Our most recent event was also the first in what is partially the hometown of Evolve Law. Our February 18 event "Legal Innovation: trends & Ethics from Different Perspectives" was hosted by Evolve Law members Ipro Tech in Phoenix. The evening's panel was moderated by Kim Taylor, CEO and President of Ipro Tech, and featured Josh King, General Counsel at Avvo; Maria Speth, Shareholder at Jaburg Wilk; Marc Chelsey, CEO of BMD Advisers; and Tighe Wilhelmy, VP Business Development at Local Lawyer Guide.
Trends & Ethics From Different Perspectives
The panel starts off with the reading of a passage from the rules of the ABA, in which lawyers are instructed to stay up with the latest in law, including the benefits and risks associated with technology. In order to be compliant, attorneys are expected to take reasonable measures to stay up to date with technology. But what is reasonable changes as the years progress and technology advances. It's not enough for the modern attorney to simply use a computer and have a smartphone. If attorneys aren't taking advantage of technology that has been widely used by the population at large for years, they could find themselves crossing the line into unethical behavior.
It is the obligation of every attorney to do what's in the best interest of their clients. And to their credit, attorneys are always looking and considering what's in the client's best interest. For the clients, it's in their best interest for their attorney to work as efficiently as possible to minimize legal fees, and that means using technology that helps them work faster and smarter. If there's a technology that lets attorneys process information faster than a human would, they have an obligation to at lease look into it to see if it could benefit their practice.
Lawyers in today's landscape also have to be aware of the complications that can arise from the use of communications technology. People are using social media more and more, and that can present a new set of challenges for attorneys. Simply because social media is seen as a casual, informal medium doesn't mean that the same ethical and legal rules that are placed upon other communications don't apply. Compared to just a couple decades ago, we are in a brave new world where things like Facebook posts can be used in court proceedings. Attorneys don't need to become Instagram junkies or Vine stars, but they do need to familiarize themselves with the different types of social media out there and how they are used.
Attorneys can no longer get away with being ignorant of technology in the current climate if they hope to acquire clients. For firms looking to hire a legal team, it's more cost-effective and efficient if you're hiring someone who's fluent in the modern technology landscape. The cost-benefit ratio of using technology versus doing things manually has made a huge shift in recent years.
This shift represents a change that some law firms may still be struggling to grasp. In the past, lawyers weren't concerned with using technology because they were billing by the hour. But the modern internet economy doesn't allow attorneys the luxury of having clients who are willing to accept such an arrangement. People are increasingly more aware of their options in the marketplace, and that includes legal services. Technology allows customers to be more discerning and look for law firms that will use technology to save their clients money.
While there are firms that are cautiously stepping forward into the new technological age, some are still trailing behind. There are still a lot of small and medium (and even a few large) law firms that are still not beyond using basic methods like pen and paper or rudimentary transcription for their processes. Many have yet to grasp the positive benefits that technology can have on their firm. Implementing new technologies allows for greater oversight for owners and partners to see what is and isn't being done at their firms. It also allows for ease of communication, not only within the firm but with clients as well, even it it's merely an automated response.
But when it comes to risks related to cutting-edge or bleeding edge technologies that can be implemented in law practices, many attorneys will look at the outliers that represent the risk without considering the many benefits that can come with it. It's easy to find the one instance where technology presented a problem that wouldn't exist if old methods were still in place, especially if you're looking for reasons to not adapt. But there are risks associated with any type of method you choose - physical records may not get hacked, but they're still susceptible to being destroyed n the case of a fire or even simply lost.
Darwin Talk: Measure or Perish | Flourish
People endeavor to become lawyers because it's a steady job that provides you with a good income. Most lawyers come out of law school making $62,000 a year, but with $141,000 in debt. Additionally, income for solo practitioners, who make up the majority of attorneys, has declined over the past few years. Is it still possible for attorneys to create a good life for themselves by practicing law for a living?
Technology has changed the legal landscape for lawyers everywhere. Attorneys are having to rethink the model for how to run a practice, because there is no model anymore. They can no longer operate under the assumption that if they work hard and put their time in, the clients will come. The modern attorney has to try and acquire clients, service them, and then handle billing and manage their cash flow.
But how do they do this? They have to try new things to see how they work and make adjustments as necessary. They have to measure to see which of their efforts are working so they know where to spend their marketing budget. There are so many variables in the process, from where the potential clients are coming from to how many are converting to customers and who is making the conversions, that measuring each step along the way is vital to understanding what you're doing that works and what will be successful in the future.