The front lines in tech literacy training.
I spent Friday (3/8/19) in Rochester, N.Y., for the second-annual Solo and Small Firm Conference of the Monroe County Bar Association. It was a stark reminder of how far we still need to go in getting lawyers up to speed on technology. But it was also a demonstration of the important role a small bar can play in educating lawyers about tech.
My reason for being at the conference was to deliver the keynote, in which I spoke about the duty of technology competence under ABA Model Rule 1.1, Comment 8, and reviewed some of the ethics opinions and court rulings that have interpreted the scope and application of that duty.
From speaking to some of the lawyers afterwards, it was clear to me that, in imploring them of the need to become technologically competent, I might as well have been telling them that they need to become fluent in Russian. One lawyer I spoke to swore he would retire from law practice before having to learn technology. During my talk, when I asked, as I often do, how many in the room knew how to encrypt an email, four hands went up.
But the majority of the 60-70 lawyers there were clearly thirsty for more knowledge about technology and how to use it in their practices. The best illustration of this came in a breakout session led by Jared D. Correia, a lawyer who provides management and technology consulting to solo and small firms through his Red Cave Consulting.
Correia had prepared a presentation on the topic, “What You Need to Know About Legal Technology.” But before he even got to speak to his first slide, a hand went up with a question. Then another. Then another. Then many hands. Correia never got to his presentation, instead answering question after question. Should I get rid of my server for the cloud? Is Dropbox safe? Why would I want a tablet? Do I need Office 365? For 50 minutes, on came the questions.
Presented entirely off the cuff, Correia’s session was one of the most useful of the day, rivaled only by another nuts-and-bolts session in which the panel presented tips on how to get clients and keep them happy. Again, the audience peppered the panelists with practical questions. Do radio ads work? How do I handle referrals? What should my retainer say?
I have been to a number of state bar solo and small firm conferences over the years. But as far as I recall, Friday was the first such conference I have attended by a county bar. Based on the number of attendees and exhibitors, it was the smallest such conference I have attended.
Even so, I ended the day thinking that this had been a truly useful conference for those who attended. It was a day full of practical, nuts-and-bolts advice delivered — apart from Correia and me — by lawyers and judges from the community and from practices that share a common thread of challenges and needs.
Credit for the day goes to several people, but most notably Kevin Ryan, who became executive director of the Monroe County Bar Association in 2016 after a number of years as director of education and communication for the Vermont Bar Association; Meredith M.B. Lamb, chair of the MCBA’s Solo & Small Firm Committee; and Nicole Black, the Above the Law columnist and legal technology evangelist at MyCase, who is chair of the MCBA’s Technology Committee.
For me, however, there was a bigger takeaway in the day. It was that these smaller bars such as MCBA could play a critical role in educating lawyers about legal technology and helping them achieve the level of competence required by Model Rule 1.1, Comment 8.
Even though 35 states have adopted the rule, and even though two states now also mandate technology CLE, the fact is that many lawyers still have only a rudimentary understanding of technology, at best. The surest way to get them the knowledge they need is not from the top down, but from the bottom up — from their local peers and their local bar associations.
I have no idea how many city and county bars put on programs such as that presented Friday by the MCBA. But I hope more will consider doing so — and consider making technology training part of the curriculum.
About the Author
Robert Ambrogi is a Massachusetts lawyer and journalist who has been covering legal technology and the web for more than 20 years, primarily through his blog LawSites.com. Former editor-in-chief of several legal newspapers, he is a fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and an inaugural Fastcase 50 honoree. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow him on Twitter (@BobAmbrogi).