Legal Competence Requires Tech Competence

Over the last couple of years, I have given multiple CLE presentations on the need for attorneys to have basic technology competence. Below is a revised version of an article that I had previously prepared on this topic. I think is particularly relevant today, in that, as of January 1, 2018, efiling becomes mandatory in Illinois in civil cases.

Until recently most people gave little thought to the question of whether ethics rules required attorneys to exercise competence in technology. That changed however with the ABA Ethics 20/20 revision of the model ethics rules. Of particular import is Rule 1.1 Competence. This rule provides: “A lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.”

iPad and Galaxy TabThis rule certainly seems reasonable and in line with what one would expect out of a competent attorney. The interesting part aspect of the rule is found in comment number 8, which provides: “[8] To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology, engage in continuing study and education and comply with all continuing legal education requirements to which the lawyer is subject.” (Emphasis added).

This comment, therefore explicitly requires an attorney to keep abreast of the benefits and risks of technology relevant to the law. Further, this is not just a laudatory goal propounded by the ABA. As of the writing of this post, at least 28 states have adopted this comment, or a modified version of it [when I first wrote these materials, the number was 20]. Illinois formally adopted this comment effective January 1, 2016.

Illinois has gone even further down this road with recent amendments to Supreme Court Rules 11, and 131. Rule 131(d) now requires that, on all documents filed in court, attorneys must include an email address for service. It also permits an attorney to include up to two secondary email addresses for service. Further, Rule 11(c) now provides “Unless otherwise specified by rule or order of court, documents shall be served electronically.”

An interesting nugget is that the ABA committee that proposed the change in language to comment number 8 to refer specifically to technology, specifically noted: “The proposed amendment, which appears in a Comment, does not impose any new obligations on lawyers. Rather, the amendment is intended to serve as a reminder to lawyers that they should remain aware of technology, including the benefits and risks associated with it, as part of a lawyer’s general ethical duty to remain competent.” (Emphasis added).

This emphasizes the point that technology is not some new thing that attorneys suddenly have to comply with. Instead, improvements in technology have been with us all along. When we moved from handwriting documents to typing them, that was a change in technology in the same way that moving from typewriters to word processors was a change in technology. All along, in order to remain competent, an attorney needed to have some understanding of the benefits and risks of technology used in the legal world.

Neither the rule nor the comment contains specific information about the exact level of technological proficiency that is required. In fact, this is likely to vary from attorney to attorney and practice area to practice area. However, I would argue that, at least in Illinois, it requires knowledge about how to use email to send and receive notices, and how to operate the courts’ efiling system.

Additionally, anyone who is using a computer should understand the risks of clicking on links in random emails and be aware of the risks of using publicly available Wi-Fi networks. They should be aware of the security risks inherent in mobile devices and know that these devices can be remotely wiped, and know how to make that happen.

Significantly, neither the rule nor the comment requires or expects all attorneys to be experts in technology. What they do require, however, is that attorneys educate themselves about technology, how it is used in their practice, and how it is used in court.

The simple reality is that we live in a world that is full of technology. Having some understanding of what that technology is and how it can be used and abused is basic foundational knowledge that is required of attorneys to meet the competency standard established by the ethics rules. This is no different from requiring attorneys to have a basic foundation in the substantive areas of law in which they practice.

The world is constantly changing. As attorneys, we must remain aware of the changes that are occurring. We need not be experts in everything. However, we must know enough to know when we need to make further inquiries or we need to hire someone to assist us or to educate us. If we keep this fact in mind and follow that up with the touchstone of reasonableness, we will likely be in compliance with our ethical obligations when it comes to issues of technology.

Moving My Practice to Rocket Matter

Rocket Matter Logo

When I started my solo practice, I knew that I wanted a time & billing and practice management solution. I had been studying the various options for years and I knew that, if I were to establish my own practice, I would use Tabs 3. Thus, when I went out on my own, this was one of my first purchases.

One of the benefits of Tabs is that it is reasonably priced. Thus, I was able to afford it in the beginning. Tabs comes with different components. I went with Tabs 3 (time & billing) PracticeMaster (practice management), Accounts Payable (writing checks), and General Ledger (accounting). By using each of these components, I could handle all of the administrative functions for my firm within one suite of programs. Best of all, the programs all integrated with each other. This meant that I had to enter the information only once and it would populate throughout the other components as needed.

This solution worked great for me. The software was rock solid. Updates were rolled out at a reasonable rate and the annual maintenance fee was reasonable. In sort, the software was working great for me until I hired an assistant.

