Management Assistance Program
Technology Competence for Every Lawyer
By Jim Calloway
There has never been a time it was more important for lawyers to have good technology skills. The smaller your law firm, the more important this is. What do lawyers need to master for their personal technology skills? That depends on many factors, including the lawyer’s type of practice. Since the theme of the upcoming OBA Annual Meeting is “Every Lawyer,” I thought I’d cover technology skills every lawyer should have.
Most jurisdictions now require that lawyers have technology competence as a part of being competent to practice law. Thirty-nine states, including Oklahoma, have adopted what many refer to as “the duty of technology competence.”
We should not limit this discussion to lack of technology competence that could prove to be an ethical violation. There are many technology challenges that hurt the law practice rather than the clients. For example, if the firm’s billing frequently goes out a week or two late, that is a problem that will impact the law firm. If you don’t care enough to get the bills out promptly, why should the client be concerned about paying them promptly?
I recommend selecting a few items below, then calendaring a deadline to master them. Or, if you are a more “hands off” type, assign someone else in the office to learn the skill and then share with everyone else in a “lunch and learn” or office meeting.
Redaction used to be hard, but now it is simple if you have the right tools. Given we often see media reports of very large, prestigious law firms inappropriately redacting documents and allowing journalists to discover the information intended to be hidden, I’d say it’s a good bet that others are not doing this properly.
The first step is the most important. Save a digital copy of the document safely in another location on your network. The point of redaction is no one can “un-redact” the document, even you, so keep an unredacted copy somewhere safe. Then use a proper redaction tool. For most lawyers, that will be Adobe Acrobat Professional since they already own it. This is one feature in Adobe Professional not included in Adobe Standard. And make sure everyone uses the redaction tool. Those who just paste black boxes over content are the ones who make the headlines, as those boxes can easily be removed. There are also redaction tool plug-ins to Microsoft Word, like Redact Assistant from Payne Group or freestanding redaction tools.
Even though redaction done correctly cannot be broken from a technical standpoint, there are still other possibilities. I believe if someone redacted a word throughout a long brief or court opinion, a lawyer could probably guess the word from context. And if you are redacting a deposition, you might want to read this article from Slate, “We Cracked the Redactions in the Ghislaine Maxwell Deposition.” It turns out a deposition index can be the Rosetta Stone that unlocks deposition redactions. I’ve been waiting to hear about someone asking the court to remove or redact the entire index of a sensitive deposition.
Unless you will stop using email and disconnect your computer from the Internet, security is important for every lawyer.
If most lawyers really wanted to understand computer and computer network security, they likely would have taken a different career path. But lawyers are using technology with confidential client information every day, whether you personally touch a keyboard or authorize others to do it for you.
Security items like firewalls and antivirus need to be purchased, installed and maintained. If you use a security tool that came included with your computer purchase, you should first determine if it is still current and receiving upgrades. Most of these require a subscription payment after an initial period. If you haven’t been getting updates for some time, given the rapid changes in security threats, you may not have much protection.
Many of the greatest threats from online criminals, hackers and scammers can be greatly reduced by using two tools: 1) a password manager and 2) multifactor authentication. Any lawyer should be able to purchase and use these tools with no special training. Add in periodic staff training on email threats and you will have greatly reduced security risks to your law firm and your clients’ information.
A password manager allows you to use lengthy passwords that are more secure and to never use the same password for any two sites. These tools make it easy to change passwords (and recall the changes) when circumstances warrant a change. Using the same password for many of your login credentials makes passwords easy to remember; however, it also means if that password is ever compromised, there are likely to be attempts to access other sites using your email address and that password.
Multifactor authentication means even if your login credentials and password are compromised, the criminals cannot log in to your account unless they can access the other factor. Texting a code to the mobile phone is the most common method of doing this, but some other methods are now considered more secure as discussed in my March 2021 Law Practice Tips column, “The Rise of Two-Factor Authentication and the Authenticators.”
If you have a Facebook account, I encourage you to set up multifactor authentication immediately. You may not use Facebook for business, but you still do not want someone masquerading as you after they have hijacked your account. And if you regularly use Facebook, you don’t want to be locked out. Today when a criminal steals your Facebook account, they quickly change the password, the email address (to block password recovery) and set up their own multifactor factor authentication. This comprehensive takeover will remind you that Facebook is free because their tech support to assist you with this issue is often inadequate, to say the least. Several weeks ago, I listened to a radio program interviewing people locked out of Facebook who finally ordered an Oculus headset so they would qualify for superior Facebook tech support by reading the serial number from the outside of the box to a Facebook rep. After their account was unlocked, they then returned the headset – unopened.
