A number of items for your attention, that will provide background reading for what follows.
1) An ongoing theme in my Above The Law column the past month or so has been the over-the-top enthusiasm among technical startups looking to move into the legal industry (along with a subset of former lawyers turned technical consultants).
2) This morning on MyShingle, Carolyn Elephant wrote a post entitled, Why Lawyers Are Slow To Adopt Legal Tech: Because It Often Sucks, and Isn’t Worth Risking Our Law Licenses, in which she highlights four reasons why lawyers don’t just immediately jump on board the newest shiny toy that tech companies and marketers start flailing at them (details on each at the post):
- Legal Tech Has To Work for Lawyers to Use It
- Tech Needs to Solve Real Problems
- Infrastructure Constraints
- Regulatory Uncertainty
3) At Lawyerist, Sam Glover put up a post with details from a survey by the ABA that showed that 70% of lawyers believed that a disclaimer in an email made it secure. Sam also touches on point that 70% of lawyers don’t believe they used cloud-based services. Essentially, many lawyers don’t have a firm understanding of certain aspects of technology.
4) I saw this Tweet this morning:
Finally. A word to describe the legal profession’s reticence to adopt & adapt: Einstellung http://t.co/JkHITXwHtM
— Cat Moon (@inspiredcat) October 5, 2015
All of the four items together leads me to think of H.L. Mencken‘s famous aphorism:
For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.
The legal industry is a unique beast, that functions in a separate fashion than typical businesses. There are numerous rules and regulations to abide by, which vary at the local, state, and federal level. There are multiple duties a lawyer may have in any representation. There are ethical constraints and concerns. The majority of work that lawyers complete must be able to withstand adversarial scrutiny. There are judges and juries interpreting what is done and issuing decisions outside of a lawyer’s control. And this is on top of all the normal business needs of attracting clients, managing staff/office, paying bills, invoices, etc.
Law Is A Profession First, Business Second
Often times I feel as though the large, glaring gap that many people who want to come in and tell lawyers how to do their jobs are not grasping is the fundamental nature of a profession. Many people like to call themselves “professionals” today. I’m a computer science professional. I’m a legal marketing professional.
Just because you want to use a word, doesn’t mean you get to decide what it means. Words have meaning.
A profession is a paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification. Furthermore, the purpose of a profession is to supply disinterested objective counsel and service to others, for a direct and definite compensation, wholly apart from expectation of other business gain.
That is, a professional’s goal is not one purely of profit, but to assist their client’s in an optimal fashion, regardless of the financial outcome for the professional.
If you’re not a professional, you don’t go to a special, separate school that dictates whether or not you can claim to be a marketer. You don’t pass qualifying tests to become a computer programmer. You don’t swear oaths to become a middle manager. You can’t be stripped of the ability to ever do your job again by overseeing committee if you miss a delivery deadline.
Being a professional means you have a primary lodestar other than profit.
Slow And Steady
That’s not to say that many lawyers are not a bit behind the curve when it comes to technology adoption. But then again, so are many of their clients. Lawyers react and provide advice to meet their clients needs, not the other way around. That’s not to say there should not be push back as well – adopting a means of secure electronic communications is a legitimate concern that lawyers need to stress to their clients. And many lawyers have made steps in that direction either by using encryption or adopting client portals such as Clio or MyCase.
But much of what tech companies try to sell to lawyers isn’t revolutionary or game changing. It’s just a another iteration of a current tool. A bit of a better mousetrap. Lawyers do adapt and change, it’s just that they do so at a pace that makes sure they can fulfill their duties to their clients first, their pocketbooks second. And incremental improvements in workflow or productivity, while not insignificant, perhaps aren’t as important as becoming a better lawyer (keeping up with case law, tracking new regulations, staying abreast of industry trends).
At the end of the day for many lawyers, it’s often not about being the newest or fastest in game, it’s about being the best in the service of others.