Over at Law Technology Today, Mary Juetten ponders why the legal profession is slow to adopt new technologies. Here’s the perspective of a practicing small firm lawyer who has been a relatively early tech adopter.
- Legal Tech Has To Work for Lawyers to Use It
Legal technology isn’t a category unto itself. Instead, legal tech competes with technology generally – including technology tools designed for small business and entrepreneurs. I’ve used Freshbooks for online invoicing since 2005, Box as cloud-based storage and client portal since 2006 (as well as Basecamp from time to time) and Google Apps throughout. When law practice management tools came on the scene around 2008, they were decades behind the functionality that I’d become accustomed to: some lacked invoicing services, others didn’t have a robust portal feature. Seven years later, cloud-based LPM platforms have come a long way – and while many lawyers – particularly those new to solo practice – are embracing them, these systems didn’t come soon enough, or work well enough for many tech savvy lawyers.
- Tech Needs to Solve Real Problems
Lawyers will use technology that solves real problems. That’s the reason that cloud-based practice management platforms are gaining traction with solos and smalls. But do the newfangled crowdsourced legal research technologies really help most lawyers with research? Not so much.
- Infrastructure Constraints
Many courts still don’t support e-filing, and there are still clients who don’t use email. And there are clients who can full well use email and the Internet, but actually prefer advice by phone or in person. There just aren’t many efficiencies that tech can solve in this context. That’s not to say that there aren’t ways to use technology to improve efficiencies even in a hard-copy world – but there are fewer benefits and so less incentive to try.
- Regulatory Uncertainty
Ethics uncertainty is a reality for solo and small firm lawyers. Many refused to use the cloud until bar associations affirmatively granted permission. Likewise, many solo and small firm lawyers are reluctant to participate in newfangled limited-scope service arrangements or question-and-answer advisory services for fear of an ethics complaint.
It’s happened. But lawyers aren’t as much to blame for regulatory uncertainty as legal tech companies. After all, they’re the ones who profit most from change – so shouldn’t they be the ones to challenge the bar or advocate for safe harbors for innovation.
Legal tech wants to be like Uber – so why not act like it? Uber is renowned for taking on regulators– Uber does the dirty work, not its drivers. If Legal Tech wants more lawyers to engage, the companies ought to be on the forefront in changing the rules.
But – lawyers are an easy target. Much easier to criticize lawyers for not adopting new technology than figuring out how to develop tools that will really help us to better serve clients.
So let me turn the tables on legal tech companies. What technology should we lawyers be adopting, and just how are we slow to adapt?