What we teach in a Technology in Law Practice class:

Today I gave my last presentation in our class on Technology in Law Practice.  The remaining classes will be spent with our students giving presentations on a topic of particular interest to them.  I wanted to impart the points that I think are most important, and I think they are worth sharing with any of you interested in teaching a similar class at your law school.  Here are the notes I used today.

The only constant is change, and even though change is constantly occurring, the rate of change is not constant – in general it is accelerating.  Therefore, the material we cover in class, and the class itself, does not and cannot show you everything you need to know to integrate the use of technology into your career as an attorney.  Instead, the purpose of the course is to open your eyes to the possibilities and the changes, some of them fundamental, which advances in technology, are bringing to legal practice.  To that end, there are three principles that we hope you have learned:

1.         Up until recently you have used technology as a consumer, rather than as a professional; this has only allowed you to scratch the surface of its capabilities.

2.         In a shrinking and ever more competitive marketplace, using technology well can give you a competitive edge.

3.         Every use of technology in your practice has ethical implication and it probably has ramifications on your reputation and standing in the legal community.


Some impacts of technology on practice:


1.         Communication with clients.  Less than a generation ago, clients either phoned you on a landline, sent you a letter, or came into the office. As a general rule, client contact was from 9-5, though as a new associate you were likely to be working in the office well beyond those hours.  Now clients can reach you 24×7 if you let them.  Email, web portals, texts, Twitter, and cell phone calls put you at the client’s beck and call instantly, and at any time of day or night.  This will play havoc with your personal life, and if you don’t make time for your own needs, the stress will literally kill you.


2.         Communication with opposing counsel and the courts.  Again, in an earlier decade you would have relied on postal mail or a runner to exchange documents with opposing counsel and to file them with the court.  The somewhat slower pace of communications may have given you a little more time to think through your next action in a matter, and your response to the letter you just received.  Now you exchange digital documents with opposing counsel.  Unlike the typed and photocopied pleadings of yore, the digital copy can contain the entire history of your work product in metadata, exposing it to the wrong eyes.  Dashing off an instant reply to a demand email message, before you have fully contemplated your response, is both tempting and risky.   On the other hand, the luxury of being able to wait until nearly the last minute to file an electronic pleading may give you the extra time you need to perfect it.


3.         Information is boundless.  Before discovery was practically limited by the time it took to compile and the space it took to store paper records in file cabinets and bankers’ boxes.  Now nearly everyone and every business generate and store their records electronically.  Effective discovery depends on a thorough understanding of business process and the formats and applications used to create and store digital records.  In some cases you will know more about this than the judge, and it will be your job to educate the court so you can obtain the result you want, or at least have a fair chance of getting it.  Conversely, digital data can be searched quickly by computers with the right programs, more quickly and cheaply than having legal assistants and associates poring over boxes of paper records.


4.           Like a mechanic or plumber, you will learn that every job has the right tool and using those tools will make the difference,  Whether drafting pleadings or contracts, analyzing financial statements or medical records, presenting evidence or summing up for the jury, using the appropriate equipment and application will make your job easier to accomplish and more effective.


5.         Laws and codes of conduct often are playing catch-up with advances in technology.  Where the legal answer to a question involving technology is not obvious or clear, apply common sense and don’t be afraid to analogize.  When all else fails, argue for what you perceive as the just result.


Summarizing some current roles of technology: an incomplete list

  • E-Discovery
  • Social Networking, both as a marketing tool for you and as a source of information about others for yourself and for your clients.
  • Presenting evidence with slides, images, audio, video, simulations, reconstructions
  • Organizing thoughts, facts, and strategies
  • Analyzing data: numbers, science, timelines, costs, relationships
  • Optimizing strategy with jury polling, demographic studies
  • Making information available securely, from anywhere to anyone but only to those who need to see it
  • Storing information securely and in multiple locations to minimize the risk of loss
  • Communicating from anywhere at the time of your choosing, allowing you to control your schedule and your life, if you assert that right and properly manage expectations


To paraphrase Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben: “With great technology comes great responsibility.” I am confident that you are up to the challenge

2 thoughts on “What we teach in a Technology in Law Practice class:

  1. Fascinating approach as to how you’re helping train the next generation of lawyers to embrace technology and keep up with blistering pace of technology and how it affects or everyday lives.

  2. Fascinating approach as to how you’re helping train the next generation of lawyers to embrace technology and keep up with blistering pace of technology and how it affects or everyday lives.

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