There seems to be no end of ways in which you are at risk of complaints or disciplinary investigations. If a case does not go the client’s way, he or she may question your competence as an attorney. While it may be difficult for a client to accept losing a case, especially if a lot is at stake, accusations of incompetence can affect your career in serious ways.
However, there is an area of legal practice in which some attorneys choose to remain incompetent, and that is in the realm of technology. Although you may still complete a great deal of legal work on paper, technological advances have allowed you and other attorneys to streamline many everyday processes. Failing to take advantage of that technology may result in ethical issues.
What should you know?
One area in which technology is important in the legal practice is in saving the client time. While it is not necessary for you to earn a degree in computer programming or information technology, having basic skills in the most commonly used programs can help you avoid accusations of tech incompetence and the resulting ethical charges. It is vital that you understand how to effectively use software for these purposes:
- Word processing
- Case management
- Document management
- PDF redaction to remove confidential information from documents
Of course, knowing how to access and reply to email is essential since many of your clients will contact you in this way. Failing to reply to client concerns in a timely manner can lead to complaints.
Moreover, if you are still conducting complex business such as case management and documentation by hand instead of using an efficient and relatively accessible software, you are likely spending much more time on a case than you should be. This means you may be billing your clients for more hours than you would if you were tech-savvy.
The ABA weighs in
The American Bar Association Commission on Ethics recently evaluated the use of technology for lawyers. The committee concluded that in order for attorneys to effectively represent their clients, they must be aware of and up-to-date on any changes that benefit the practice of law, including technology. In other words, you owe your clients a duty to understand and use any technology that could facilitate your effective and cost-efficient representation of them.
Fortunately, there are resources available in California for attorneys who may need assistance in catching up with useful programs. Additionally, if you face accusations of incompetence or unethical behavior, you have access to legal advice from an experienced attorney.