An interesting survey appeared in the September 2008 issue of the American Bar Association Journal. The subheading states, “Lawyers Slow to Adopt Cutting-Edge Technology“.
I took solace in the statistic that only 2% of lawyers maintain a law blog (assuming readers consider this a blawg then I’m certainly ahead of the pack) and only 8% of law firms follow suit, but as a general trend, the data is somewhat troubling. It’s a symptom of a larger illness.
The number-one complaint against attorneys is lack of communication. I’m not just speaking in terms of what their employees or clients say – it’s also the number-one complaint lodged against them with bar associations.
It’s bad enough when the subject is one in which an attorney feels comfortable discussing. But add complex technology to the mix and that’s a recipe for disaster. In the “wild west” days of e-discovery – before it even had a name – one could get away with mistakes. Now that the rules have been formalized, the path is littered with attorneys – and their clients – who have suffered greatly for their mistakes.
There’s an old saying, attributed to Confucius, which states; “He who does not know, and does not know that he does not know, is a fool”. In the e-discovery world, the new saying is, “He who does not know, and does not know that he does not know, will be sanctioned”.
Core competency in this area is no longer hoped for; it is expected and presumed, both by clients and the courts. It’s not enough for attorneys to rely on IT personnel; they must also be able to understand what their IT professionals are telling them so they can communicate this information effectively to their clients, the courts and even their adversaries. Otherwise, it’s the attorneys and their clients who will bear the consequences of mistakes.
Further hampering this process is the fact that very few IT personnel speak “English”. Many a layman has become glassy-eyed while listening to a “techie” explain a process in “techno-speak” while not understanding a word of what was said.
Like it or not, the onus is on the legal professional to be competent and understand this process. If something goes wrong, blaming the incident on a lack of technical knowledge and expertise is not going to fly.