CHANGE MANAGEMENT SERIES: The Duty of Technology Competence

/, Productivity/CHANGE MANAGEMENT SERIES: The Duty of Technology Competence

If your law firm is new to leveraging technology, or if you’ve become accustomed to working with a certain type of software, it can be difficult to make a change even when doing so is necessary. If you’re feeling stuck and unable to move forward with updating how your law firm uses technology, this guide will help you with the process. But make no mistake, remaining up-to-date with technology is no longer optional, it is a requirement.

Since the ABA Model Rule 1.1 was amended in 2012 to add a “Duty of Technology Competence” at least 35 states have adopted some version of the rule.

“The amendment implies that a lawyer who does not use technology when technology would benefit the client does not provide competent representation.”  Kristin J. Hazelwood, Technology and Client Communications: Preparing Law Students and New Lawyers to Make Choices That Comply with the Ethical Duties of Confidentiality, Competence, and Communication, 83 Miss. L.J. 245, 276 (2014).

Suggesting that law firms are incompetent if they fail to implement useful technology may seem a little harsh but it’s not intended to condemn “luddite” attorneys who find antiquated systems comfortable. It’s about ensuring that all clients are getting the best legal service despite a lawyer’s preferences for certain systems, even when they’re inefficient. Let’s take a closer look at this idea:

There was a time before law firms used computers, copy machines or fax machines. Just like with any new technology, most people didn’t immediately understand how important and pivotal these innovations would be to the legal profession. But once the technology had proven its usefulness not just to the law firms but to clients, not using them was clearly negligent. Just consider this: How competent would you consider a lawyer who created forms on a typewriter instead of using a computer and word processing software? Not very competent, right? And you probably wouldn’t want to refer any clients to him either. Likewise, you’d be reluctant (to say the least) to pay for legal services when your attorney is charging you for research time to flip through hard-copy casebooks in the library. While it may not seem obvious to you that you’re failing to provide the best service when you use ineffective software but that choice can seriously harm your client and your law firm’s bottom line. Let’s take a look at a few ways that failing to use the most effective software could negatively impact your ability to provide competent legal services:

  • More data entry errors. Some law firms are still using systems that require them to input core data such as the client’s name and address multiple times. It’s been proven that the more you’re reliant on data entry, the more errors you have in your forms. In other words, entering something twice significantly increases the chance of making a mistake compared to entering it once. This is why using software that auto-fills core data such as client names, addresses, case numbers etcetera improves accuracy.


  • Inaccurate billing. If law firms rely on manual time-tracking systems, the amount of inaccurate billing is sometimes high. Individual lawyers are so consumed with just servicing clients that they may not have the energy to organize their own system for tracking their time. Papers get lost, and if lawyers are depending on their memory, they may forget about the 5 minutes they spent on the phone or the 15 minutes they spent on another matter. These minutes add up and can cost the firm thousands of dollars in profit. When law firms fail to provide comprehensive, accessible, and accurate invoices to clients, there are more billing disputes because clients can’t see where lawyers are spending time. When law firms use automatic time-tracking in law firm management software like Smokeball, they ease the time-tracking burden for lawyers, increase the accuracy of billing, and gain access to important data on how each lawyer and staff member spends their time while giving clients peace of mind. It’s that peace of mind that can reduce the amount of billing disputes and improve the law firm’s profitability.


  • Loss of productivity. Everyone knows that in most cases using a computer is faster than using a typewriter and that sending an email is faster than mailing a letter. Well, using the most up-to-date law firm management software is more effective and efficient than stubbornly sticking with familiar but outdated systems that can’t serve the needs of the modern law firm. When law firms insist on using ancient software they could be losing 20 – 30 percent of their productivity. Document creation may take hours instead of minutes when law firms fail to understand and embrace the utility of document automation. Timekeeping could eat up hours a lawyer’s week instead of automatically happening each time the lawyer works on a matter. This loss of productivity has cumulative negative impacts on the firm and the service clients receive. At the end of the day, this failure to use efficient software will cost law firms money.

The negative implications of failing to embrace the best legal software solutions is bad enough when most law firms are guilty of falling into the same trap, but what happens when 80% of law firms make the leap to adopting the most modern software for law firms? Will your law firm be part of the 80% or will you go extinct? Your decision isn’t just about declaring your commitment to adopting the best tech for law firm, it’s also about getting the tools you need to implement those changes and making sure that everyone in your law firm makes the transition smoothly.

When you’re focused on transitioning to new, more effective and efficient software, you must keep your eye on your ultimate goal: to provide the highest quality legal services in the most efficient way. And while this is the goal that every law firm should have, taking action to make this type of change can be very difficult. By approaching your software in a systematic way and with a strategy that values complete integration and proper training, you should be positioned to make the leap successfully. But let’s not sugar coat it – the process takes dedication and work.  Check back here next week for a post about why changing software is so hard, mentally and emotionally, and how to prepare yourself and your firm for a change.

By |March 19th, 2019|

About the Author:

For years, Josh has helped lawyers become more organized, productive, and profitable. A trained litigator, Josh came to Smokeball from a large east-coast law firm where his practice focused on franchise, insurance, marine, and general litigation. His work with Smokeball, and his continued passion for what he does each day, is driven by a desire to help lawyers and their staff do better in every way. Knowing well the stress and strain put on today’s legal professional, he regularly focuses on improving work and life in the law. He has traveled the country working with and learning from lawyers and their staff. Josh speaks regularly to bar associations about successful law firm practices and other legal topics. Recent notable engagements have been with the Chicago Bar Association, the Illinois State Bar Association, and the Missouri Bar’s Solo and Small Firm Conference. In addition to his work at Smokeball, Josh serves on the Writing Resource Center staff at The John Marshall Law School. Besides legal technology, his research interests include judicial decision-making, jury decision-making and psychology, and legal writing. He has written and overseen research exploring causal effects of sex/gender on federal appellate court decision-making, and assisted with research for a forthcoming textbook on judicial decision-making. Additionally, Josh sits on the Board of Directors of Chicago-based Community Activism Law Alliance and on the Board of Directors of Chicago Fringe Opera Company. Josh holds his J.D., cum laude, from Washington University in St. Louis, where he served as a Senior Editor of the Wash. U. Law Review, held the prestigious Thompson Coburn Research Fellowship, served as Research Assistant to then-Vice-Dean (now Chancellor) Andrew D. Martin, and clerked at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. He holds a B.A. in Political Science and a B.M. in Music Performance with Honors Scholar distinction from the University of Connecticut, making him a Huskies basketball fan through and through. Follow Josh’s activity on LinkedIn, and keep up with new articles on the Smokeball Blog.