Tech Competency: Not Just a Requirement

We’ve all heard the horror stories.

  • Microsoft Outlook’s inline autocomplete feature bested a Wilmer Hale employee, who inadvertently sent privileged documents regarding a Pepsi Co whistleblower scandal to a Wall Street Journal reporter.
  • A Florida law firm adhered to the inadvisable practice of automatically deleting all emails caught in its spam filter and paid the price when it failed to file an appeal to an order accidentally classified as spam.
  • Jared Kushner’s personal attorney fell prey to an imposter using the email address—a simple check would have shown that this was not Kushner’s secure, private email address.
  • The Department of Justice filed a motion containing sensitive material that was improperly redacted, revealing the redacted information to the public.

In 2012, the ABA amended Rule 11, Comment 8 of the Model Rules of Professional Responsibility to require lawyers to “keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology,” prompting 35 states to also adopt the requirement. But is merely satisfying this bare minimum obligation really enough to avoid the calamities mentioned above? Instead of focusing our efforts on dodging worst-case scenarios, shouldn’t we aspire to achieve the best? Keeping “abreast” of changes sounds like we’re barely staying afloat—as if churning out buckets of water from a sinking dinghy—instead of charting our own course and expertly navigating our way through the sea.

Instead, we should embrace tech competence and use technology to streamline our processes, boost our efficiency, and benefit our clients (and, consequently, ourselves). But where do we start?


“Culture is not an initiative, culture is the enabler of all initiatives,” according to organizational-culture expert Larry Senn. Buy-in is integral to the success of any implementation. To achieve buy-in from your staff, you need to foster a culture of innovation and adaptability, create incentives for skill building, give your employees a voice in the process, and provide patient, ongoing support. You can mandate all the training you want on the most sophisticated software available, but your firm won’t reap any of the benefits without the right mindset.

Training—the “I needs”

With myriad exciting products to choose from, and new options being introduced every day, it’s tempting to try every novel piece of tech out there. But, slow down. First, seek training on what you already own. These are the “I needs” and they are your competency basics. If you’ve never received formal training from a qualified expert on a product you already own or use, then you are almost definitely under-utilizing that product.

Training is not only necessary for tech competence, but for your firm’s overall growth and success. Fulfill your CLE requirements with technology-oriented seminars and bring your knowledge back to the firm.

Remember, you don’t need to be an expert. But you do need to know how to protect your client’s information and how to work efficiently and accurately. Ask yourself how much time you’re wasting—and potentially overbilling—when you’re constantly renumbering, reformatting, and rebuilding documents. Can everyone in your office properly encrypt an email, a PDF, a Word document? Training your “I needs” is a small investment that can leave a big impact.

Fill the gaps—the “I wants”

So, you’ve created a culture of tech competency and everyone is up to snuff and fully utilizing your current products. Now it’s time to create a culture of enthusiasm and explore your “I wants.” Have you always wanted to try document automation? Dip your toes in with training on Microsoft Word’s built-in document assembly features. With Word, you can do far more than just a mail merge. Cut your drafting time in half while also ensuring accuracy. Does scheduling meetings with clients take a huge chunk out of your day? Invest in Office 365 training and learn how to streamline the booking process.

Rather than spending hours of billable time on an initial consultation, maybe everyone would benefit from an automated information-collection system. Maybe you’re simply looking for a better way to internally organize and share your cases.

Once you know exactly what you’re already working with, you will be more able to identify gaps in your process and make smarter investments in technology.

If you have any questions about how to get started in pursuing your tech enthusiasm or could use a hand with achieving tech competency, Affinity is ready to help. Just contact us by calling 877-676-5492, or simply request a consultation.

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