The practice of law in the twenty-first century increasingly requires attorneys and staff to use technology in order to best serve clients. Many law firms employ predictive tagging software, search engines powered by artificial intelligence, and other state-of-the-art methods in order to save money and more efficiently complete legal tasks. In addition, the practice of law requires that lawyers use basic technology such as email applications, word processors, and other more commonplace technology. Although it is understandable that some lawyers may not be well-versed with advanced technology in the legal industry, there is no reason why lawyers are not proficient with basic technology like track changes, email application, and the like.
I’ll be the first to admit it, I am not always the best when it comes to new technology. I did not own a smartphone until 2013, and I embraced social media platforms far later than others. When I moved from firm to firm throughout my career before starting my own practice, it usually took me a decent amount of time to get used to the document management systems, time tracker software, and other technology at each of these firms.
However, I learned years, if not decades ago, how to perform basic technological tasks. For instance, I learned how to use track changes in a Word document a long time ago, probably since I have been using Microsoft Word since Windows 95. Moreover, I know all of the functions of email applications, including Bcc, reply all, and other functions that trip up other lawyers, likely since I have had an email address (originally a long-lost AOL email address) since I was in fourth grade in the mid-90s. Understanding all of these basic technologies makes it much easier to perform my job as an attorney and best serve clients.
It might seem like all lawyers know basic technologies within the legal profession, but I regularly encounter lawyers who are not well versed in even the most routine technologies. For instance, earlier in my career, I represented a client for whom I was negotiating a lease. Usually when lawyers negotiate a lease, they use track changes in Microsoft Word, so that attorneys can propose and accept changes and so lawyers can leave comments that are helpful to the negotiations.
My adversary said that he was not that well versed in tracked changes, and he sent me a document that purportedly included his suggested revisions in the negotiation. However, the tracked changes were only present in part of the document, and in other parts of the document, the other lawyer just made changes without tracking them so it was difficult to tell what was present in the original document and what had been changed by this lawyer. Using the compare function in Word helped solve the issue of tracking changes, but the lawyer would have helped move the process of negotiating along more quickly by correctly using track changes.
When an adversary does not understand basic technology, it often requires another lawyer to explain how — to the exclusion of other tasks. For instance, one time I sent a lawyer a document with revisions in track changes and the other lawyer swore that he could not see the revisions. The other attorney thought that I did not use track changes or that I did not know what I was doing. I eventually discovered that this lawyer had his review setting in “no markup” instead of “full markup” and this is why he could not see my redlines. I needed to explain to this lawyer, step by step, how to select full markup in order to see all of the changes that were made to the document for his review.
At another point in my career, I was at the end of a contract negotiation and it was time for everyone to sign the document. The contract specifically permitted electronic signatures, and I proposed to my adversary that the document be signed through an electronic signature application. This attorney responded by saying that he was old school and that he did not know how to use such an application. I suggested that I would set up the document for signature in this electronic signature application, but I think the lawyer was paranoid I would upload a revised document for signature. This attorney asked that the document be printed out and signed, and since my client did not have a printer, executing the document this way was much more difficult than merely signing the document in an electronic signature application.
All told, no one expects lawyers to be well versed in cutting-edge technology, and fortunately, the practice of law rarely involves the use of highly sophisticated technology. However, all lawyers should have a basic understanding of some fundamental technologies that make it easier to deal with adversaries and best serve clients.
Jordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at [email protected].