Microsoft 365 is another service that should have multifactor authentication enabled because access to that allows access to all files in OneDrive, the calendar and email. I have talked with a lawyer who was out of office for a day, but his great assistant called him anyway because the email instructions she was receiving “from him” via email about wiring money out of the trust account didn’t sound right. “Chilling” was the word he used to describe the experience.
In the early days of cloud computing, lawyers, as befits our skeptical nature and training, were very cautious. It sounded risky to take client information from the safe confines of the law office and store it somewhere else. Today there’s a greater appreciation that storing important information in the cloud is usually a more secure environment than keeping it on the local computer network, particularly a network not monitored daily by IT professionals.
There are some differences between the various cloud computing providers. But generally, most accounts with multifactor authentication enabled and a unique, lengthy password will be secure. Cloud-based practice management software provides the storage space you need to store scanned images of everything in your client files, along with a lot of other information.
How much cloud storage do you have access to today? You may have an Apple iCloud account, Google Drive, OneDrive via Microsoft 365 and a Dropbox account. You may also subscribe to an online backup service with file sharing potential like IDrive or SugarSync. If you have cloud storage space you aren’t using, consider designating one for personal, non-business uses. If you keep all law firm files in your practice management system or Microsoft 365, Google Drive might be a perfect place for some personal information you don’t want to lose track of.
Contemporaneous Time Capture
Studies have consistently shown that lawyers who record their time daily as they do the work capture a far greater amount of their time than those who try to recreate the billing entries days or a week later. Even if you decide not to bill everything, it’s great to show the client all the time you expended and then indicate what items were given a “no charge.”
Practice management software solutions include features to allow you to capture time and prepare billing invoices. This is one of the many reasons we continue to urge those who do not have such a tool to obtain practice management software. There are also free-standing time capture tools like Bill4Time and TimeSolv.
Lawyers are free to use the legal research tools that serve them best. However, this is a good opportunity to remind everybody that all OBA members receive a Fastcase subscription as a member benefit. You log in using your MyOKBar login. Unlike Facebook, Fastcase features great support from skilled staff. They are available to assist you. On Fastcase.com, there are several training videos available on demand, and one can enroll in scheduled classes taught online that allow for Q&A.
Electronic Signature Tools
During 2020 one comment I heard from several people was, “I had not used digital signatures in my practice before, but I will from now on.” The utility of these depends a great deal on your practice setting. If you are an Adobe Acrobat user, set up your e-signing and learn how it works. DocuSign also gets great reviews.
Becoming a Word Power User
Many law firms are not utilizing the full power of Microsoft Word. Do you have a template set up for stationery, so you don’t have to reformat the document every time you are printing on letterhead? Or how about a template with your letterhead built into the template so you can just use the same paper for everything?
Microsoft Word training is where many law firms can improve operations, which leads to the next subject.
So How Do I Become More Tech Competent?
Training isn’t the challenge for many lawyers. It is finding the time to do the training. Online training is likely the best option for many.
Deborah Savadra, who hosts Legal Office Guru has free tutorials so you can sample her style before subscribing to the other classes at legalofficeguru.com. The most challenging thing for many about reaching Word expert level is learning styles; so with any Word training, you will certainly want to take the Styles class.
For training on many tech tools, including Outlook and most other common software, LinkedIn purchased a great training service called Lynda and now sells subscriptions to that as LinkedIn Learning. There is an offer of a free month’s training.
The best tip for quick Microsoft Word help is when stumped, do a Google search like “How to insert a Table of Contents into Microsoft Word.” That will usually return a link to the Microsoft Word Help file on the subject and links to several YouTube videos made by others. You also may want to build a “cheat sheet” document in Word, saving your favorite tips because they are hard to recall if you don’t use them every day. If you hire someone new, this will be a valuable document to share with them.
There are now so many different types of technology it would be impossible to become proficient with all aspects you might use. Hopefully this column has given you a few ideas to fulfill your professional obligation to improve your technology competency.
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, email@example.com or find more tips at www.okbar.org/map. It’s a free member benefit.
Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal — September, 2021 — Vol. 92, No. 7