Which Legal Technology Should You Study Up On?

Increasingly, judges and firms are telling lawyers that knowing the law isn’t sufficient.  There have been encouragements and warnings to also become adequately versed in technology.  For example, at the recent ILTA conference, Judge James C. Francis pushed back against “arguments from e-discovery-ignorant lawyers regarding the prohibitive cost of a specific type of discovery… [which] is actually much more reasonably priced than the attorney is attempting to represent.”Studying Legal Tech

Debate continues on exactly which technologies lawyers are responsible for knowing. In most cases, the assumption isn’t that legal professionals know nothing about these technologies, but rather that additional know-how would significantly improve their practice. If you’re thinking of polishing up your skills, here are three types of legal technologies, along with what makes learning more about them easy and hard.

Office Software

Though this kind of technology isn’t specifically legal, it is the most oft-used by legal professionals. It encompasses daily activities like sending e-mail, reviewing information, or moving data. The idea is that mastering shortcuts for the most frequently-completed tasks will free up time for more sophisticated or specialized activities. The Suffolk/Flaherty legal audit aims to shine a light on lawyers’ knowledge gaps in this arena. If your audit results leave you wanting to improve your office tech skills, here’s what to prepare for:

  • Makes It Easier:
    • Wide availability of training resources, from in-classroom courses to DIY search engine results
    • Centralization of primary software providers, so no need to learn four different protocols for doing the same thing
    • Maturity of software, so entirely new features are quite rare; more likely to be building on things you already know
  • Makes It Challenging:
    • Scope of what you can learn: this category includes word processing, spreadsheets, e-mail, and more, and within each, there are many skills; for example, in spreadsheets, you can benefit from knowing how to use formulas, macros, filtering, pivot tables, and more

Case or Practice Management Software

This kind of legal technology is more about managing time, people, and tasks. It includes tasks like customer relationship management, billing, and workload management. Here, improving your skills can lead to more client acquisition, more timely payment, and better organization. If you set out to improve your case or practice management tech skills, here’s what to prepare for:

  • Makes It Easier:
    • The return on investment can be staggering, given the opportunities to cut down on repetition or mistake
    • Mastery of these tools can still provide a competitive advantage, since few are using them to their full potential
  • Makes It Challenging:
    • The learning curve can be intimidating, with the most robust solutions also frustratingly complicated

Ediscovery Software

Your understanding of this legal technology is generally most public, as evidenced by the ILTA session quoted at the start of this post. Improving your knowledge of what’s available in the market can help your reputation and costs. Whereas building skills in using the software itself can impact efficiency and case outcomes. For example, consider the legal team that used ediscovery software to locate documents suggesting that their opponents had ghost-written the court’s decision in the case. If you’re interested in improving your ediscovery skills, here’s what to prepare for:

  • Makes It Easier:
    • The ediscovery workflow is relatively defined, providing a standard foundation for learning the specifics of a given software implementation
    • Many of the key technology approaches—search, machine learning, concept clustering—are also relevant in other domains
  • Makes It Challenging:
    • If you’re a litigator, ediscovery simply isn’t as high a priority for you
    • Rate of innovation: new features emerge weekly, so there is always something new to learn

It may seem like a high bar to stay up-to-date with both law news and technology changes. However, hopefully this guide can help you pick the tool(s) you want to prioritize training on, based on the outcomes you’re seeking. Happy learning!