People doing technology work for law firms of any size need to know one thing. For all their advanced education, lawyers don’t have a huge grasp of technology, specifically what most CIOs might consider common software.
Attorneys also need ongoing software and hardware training. People in their IT departments can’t be slowed by the perception that it costs a law firm when its lawyers aren’t producing revenue.
Those are some of the findings of Neil Cameron, head of the Neil Cameron Consulting Group. It specializes in legal IT and technology consulting services to law firms. Write at his firm’s blog, Cameron says, “What is the point of a law firm … buying and implementing costly technology if they do not invest in the (relatively small) amount of time and money it takes to training lawyers how to use it effectively?”
Cameron cites the research of Casey Flaherty – Corporate Counsel for Kia Motors America. As Cameron puts it, Flaherty created a stir in legal circles with his basic technology competency audit. “Casey Flaherty was an associate at a law firm for several years, during which time he formulated his opinion that most lawyers were not very good at using modern standard IT systems to undertake client work,” Cameron says.
So, Flaherty devised a test that was not designed to be difficult with sample tasks including:
- (a) formatting a motion in Word,
- (b) preparing motion exhibits in PDF, and
- (c) creating an arbitration exhibit index in Excel.
Cameron reports that Flaherty was dismayed by the results. “I’ve administered the audit 10 times to nine firms (one firm took it twice). As far as I am concerned, all the firms failed—some more spectacularly than others. The audit takes me 30 minutes. So, somewhat arbitrarily, I selected 1 hour as passing. The best pace of any associate was 2.5 hours. The worst pace was 8 hours. Both the median and mean (average) pace rounded to 5 hours,” Flaherty is quoted as saying.
Cameron identifies the problem as being based on erroneous assumptions.
- Lawyers and secretaries arrive in a firm already knowing how to use Microsoft Word effectively.
- Their previous knowledge will mean that can learn our own peculiar and tailored version of Word with its unique ribbons and DMS integration with little or no training.
- Management: we spend more than enough on IT training, and it really isn’t necessary.
- Lawyers: we don’t need training, if I press enough buttons eventually I’ll work out a way of doing it. Oh, and I need to appear to be so much in demand with my clients that I must be seen as too busy to attend training. Anyway, there’s no incentive to do so, and no consequences if I don’t.
Overcoming those assumptions will be difficult for law firms in the near term but pay off down the road, Cameron asserts. “It will take a couple of years, cost some money and some fee-earning time – and it will all be worth it,” he says.
Here are some steps law firms (and their CIOs and IT people) can take to improve the use of technology, according to Cameron:
- Recognition that training is not an event, it is a process
- Encouragement from the top – instead of team leaders, heads of department and Managing Partners all colluding in the conspiracy that it’s OK for lawyers to fail to attend IT training, the opposite needs to happen. This means senior management agreeing appropriate levels of annual and project-based IT training, stressing the importance of such training, and emphasizing that lawyers booked in for courses are expected to turn up
- Leading by example – the partners actually making a point of turning up to training themselves
- Offering training out of hours; maybe 6pm with bottle of Meursault (to share)
- Offering Web-based top-up training sessions that they can do at their desk
- Offering one-on-one short sessions at their desk on demand
- making the training ‘task-based’ as opposed to ‘software based’
- have lawyer’s IT capabilities and IT training reviewed in their annual appraisal – then they will know you are serious