Technology Competence In The Ethical Practice Of Law

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While “tech competency” is often associated with legal tech, artificial intelligence, and other advanced concepts, what it really means in the legal market is understanding how technology works and how it can affect the legal profession.

In the US, most state bar associations require tech competency for lawyers. Rule 1.1 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct by the American Bar Association states that in order “[t]o maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.”

The more competent lawyers are when it comes to technology, the more they are able to think of innovative ways to use it to grow their business. But the real question is: what does a lawyer really need to know about technology?

It is an obligation for lawyers to protect client information at all times. Each state has its own set of ethical standards with regards to protecting client data and failure to meet those standards can constitute unethical or unlawful conduct. This may create a challenge for lawyers in utilizing technology in their practice. However, it all comes down to expanding one’s knowledge on how technology and security work.

Take for example email. Lawyers with a basic knowledge of technology may not mind sending and sharing documents with their clients through email. However, email is not always secure and is prone to being breached, usually do to simple user error. Knowing what other options exist to exchange confidential client data and each option’s corresponding benefits and risks is part of tech competency.

It is also important for lawyers to understand how digital storage works. In the past, data was stored locally but there is a huge shift away from local storage. Cloud storage is known be one of the most secure way of storing client data but even this method has its pros and cons. With cloud storage, lawyers must understand the concept of encryption - how it works and why it is important. dealcloser, a transaction management hub, encrypts data both in transit and at rest, such that if any data is ever obtained, the attacker is left with meaningless and useless data. To use a cloud solution platform effectively, lawyers need to ensure that their provider meets all the regulatory and ethical requirements provided by their state’s bar association.

Technology is changing the delivery of legal services and there may come a time when lawyers who do not become/remain technologically competent and adopt modern technologies to be efficient will be seen as overbilling their clients in an unethical way. Just as with any legal practice area, keeping up to date with technological innovations requires continual learning and study. As time goes on, technological incompetence will no longer acceptable in the practice of law.

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