Once I had an assistant, I had to figure out what to do with the software. We both needed to access it, but that was problematic, given that I often work somewhere other than my office. If I always worked in my office, sharing the database would not have been I problem. I could have left it on my computer and just given her access to it, or vice versa. However, I was often somewhere other than the office. This meant that, for stretches of time, one of us would not have access to the data.

Because access at all times was a necessity, I opted to move my Tabs installation to the cloud. Basically, I paid someone to host Tabs for me on a virtual server. This worked ok. I worked with it this way for two years. However, I was never happy with the solution. I did not like accessing the data through a virtual terminal. After a while, I realized that I was losing time by not entering it contemporaneously because it was inconvenient.

After reaching this conclusion, in mid-2016 I decided that I was going to ditch Tabs and move to a cloud based solution. I spent the next several months checking out different cloud solutions. I found that none did everything that I wanted. However, I did find several I liked. At the end of the day, I opted to go with Rocket Matter. My plan was to finish out 2016 in Tabs and start fresh with Rocket Matter as of January 1, 2017. I determined that this would make accounting and taxes much easier if all of the information for the entire year was in one location.

In selecting Rocket Matter, I felt a little like I was going back to my roots. In 2008, I did a written interview with Larry Port about Rocket Matter. You can find that blog post here.

The data migration from one system to another was easier than I expected. A significant reason for this, of course, is that I am a sole practitioner and I was moving only my active cases. Obviously, the more cases that are involved, the greater opportunity that there is for problems. In my case, however, the migration was simple, and took little time.

Once the information was migrated, I started using the new system. Rocket Matter is easily accessible from any web browser. This makes it very easy to use. It also makes it easy to load and just leave open in a browser on one of my monitors. Additionally, Rocket Matter includes apps for both my phone (Android) and my tablet (iOS). This means that I can easily add or access information in Rocket Matter from either of these devices. By having the service immediately available from all of my devices, I am able to easily capture time.

That being said, all is not perfect. First, I miss the tight integration between all the components of my system. Now, I have my practice management and time & billing in Rocket Matter and all of my back-end accounting is in QuickBooks. Rocket Matter will export information to QuickBooks Online. However, this is far from the tight integration that I had in Tabs. This is the feature I miss the most after having moved to Rocket Matter.

The other drawback that I have noticed is that the reporting feature is not as robust as what I had with Tabs. With Tabs, I was always able to extract the information that I wanted. Sometimes it took me a while to find the right report. However, I was always able to find one. With Rocket Matter, however, the number of reports is much more limited. On the plus side, when I have needed to find information, customer support has been available to help me find a way to get the information I want.

Despite the fact that I really miss the integration with the back-end accounting aspect of running my firm, I am thrilled with how easy it is for me to access the services Rocket Matter provides. I like that I don’t have to pay for a hosted server. And I love that the cost for Rocket Matter is less than what I was paying for the hosted server.

In sum, I am happy with the switch and wish I had made it before. Although Rocket Matter is not as full-featured as Tabs 3, the convenience and accessibility outweigh any drawbacks. If you are considering a cloud-based solution, I urge you to try the different services that are available and see which one works best with the way that you work.

A version of this article was originally published in the Illinois State Bar Association Committee on Legal Technology‘s newsletter.

Techshow 2018PDF is the file format of choice when exchanging documents with clients, other lawyers and the courts. Because of their prevalence, it is critical that lawyers understand the uses, risks and benefits of PDF files. This session covers how to work with PDF files, including metadata removal, document security, redaction, Bates numbering, collaboration features, as well as the pros and cons of the different PDF applications.

Join me at ABA Techshow where we discuss the ubiquitous file format PDF.

Date: March 9, 2018
Time: 10:30-11:30 a.m.
Event: PDFing for Lawyers
Venue: Hyatt Regency Chicago
Registration: Click here to register.

Techshow 2018It’s tempting to think of email as a necessary evil. It can be an effective communications tool, but getting control over it is often an exercise in frustration. Why not make Microsoft Outlook work for you? In this session, you’ll learn strategies and techniques for powering through your email, as well as the features, security settings, and add-ins that will bring you closer to that elusive state of email nirvana.

 

Join me at Techshow 2018 as we discuss Microsoft Outlook.

Date: March 8, 2018
Time: 10:45-11:45 a.m.
Event: Improving Your Outlook
Venue: Hyatt Regency Chicago
Registration: Click here to register.

Tech I Use: Microsoft Surface Pro 4

For more than a decade, my computer has a been a Dell laptop. I never had any complaints about them and they always did a great job for me. Regardless, this last summer, when I knew that I had to replace my laptop, I turned to Microsoft instead of Dell. Why?

