Follow social media and blogs covering the legal industry and you’ll find yourself in the middle of an ongoing conversation about lawyers and technology. Take a broad overview of this conversation and it’s fairly easy to conclude that we lawyers generally struggle with technology — that we’re slow to adopt, and that this is not a good thing.
But I don’t think that’s the real problem.
I don’t disagree that many lawyers (and law students) are deficient in some basic technology skills, that probably should be part of any lawyer’s daily existence in the 21st century. (See here and here.) And firms, even bigger ones, are surprisingly slow to adopt technologies prevalent in other industries. (See here and here and here.)
But starting by asking if lawyers are technologically proficient? This is the wrong place to start, and it’s the wrong first question to ask.
The right questions? Try these (and I suggest asking, and answering, them in order):
Are you doing your work in a way that is focused first and foremost on solving your clients’ problems — is your work really client-centered?
Are you doing your best work, given all that we now know about how to be most productive and effective?
Are you doing work as efficiently and effectively as you can, given all of the technology at your fingertips today?
There isn’t a single way to define a stellar 21st century lawyer. What really good work looks like depends on many things. What it looks like for me, in my practice, will look different than what it looks like for you, in yours.
Why? We’re two different people, with different habits, passions, and soft skills levels. We work in different practice areas, and practice in different work environments. We serve different kinds of clients. All of these things factor in to the work we do, affecting how we do it. And how good we are at it.
My work is really, really good when I’m paying attention to how I work well. What it takes for me to be efficient, productive, creative, and serve my clients by focusing first on what they need. And what my clients need? That changes all of the time. What worked for one may not work for the next.
Agility, adaptability, commitment to flexibility within the professional and ethical constraints of our profession — these factors mean more than using a shiny new app to track and bill hours. They mean more than my level of Acrobat and
Word and Excel proficiency.
The first step in being the ultimate 21st century lawyer? Really care about HOW you do your work, as much as you care about the output. Ask yourself the hard questions about the way you work — your processes, your systems, your habits, your hangups — and how these help you do truly client-centered work (or how they detract from it).
Change the way your work, if you need to. Reject the Einstellung effect — don’t accept a way of doing things or a solution simply because that’s the way you’ve always done it. Or because it’s the easy or automatic path, though not the best one. Push yourself to imagine new ways to do your work, that lead to your best work. Be prepared to shift the way you work because that’s what results in the best work.
Continuous improvement. Seek this first. Then look for the tech and tools to support your work. The answer is not in the tech. It’s in you.
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