I had a call last week from two partners at a 25-lawyer firm. Their secretary arranged the call so I had no idea what it was about. At the appointed hour, they got quickly to the point. “When it comes to technology, we are still in the dark ages,” they said. They realized that, to remain competitive, their firm needs to change. But not all their partners are on board. They wanted outside help to better understand the benefits and risks.
They are no anomaly. My sense is that a lot of firms are still in the dark ages about technology. As these two partners correctly perceived, that is a competitive risk. What many lawyers fail to perceive, however, is that it is also an ethical risk. The very goal these two partners described – to better understand the benefits and risks of technology – is in fact an ethical duty in a growing number of U.S. states.
Four years ago next month, the American Bar Association formally approved a change to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct to make clear that lawyers have a duty to be competent not only in the law and its practice, but also in technology.