Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you already know that technology is changing the way that legal services are delivered. No matter what your practice areas, the impact of technology on the legal profession is inescapable, whether it’s digital evidence and e-discovery to data privacy issues and secure electronic communication. Technology is here to stay and ignoring it is no longer an option. That’s why technology competence is a requirement in the majority of jurisdictions in the U.S.
The American Bar Association first recognized the importance of technology competence for lawyers in 2012 when it amended the comments to Model Rule 1.1. This amendment imposed an ethical duty on lawyers to stay abreast of changes in technology. Since that time, the majority of state bar associations have revised the comments to their ethical rules to require that lawyers stay on top of changes in technology.
Thirty-eight states now require it, with South Carolina, Michigan, and Texas adding a comment requiring technology competence to their ethical rules in 2019. Similarly, two other states, California and New Hampshire, while not formally adopting the duty to maintain technology competence, have confirmed in recent ethics opinions that lawyers have this duty. Notably, even Canada has jumped on the bandwagon, and on Oct. 9, 2019 the Federation of Law Societies of Canada amended its Model Code to include a duty of technology competence.
Of even greater import is that two states now require lawyers to complete technology CLE courses. These technology CLE requirements represent an important departure from business as usual and represent a clear acknowledgement that the legal profession is not immune from the impact of 21st century technologies.
Florida was the first to adopt new language into its Bar Rules to require lawyers to stay abreast of legal technology advancements by completing three credits of legal technology CLE per biennial cycle. North Carolina followed suit in April 2018, when the North Carolina State Bar Council voted to mandate that lawyers take one technology CLE credit each year.
Florida and North Carolina may be the first to enact these new CLE requirements, but they certainly won’t be the last. Rest assured, no matter what your areas of practice, or the size of your firm, the effects of technology are unavoidable, and ignoring it is no longer an option. In other words, your only choice is to commit to learning as much as you can about technology advancements, thus ensuring that you meet your ethical obligations and provide the best possible representation to your clients.
A great place to start is to read books on legal technology, follow blogs focused on legal technology issues, and participate in your local bar association’s legal technology committee — or start one if it doesn’t yet exist
Finally, consider attending a few legal technology conferences in the upcoming year. One conference to consider is ABA TECHSHOW (online: https://www.techshow.com/), which is one of the most popular conferences for small firm lawyers seeking to learn about the latest legal technology tools and how to use them in their practices. In 2020 it’s being held in Chicago from Feb. 26-29, and I’m excited to be speaking at it this time around. It’s a great conference and with lots of educational and networking opportunities, so I hope to see you there!
Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase legal practice management software. She is the nationally-recognized author of “Cloud Computing for Lawyers” (2012) and co-authors “Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier” (2010), both published by the American Bar Association. She also co-authors “Criminal Law in New York,” a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes regular columns for Above the Law, ABA Journal, and The Daily Record, has authored hundreds of articles for other publications, and regularly speaks at conferences regarding the intersection of law and emerging technologies. She is an ABA Legal Rebel, and is listed on the Fastcase 50 and ABA LTRC Women in Legal Tech. She can be contacted at email@example.com