Can Lawyers Learn to Love IT?

According to ILTA's new Legal Technology Future Horizons report, learning to love IT will be the most difficult emotional shift for lawyers in the next decade.

Well it was finally released! The Legal Technology Future Horizons report, started in January of 2013, has been released by the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA).

I’ve been anxiously awaiting its arrival since I spoke to Rohit Talwar in March of last year. I’m still making my way through the 140 page report, but it’s chocked full of fascinating facts, figures and quotes. It might be my imagination, but the report also seems to use some interesting phraseology. For example, in the executive summary, on page 8, the report says, “For law firms and in-house counsel alike, learning to love IT could be the biggest and most difficult emotional shift asked of them over the next decade.”

Really? “Learning to love IT?” Many IT groups and trainers might settle for lawyers learning to “use,” “appreciate” or even “not fight” technology. But love it? That can be a tall order. I don’t think you can make another person love technology, but you get them close to the edge and let them cross that chasm on their own.

I do love technology. I love new toys and I love getting the technology to perform for me. It is one of the reasons I consult on technology and a major reason why I became a CIO. There are many aspects of my personal and business life that are completely facilitated by technology. Even wrestling the sync on my Android phone with Outlook has its pleasures. There are times when I have a love/hate relationship with my technology – for example the seemingly random sleep disorder my Toshiba laptop developed after its Windows 8.1 upgrade.

What prevents someone from loving IT?

Fear and deficiencies are probably the leading causes of the lack of love of technology by lawyers. In the fear category, we have the unknown, change, failure and yes, even the fear of looking stupid in front of others. In the deficiencies column, we have lack of knowledge, experience, time and resources.

In order to love IT and technology you have to know more about it, more about how it works and what it can do for you (and by extension – your clients). IT can help lawyers overcome the fear of the unknown by a robust communication plan. Informing users of what will happen, how it will happen and why it is important can turn those unknowns into knowns.

Overcoming the fear of change is much more difficult. We tend to thrive through routine and predictability. IT needs to focus on change management as a major consideration in all IT projects. They can help by carefully considering the changes they make and not introducing change for change’s sake. It can also be helpful for people to digest change in small, manageable chunks. Fear of failure can be overcome with education and training. Education on the possibility and value of the tool, as well as the technical training to use the tools is critical. Fear of looking stupid in front of his or her peers has prevented many a lawyer from attending the training classes they so desperately need. Online training, individualized sessions, or working through a trusted colleague (the secretary) can be a great boost to help a lawyer fall in love with IT.

Some law firms and corporate law departments have excellent training programs. They will teach you every technical command in Word or SharePoint. What they fail to teach is the greater vision, the knowledge of how those tools and workflows can be incorporated into the practice of law, how they make life easier and better. The further toward the chasm that attorneys can be lead, the greater their experience will be. They can then confidently make the leap.

Some organizations are still passive aggressive toward their technology, making lawyers wary of investing time in technology. As senior management and the culture of the organization recognizes the value of technology, this lack of time will vanish. Sometimes the resources you need simply don’t exist inside the firm. Sometimes they can be supplemented by outsourcing. The report addresses that (page 29) by saying, “Firms may require major increases in technology budgets over a long period of time if they are to remain competitive in their use of IT.” But that could be the subject of a completely different article.

Technology is here to stay. It will continue to become more and more pervasive. In the United States, lawyer technical aptitude is a matter of professional competency. I fully expect the Bars and Law Societies of other countries to follow the ABA. Your biggest fear should not be in using technology. The biggest deficiency should be the firm’s ability to press all its resources into the goal of lawyers loving IT. You may not be able to get all your lawyers to fall head over heels in love with IT, but by eliminating the fears and the deficiencies, you can get most everyone to a severe “like.” That last step crossing the chasm is up to them.

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.