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Luddite Lawyers Are Ethical Violations Waiting To Happen, by Megan Zavieh, Lawyerist Blog


Do you have a smart phone but only know how to make a telephone call? Do you think of a cloud as some white puffy thing in the sky that looks like a ducky? Do you have a computer on your desk but never turn it on? Is the password to your computer actually “password”? Then this article is for you. Technology is here, and it is not going away. Resistance if futile. -CCE

Technological incompetence used to be merely a competitive disadvantage. Now, it is a potential ethics violation — or even legal malpractice.

During my first year of law school, we were not allowed to do computerized research. Instead, we were taught to use the leather-bound reporters, Shepherds, and treatises. It was only during our second year that we were deemed worthy to use Westlaw and Lexis to ‘confirm’ our book findings. (Of course, I doubt any of us ventured into the stacks again.)

This approach reflected the general attitude of the legal profession in the mid-to-late 1990s. Technology was grudgingly accepted, but not required. Lawyers at big firms had online research accounts and solos went to the law library to use the books. Nobody thought anything was wrong with this, although online research did give big firms a competitive edge.

In 2013, email is ubiquitous, and just about every lawyer has some form of electronic research available on his laptop, tablet, or phone. And everyone — lawyers included — uses Google to find everything else. In law practice, that includes research on witnesses, opponents, judges, and anything else not found in a Fastcase, Westlaw, or Lexis database. Technology is an unavoidable part of practicing law.

Ethics rules follow practice

The ethics rulemakers have taken note of this evolution, and the rules have grown to require technological competence.

Lawyers cannot ignore technology

The ABA made it abundantly clear that lawyers must keep up with technology when it amended comment 8 to Model Rule 1.1 on competence. Comment 8 now reads:

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.)

As Nicole Black, Director of Business Development at MyCase, puts it, ‘I think it’s pretty clear that […] lawyers can no longer turn a blind eye to technological advancements and their effect on the practice of law.’ . . .