Beyond the CLE: Legal Tech Ed is Anything but Optional

legal technology

Beyond the CLE: Legal Tech Ed is Anything but Optional

In 2017, continuing education in technology will no longer be optional for lawyers in Florida.  New changes just went into effect requiring training in technology as part of the Minimum Continuing Legal Education (CLE) Standards.

The modification “requires attorneys to complete 33 hours of CLE over a three-year period, with three hours in an approved technology program,” according to reporting from Big Law Business by Bloomberg.

While Florida is joining the ranks of two dozen other Bars that already say licensed attorneys have an ethical duty for technology competence, the new CLE requirement is the first of its kind.

“The benefits of technology are well documented – greater operational efficiency, improved attorney productivity, and better insight into the business of law. The challenge that often remains is: How can firms improve adoption?”

It is conceivable to believe a new learning requirement, which also increases the number of CLE hours required, would face some opposition.  Yet amazingly, that didn’t appear to happen in this case.

There was very little “pushback” on the changes according to John M. Stewart, an attorney, and  proponent of the changes – as cited by the ABA Journal.

From Client Requirement to Advantage

We suspect the lack of pushback is indicative of a growing and broader acceptance of legal technology as a necessity.  GCs have been demanding technical competence for years, and firms are increasingly realizing a culture of technology tends to also be a key point of differentiation.

For example, on my flight to the 2016 ITLA conference, the CIO of a global law firm told me his entire law firm was going through the LTC4 technology training process.  LTC4 is a non-profit organization that provides standardized technology skills assessments, training and certification programs.

What was the driver for such a massive effort? The law firm’s client.

It was a GC who wanted assurances that attorneys in law firms representing his company are working most efficiently.  In other words, clients are no longer going to simply expect their law firms are using the right technology tools to get legal work done efficiently – they may require evidence.

Legal Tech Parallels in AFA Adoption

In many ways, the trajectory of legal tech and training is similar to the path of alternative fee arrangements (AFAs).  AFAs have been making headlines in legal publications for many years, but until recently have faced stiff cultural resistance.

However, identifying opportunity amid client demands, some law firms broke with the tradition of billable hours and began exploring AFAs.  Those firms committed to mining data and adding new roles, such as pricing professionals, to optimize value without sacrificing profitability.

At Aderant, we believe a similar evolution is underway with technology.  What started as a result of client pressure is becoming an opportunity to streamline law firm operations, enhance attorney productivity, drive financial health, and ultimately, improve client collaboration.

This is because technology systems are a logical place for law firms to study for growth opportunities in a highly competitive market: Who are our most profitable clients?  How do we earn more work from them? How do we find more clients that share the same characteristics? For many law firms, the data to answer these questions already exists within a law firm – but this requires technical know-how to harvest it.

Ideas for Fostering a Culture of Technology

The benefits of technology are well documented – greater operational efficiency, improved attorney productivity, and better insight into the business of law. The challenge that often remains is: How can firms improve adoption?

Our experience tells us internal communications are under-utilized resources.  Firms need to grow a movement to change the culture.  We find the firms that have the most success with new technology implementations usually do one or more of the following:

  • Seed ideas with champions. Every law firm has technology champions – identify them and enlist their help. These internal “influencers” can be instrumental in changing old habits. Hearing about new tools from peers usually resonates more deeply than hearing about a new tool from IT, or even from leadership.
  • Leverage familiar platforms. Most people, regardless of age, are very comfortable with mobile devices. Mobile devices are ubiquitous – at home, at work and even in transit.  Find ways to incorporate these devices into every aspect of technology the firm wishes to develop further.
  • Show, not just tell. Time entry is a good illustration of showing and telling. If staff and employees dislike entering time, then demonstrating an easier way is a proven technique for changing behavior…bonus points if that application can be shown on a mobile device!

Legal Tech is Anything but Optional

What is happening in the Sunshine State is likely to be just the first of many.  It is both an interesting and positive step toward advancing the technical skillset of the broader industry. We’re fairly certain that in subsequent years, other states will likely follow suit.

Yet many law firms are already pursuing educational opportunities in legal technology to gain a competitive edge and better serve clients.  These firms are getting a head start and creating a skills gap that might prove challenging for others to make up later.

CLE credit or not, in many ways, a legal technology education is already anything but optional.

Note: Aderant recently published a new white paper titled “Efficiency is the Future of Law.” The paper explains, in part, the new role of modern technology in competitive law firms.  All Aderant white papers are available for download – no registration required – on our law firm resource page.

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