Law Firm Technology Adoption: Unmasking the Creeper?

Law firms are notoriously averse to change and technology, but who is to blame? Is it lawyers themselves, senior management, or the CIO and Legal IT staff?

Above The Law recently ran two articles, one by Joe Patrice entitled, “LegalTech 2014: What’s Wrong With You, Lawyers?” and a follow-up post by Brian Dalton entitled, “Does Technology Leap While Law Creeps?

The gist of the pieces can be summed up “Law firms are notoriously averse to change and, relatedly, technology,” and the “popular conception, within and without the legal industry, of lawyers as Luddites.” So from these posts are we to infer that only the lawyers are to blame? Lawyers are the Luddites and, despite technologies advancement, they continue to resist? Will no one stand up for the lawyers? Jinkies! Is it as simple as saying lawyers are the creepers?

When Scooby Doo and the Mystery Inc. Gang caught the “Creeper” and Freddy unmasked him, it turned out to be the bank manager, Mr. Karswell (or depending on your source, Mr. Carswell). He was robbing his own bank. He had no ghostly abilities to walk through walls, he had the keys and complete access to all areas of the bank. It was a pretty simple case. But I would argue that in the legal market there are other possible identities to the Creeper.

It would be easier if our villain was a redheaded, yellow-eyed, green skinned phantom/zombie creature. Our Creeper is a bit harder to identify. I will have to agree with Joe and Brian, one possible identity for the Creeper, even perhaps the one with the strongest evidence, is indeed the lawyers. But the only possible identity? No. Senior law firm management is also suspect for a myriad of reasons. Then sadly, our third suspect is the CIO and IT itself. So what is the evidence and how do we go about catching or eliminating the legal Creeper?

Suspect One: The Lawyer

As mentioned, viewed as a whole, lawyers are indeed averse to change. Many don’t seem to like or want to embrace law firm technology (so much so that the ABA intensified the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, calling for increased technological competence by lawyers). Lawyers need to accept that despite how smart and educated in the law they might be, they still need to be trained on various technology skills.

It is interesting to me that while we talk about lawyers being technophobes, many lawyers have embraced the iPhone and iPad and many consumer apps in rather large numbers. That raises the question as to exactly what is going on? Are lawyers, as a group, truly techno phobic? Is it a training issue? Is it resistance to conforming to the enterprise tools and restrictions? Or is it that the user interface of many legal enterprise tools is so horrible? All points to consider as you examine what you have and what you want to get.

We can talk to the lawyers about the importance of keeping current. Law firm technology is too pervasive in the work flows of today to minimize it.  Not unlike legal CLEs, technology skills must be learned and kept current. One could argue that failure to keep one’s technical skills up is now a cause for malpractice. Training can be mandated. If they don’t believe they need they training, like zoinks! Have them call D. Casey Flaherty. I am sure he will be happy to set them straight.

Suspect Two: Senior Management

Senior Management has many roles. They must determine what monies are spent where. Many times they are lawyers and so all the same reasons above point to them as potential suspects. Often technology is viewed as something like the rent and lights – necessary, but hardly strategic. Senior management like this doesn’t offer IT a “seat at the table.” They don’t involve them in the business of the firm.

Sometimes the biggest element here is education. While the technical skills are important, senior management needs to be educated on the bigger picture. Technology is the great enabler in today’s business. Don’t believe me? Hit the big red button in the computer room, or turn off the power to the jacks in the building’s main telecommunication closet. See what business can be conducted after that. (The author is not responsible for what happens if you actually go to those lengths to prove your point).

Help senior management to help you embrace the need to fully partner with technology – and when I say that, not just the hardware/software, but the people and processes too.

Suspect Three: The CIO and the Information Technology Staff

Our third suspect is one of the last you might suspect. They are usually in charge of the entire IT operations. There are CIOs, IT Directors and entire IT departments that make all the decisions on the firm’s new and existing technology. They do so without input, consultation or advisement of the users because *they* know best. Some choose technology for technology’s sake, not tying it to any real implementation plan, or any business issue or pain. Still others are pure plumbers, with not a strategic bone in their body. Few of them have read the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct. They relentlessly try to get attorneys to change to fit the technology instead of finding the right technology to fit the business process.

Educate your CIO and the IT staff on the business of law. Get IT consulting with every administrative and legal practice group in the firm. Place information technology into the business where it belongs. Tie all expenditures to a strategic or tactical business need in the firm. Develop tight partnerships that maximize IT’s enabling power.

Catch the Creeper

Who is the Creeper at your firm? Use your Mystery Inc. Team to solve the mystery and unmask the villain(s). Catch the Creeper and make them squeal, “And I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids!”

Jeffrey Brandt

Jeffrey K. Brandt is a former AmLaw 100 Chief Information and Knowledge Officer with over 25 years experience in the field of legal automation. He is the owner of Brandt Professional Services and the Editor of the PinHawk Technology Digest. You can connect with Jeffrey on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter @jeffrey_brandt.