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LegalTech Keynote Reminds Attorneys of Their Technological Responsibilities

LegalTech© West Coast opened on Tuesday with a keynote presentation that pulled no punches in its critique of attorney technological competence. Speaker D. Casey Flaherty said that the failure of associates to understand many technology basics results in hours of wasted time and over-billing. Flaherty, who serves as corporate counsel at Kia Motors America, says he is tired of paying what he sees as exorbitant fees for routine matters. In response, he developed the Outside Counsel Tech Audit – a test he administers to attorneys at firms seeking Kia’s business. According to Flaherty, he has given the audit to associates (he is careful not to embarrass partners) at nine firms, and all nine have failed. One firm failed twice.

The audit seeks to measure how long it takes attorneys to perform a series of everyday tasks. Flaherty claims his tests are fairly rudimentary; they involve things like printing to a PDF file, using Word Styles to streamline document production and working with Excel Spreadsheets. He says that the audit should take no longer than an hour but that the average time of completion so far is five.

The effects of wasted minutes here and there are cumulative, adding up to costly hours. In his speech, Flaherty used the example of printing directly to a PDF to illustrate this point. When he asked attendees how many of them knew this feature existed, approximately 30% of those in the room raised their hands. He then explained how this affects clients. Since PDFs are required by courts, they must be produced. Printing documents and then physically scanning them to create PDF files adds time. And even just 4 minutes at $200 per hour, said Flaherty, is $20 worth of billable time. Again and again.

The keynote presentation is instructive, because changes made last year to the ABA Model Rules require attorneys to be aware of relevant technologies in order to provide “competent representation.” Basic processes that help firms manage their practice efficiently likely fall under the rubric of relevant technologies.

How would your firm stand up to Flaherty’s audit? Do you take the time to review new (and old) technologies and employ those that would legitimately increase firm efficiency? Meeting the standards does not require the adoption of every new app and device, but it does take some time and effort. It requires attorneys to recognize that learning relevant technologies is an important and in some cases integral part of effectively running a firm. Attorneys who claim they do not have time for such endeavors are simply not putting a priority on fulfilling all aspects of client service, according to Flaherty.

Ultimately, he does not see the problem as ignorance, but rather one of a culture that is unwilling to take the time to learn. Attorneys and staff do not use the tools at their disposal simply because many are not even aware of their existence. Some blame was also leveled at tech providers, who can be overzealous, throwing too many unnecessary options at firms and causing them to shut themselves out of the conversation because it is overwhelming. But, excuses aside, anyone can (and should) take the time to learn about how advances in technology can benefit their firms.

Flaherty says that he is partnering with training firm, Capensys to automate the audit. It will then be provided at no cost to general counsel. For more information about his presentation, visit Law Technology News.

LegalTech© trade shows are held annually in New York and Los Angeles, showcasing technologies aimed at helping lawyers improve their practice management.

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