The Importance of Technology Proficiency – Part II was originally published on Firsthand.
As we reviewed earlier, many attorneys are behind technologically and reticent to adopt new tech tools, despite (1) ABA recommendations to stay abreast of relevant technology, (2) sophisticated clients who expect tech proficiency in their attorneys, and (3) competitors like alternative legal service providers (ALSPs) using technology to provide legal support work at lower costs. The bottom line is that law firms and lawyers need to keep current with technology because being deficient means losing business—or going out of business.
Of course, attorneys’ deficiency in tech competence is overlooking the obvious—that they can be more efficient and do their work with greater accuracy by using technology. A 2020 survey revealed that 84% of law firms felt the use of legal technology resulted in increased efficiency, and firms can be more collaborative and data-driven with the use of available technology.[i] Time spent completing manual processes is wasted when, alternatively, advancements in legal technology create solutions that improve every day.[ii]
What Attorneys and Firms Should Do
To stay viable and create a “future-ready firm that attracts top talent,” law firms and lawyers need to embrace innovation, build technology-enabled workplaces, and invest in user-friendly digital tools.[iii] Further, they need to make sure they are proficient with at least the following:
- Some sort of content creation and email platform like Microsoft Office/Office 365/Microsoft 365 or Google Workspace. Even though more can be done more quickly by dictating (see below) and other word processing work may be delegated to an administrative assistant, an attorney still must have basic proficiency with these programs and absolutely must be able to email directly with clients.
- Within either the Microsoft or Google platform, the ability to redline, correct, track changes, and comment on documents. Being able to track document edits easily and quickly with clients is a necessity.
- Calendaring programs. Though the Microsoft and Google platforms suffice for basic calendar and scheduling functions, litigation firms and lawyers especially may want to consider using a rules-based calendaring tool. This software “automatically applies the court rules and statutory deadlines of specific jurisdictions to the due dates of a particular matter at the start of the case. There’s no need to manually enter each and every deadline for a litigation matter.”[iv] These programs include LawToolBox, CalendarRules, and JuraLaw.[v]
- Programs that allow for automation of repeatable tasks. Beyond calendaring, there are many other office tasks—including checking for conflicts of interest, basic document creation, and certain aspects of client communications—that can and should be automated to save attorney time and reduce costs for clients.[vi] Common programs that help with automated services include CosmoLex, HotDocs, and Hubspot.
- Dictation software. Gone (presumably) are the handheld Dictaphones with tiny cassette tapes that would be handed to an assistant throughout the course of the day for transcription. Fortunately, lawyers now have access to—and should be using—digital dictation, through which oral notes are converted into a digital file, and voice-to-text transcription on their personal computers. These are important tools for lawyers since you can speak 125-150 words per minute and can accomplish more by speaking than by typing or handwriting.[vii] Examples include Google Docs Voice Typing, Dictamus, MacSpeech Scribe, Diction.io, and Dictadroid.[viii]
- Electronic document management systems. People rarely meet in person anymore for the purpose of signing documents, especially with the propagation of programs like DocuSign. Some of the best legal document management software programs for lawyers are Worldox, LexWorkplace, ProLaw, and eFileCabinet.[ix]
- E-filing. COVID hastened the use of court e-filing systems, though they were established in many jurisdictions and required in others previously. Law firms and lawyers need to adopt e-filing, if they haven’t already, because it means reduced paper and labor costs and streamlines the process of filing legal documents with courts.[x]
- Timekeeping/Billing software. Though some attorneys assuredly still choose to put pen to paper for creating their time logs, as of 2022, 79% of 190 surveyed law firm and in-house attorneys use billing software.[xi] These programs allow lawyers to track and allocate hours to clients using a variety of rates and billing options.[xii] Some of the best programs for 2023 that incorporate timekeeping with billing and metrics for how productive attorneys are include TimeSolv, Rocket Matter, and AbacusNext.[xiii]
- Online legal research services. In the aforementioned survey, legal research came in second—at 70%—behind billing as the most common tech tool used by lawyers.[xiv] (Evidently a lot of attorneys still prefer leafing through hard-copy case reporters, code books, and treatises!) These services allow easy access to the full range of statutes, case law, and records that an attorney might need—without having to navigate a law library. The most common online research portals include Westlaw, Lexis, Casetext, and Practical Law.
- A self-service portal for clients. This client engagement and collaboration tool, perhaps hosted on a firm or lawyer’s website or on a stand-alone platform, enables clients to get a lot of their questions answered before they need to talk with a lawyer at their billable rate. In this arrangement, “clients reduce their expenses while law firms put their lawyers to better use,” while conversations between clients and lawyers become “more precise, more valuable, and more productive.”[xv] Some good client portals are HighQ, Rally, and Lawcus.
Clearly there are a lot of technological products and services available to lawyers and law firms, and it is incumbent on them to find and utilize the best ones to maximize their efficiency and provide the best available services to clients.
[i] AbacusNext. (n.d.). How to close your law firm’s technology skills gap. https://www.amicusattorney.com/shrink-your-technology-skills-gap/
[ii] Thomson Reuters. (2022, November 18). 3 red flags signaling the need for legal technology. https://legal.thomsonreuters.com/blog/3-red-flags-signaling-the-need-for-legal-technology/
[iii] AbacusNext. How to close your law firm’s technology skills gap,
[iv] Black, N. (2021, August 24). Track your firm’s litigation deadlines with rules-based calendaring software. ABA Journal. https://www.abajournal.com/columns/article/track-your-firms-litigation-deadlines-with-rules-based-calendaring-software
[vi] Smokeball. (n.d.). Legal Workflow Automation: An Ultimate Guide for Law Offices. https://www.smokeball.com/blog/legal-workflow-automation-an-ultimate-guide-for-law-offices/
[vii] eLawTalk. (n.d.). 10 Solid Dictation Tools and Software Options for Attorneys. https://elawtalk.com/dictation-tools/
[ix] Dimka, D. (2023, January 23). Best Legal Document Management Software for 2023. LexWorkplace. https://lexworkplace.com/best-legal-document-management-software/
[x] Black, N. (2022, June 28). Easy e-filing: Services designed to help attorneys file documents accurately and correctly. American Bar Association. https://www.americanbar.org/groups/journal/articles/2022/easy-e-filing-services-designed-to-help-attorneys-file-document/
[xi] Pikulski, R., Onyiri, P., and Ouyang, L. (2022, May 6). ANALYSIS: Lawyers’ Top Legal Tech Tools—And Biggest Blind Spots. Bloomberg Law. https://news.bloomberglaw.com/bloomberg-law-analysis/analysis-lawyers-top-legal-tech-tools-and-biggest-blind-spots
[xii] Miranda, D., Haskings, J., and Main, K. (2022, December 22). The Best Legal Billing Software of 2023. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/advisor/business/software/best-legal-billing-software/
[xiv] Pikulski, R., Onyiri, P., and Ouyang, L. ANALYSIS: Lawyers’ Top Legal Tech Tools—And Biggest Blind Spots.
[xv] Thomson Reuters. (2022, August 10). Legal self-help: Self-service for clients. https://legal.thomsonreuters.com/blog/legal-self-help-self-service-for-clients/