One of the things that struck me about my time working in biglaw was how technologically out of touch many—maybe even most—lawyers were. I’m not referring specifically to the firm I worked at: many of those attorneys were ahead of the curve. Nonetheless, they were banned from using social media at work, and until recently, only attorneys using using Blackberrys could access work email through their devices. All others, including iPhone users, were intentionally blocked. Meanwhile, I litigated a case opposing an attorney from another big firm who refused to even make his email address available to me.
Based on a recent report in the ABA Journal, it turns out that my experience wasn’t that unusual. In fact, most big firms are still in the dark when it comes to technology. The ABA noted that D. Casey Flaherty, corporate counsel for Kia Motors, was upset because he believed the firms he worked with were regularly over-billing for routine matters involving basic computer software like Office and Excel. To investigate, he created a computer skills test and invited several firms to choose a senior associate to take the test. Attorneys from each of the first nine firms to take it flunked. Because they lacked even basic computer skills for performing tasks commonly expected of associates, Flaherty estimated that it took them as up to five times longer to perform a task as someone with training. This was, in part, the reason his company was routinely over-billed.
What this tells me is that there are substantial opportunities for small firms that are tech-savvy and hungry for new business. When biglaw is charging clients five times too much for routine tasks, it provides an opening for a competitor to charge them much less for the same work.
Of course, your argument as a tech-savvy small firm isn’t only that you can offer the same work cheaper. Attorneys who understand how to use technology aren’t just more efficient, they are actually better attorneys. For example, an attorney who understands metadata can actually discover more evidence when reviewing digital files than an attorney who does not. Not only that, an attorney who doesn’t understand metadata might inadvertently disclose information when responding to discovery.
Similarly, an attorney who uses an application like Evernote or other organizational software has the potential to be better organized than a colleague who does not. Technology allows for easy access to vast amounts of case information, whether at trial or during a deposition. Moreover, an attorney who uses technology to work more efficiently has more time for other aspects of trial preparation.
These days, being up-to-date on current technology isn’t just a matter of efficiency, it’s a matter of professional competency.
What have your experiences been like when working with other firms? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments.
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