Locked Down: Practical Information Security for Lawyers, Second Edition by David G. Ries, John W. Simek and Sharon D. Nelson in our OBA-MAP Lending Library. Many lawyers have practices focused in this growing area as risk management questions include much more than just the technology. More lawyers will be focusing on this in the future.

However, every lawyer should understand the basics of protecting personal and client information.

There are many threats today, but for lawyers the biggest potential disasters are losing the information we need to operate, a compromise of confidential or privileged client information or having a financial loss to an online criminal. Sadly, today a critical part of data security is planning for a data breach or corruption of data. Lawyers in Oklahoma have been attacked by ransomware that encrypted their information. Next time it could be your firm. Paying the ramson is often no longer an option as law enforcement will move quickly to block the criminal’s payment avenue. Restoring from a recent backup is often your best response.

Improving Your Digital Security Competency

  • Mention to your staff every few months about how scammers are improving their schemes. Make sure they understand the danger of clicking on email links or attachments from an unfamiliar source. Share reading materials you come across like “Twelve Most Common Phishing Email Subject Lines” from John Simek’s Your IT Consultant blog.
  • Keep your software and operating system patched and updated. Although I have done it differently in the past, the best plan today is to have Windows Update install updates automatically. Many of these updates are security updates.
  • Protect your data. Backup your data properly and know how to restore from a backup. Draft a written office procedure on how both tasks are accomplished. A properly vetted, secure cloud storage is generally considered safer than anything you can do on your own. Read (or re-read) my recent columns “Eliminating the Terror of Lost Client Files” and “Cloud Computing for Lawyers – 2019.”
  • Install a data security suite. PC Magazine’s “The Best Security Suites for 2019” outlines several options. If the security suite that was included with your computer purchase has not been renewed, you should consider paying for a security suite as a high-priority item.

DOCUMENT PREPARATION

Lawyers create documents. Sometimes these are short, routine documents and sometimes they are complex, heavily formatted documents. Technology has changed the way we process words, and more changes are ahead. From my observations, this is an area where we will see significant changes sooner rather than later as more technology-assisted document drafting tools enter the marketplace.

Recently, a lawyer asked me “Am I really going to have to give up WordPerfect?” The majority of our profession (and all of the business world) has long ago moved from WordPerfect, Multimate and many other word processing tools to Microsoft Word. Office 365 adoption will make it more difficult to resist the change.

However, I still know of one very tech-savvy law firm of significant size that still uses WordPerfect because they have developed many macros and templates that automate their document production. That’s different from someone hanging onto a copy of WordPerfect that is years out of date just because they hate change.

Changing from WordPerfect to Word is not a simple transition. Document formatting is done differently. The difference between the formatting scheme of WordPerfect with its formatting code hidden throughout the document that can be made visible with “reveal codes” is much different from Word’s formatting applied through styles.

My personal opinion is most lawyers using WordPerfect should consider learning to use Microsoft Word, with a few standing out as exceptions like the firm noted above. But, to each his or her own and some of the improvements noted below apply to all word processing tools.

Improving Your Word Processing Competency

  • It is a poor practice to use the documents you used the last time you handled a matter like this as a form for a new matter. Invest the time in organizing your forms so you always begin with an appropriate “gold standard form” with all possible provisions. It is much easier to delete unneeded material from a form than to add additional clauses. See my column in ABA Law Practice Magazine “Implementing the Gold Standard.”
  • If your typing skills are not developed, it is time to give speech recognition products like Nuance Dragon Professional Individual a try. Make sure you have lots of memory installed in the computer as Dragon is a memory hog.
  • Setting aside the time to improve your Word skills is a challenge for a busy lawyer, but finding training tools is not. Basic online searches will provide lots of free training videos, like “Word Tutorial: Learn Word in 30 Minutes” by Sali Kaceli.10 Deborah Savadra’s Legal Office Guru is a great resource with both free short tutorials and affordable online courses. Our 2019
    Solo & Small Firm Conference features Kenton Brice, director of technology innovation at the OU College of Law, giving a deep dive into Microsoft Word.
  • Know what you don’t know. If you are working on a legal project with a deadline, that is not the time to build word processing skills but try to make a note when you know there’s a better way to do something, so you can go back later and take a look at it.
  • Everyone in the law office doesn’t have to be a Word expert, but someone in the office should be. See my column in Law Practice Magazine “Your Document Czar.”
  • Start with a simple project that benefits everyone. Saving a form document as a Word template means you will not accidentally overwrite a form when using it. Build a simple template for your “soft letterhead” so everyone can open the template and have a blank document with all of the letterhead information already included.

CONCLUSION

Many lawyers have a challenging relationship with their business technology, but everyone is coping with technology-generated change in many aspects of their lives. You don’t want to be a dinosaur. We know what happened to them, but you are not a dinosaur. Lawyers are resourceful, intelligent and know how to research. You just need to invest the time it takes to improve some aspect of your technology skills. There will be a payback in time saving and a lowered level of frustration.

Mr. Calloway is OBA Management Assistance Program director. Need a quick answer to a tech problem or help solving a management dilemma? Contact him at 405-416-7008, 800-522-8060, jimc@okbar.org. It’s a free member benefit!

Endnotes

1. Oklahoma Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 1.1, Comment 6.

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal — May, 2019 — Vol. 90, No. 5