Microsoft Surface Pro 4This decision had nothing to do with Dell. I would not hesitate to get another Dell. However, I really wanted the options offered in the Surface form factor. I liked the pen and its ability to write on the screen. This works great for taking notes during a deposition. Also, I like the size of the machine. The screen is slightly smaller than the laptop that I had before, however, the device is much slimmer and lighter. I really like the size of the machine and have no desire to go back to a regular laptop.

I tend to buy computers with good specs with the idea that they will last me for years. I did the same thing here. I got the i7 processor with 16GB of RAM and 512 GB hard drive.

I have had the computer for just over 6 months and I have not once regretted the decision to go with the Surface. If you regularly work with your computer sitting on your lap, then the Surface is not for you. It is definitely a portable computer. However, it is not a laptop. The detachable keyboard and the kickstand do not make a stable based to try to work from on your lap. If this is your situation, then you should definitely shop elsewhere. If, however, you work with your computer on a solid, flat surface, then you may want to consider the Surface when you buy your next computer.

Handling and Digitizing Original Documents

On May 19, 2016, I will be presenting at a seminar hosted by NBI. The seminar is titled Handling and Digitizing Original Documents. I am speaking on (i) What to Do with the Backstock of Paper; (ii) Tackling Paper as it Enters the Office; and (iii) Investing in Digitization Equipment and Processes. The last session I am presenting with my good friend Aaron Brooks, who is also presenting other sessions. Joining us to speak about ethics is Dean Dietrich.

NBIIf you are considering moving your office to the digital world, I recommend that you sign up for this presentation.

You can register for the presentation at this link.

iPad Keyboard Shortcuts

One of the things that I do is serve on the Illinois State Bar Association Standing Committee on Legal Technology. One of the things we do as a committee is to try and help attorneys use technology in their legal practice. To that end, the committee has created a series of short videos that detail some technology tips for attorneys. I recently shot one of these videos on the use of iPad keyboard shortcuts. This is one of the most used features on my iPad and I am constantly amazed at the number of people who do not even know that it exists. One key thing to remember is that this tip works only if you are using iPad keyboard.

Other Tech Tips can be found on the ISBA Lawyer’s You Tube Page. I urge you to watch them all.

What’s the best way to wind-up your Tech Track at WSSFC? Buckle up and get ready for a fun, exciting, and fast-paced presentation. You’ll hear about dozens of practical tips and tricks for getting things done better, faster, and maybe even cheaper. Our expert panelists will share their knowledge and give tips that you can put into practice in your office!

With Jeffrey Krause, Jeff Lantz, Nerino Petro, and Tison Rhine

Date: October 24, 2015
Time: 09:50-10:40 a.m. CT
Event: 50 Tips in 50 Minutes
Sponsor: Wisconsin Solo & Small Firm Conference
Venue: Kalahari Resort & Convention Center
Location: 1305 Kalahari Dr.
Wisconsin Dells, WI 53965
Registration: Click here to register.
More Info: Click here for more information.

Microsoft has a hit or miss record when it comes to its namesake operating system. Windows 7 was a huge success while Windows 8 wasn’t. Microsoft is rolling out Windows 10 as the replacement for Windows 8.1 in 2015. What does this mean for you? Should you upgrade?

What you will learn:

  • The new features in Windows 10
  • What hardware you need to upgrade
  • The costs/benefits of upgrading

With Nerino Petro.

Date: October 23, 2013
Time: 01:30-02:20 p.m. CT
Event: Windows 10: Is It the Best Windows Yet?
Sponsor: Wisconsin Solo & Small Firm Conference
Venue: Kalahari Resort & Convention Center
Location: 1305 Kalahari Dr.
Wisconsin Dells, WI 53965
Registration: Click here to register.
More Info: Click here for more information.

Your conference favorite is back! Nerino Petro and Bryan Sims will give you a fast-paced look at the lighter side of technology, including tips and overviews of the gizmos, gadgets, and widgets that are useful or just downright fun for your practice and your life! You need to have breakfast anyways since we all know it is the most important meal of the day!

Date: October 24, 2015
Time: 07:30-08:20 a.m. CT
Event: Gizmos, Gadgets, & Widgets
Sponsor: Wisconsin Solo and Small Firm Conference
Venue: Kalahari Resort & Convention Center
Location: 1305 Kalahari Dr.
Wisconsin Dells, WI 53965
Registration: Click here to register.
More Info: Click here for more information.