Dinosaurs Are Not Extinct: The Tech Illiterate Lawyer – And the Case For Change, Part 2

Dinosaurs Extinct Lawyer Part 2

Shocking as it may seem, the legal world is replete with tech illiterate lawyers who do not understand how to use basic technology like email and word processing programs. This becomes a problem when more complicated technology comes into the picture – like E-discovery – and tech illiteracy begins to translate into ineffi-ciency and increased costs – for both law firms and clients.

If you’re a client of a lawyer who doesn’t know how to do these things, then you should probably be worried, unless that lawyer works in a large firm and has a team helping him or her. Of course, competent team members and the extra office space required to house them costs extra money. If the case is big enough and if you need to hire expensive lawyers, or need a good “cover story” for the board of directors in case the lawsuit is horribly lost, then fine. If you have money to burn, and you can afford an expensive CYA solution, then paying a top litigator who knows nothing about email might make sense.

Understand Technology, Win Lawsuits

Then again, it might not make sense. Especially if the case is a typical lawsuit.

Most cases don’t go to trial. Typically, cases settle, and many of them settle at a point when one side, or both, get tired of spending money on lawyers. Ideally, a client should hire a lawyer who is able to leverage information faster and cheaper. That client would then have saved more money when the other side gets to the pain point that pushes them to want to settle.

How is a lawyer supposed to save client money and still create leverage? Surely, just learning how to be more efficient with email and word processing isn’t going to cut it. Nope, it’s not. But learning those skills is an important first step in under-standing E-discovery software programs and working with the expert consultants who offer them to lawyers. E-discovery programs are not based on word processing or email programs.

Have you heard of something called a “database”?

Databases have been around for even longer than word processors, but amazingly very few lawyers really understand much about them. Granted, lawyers have heard of companies like SAP and Oracle, or law-specific products like Summation or Casemap. But having heard of them is not the same thing as understanding how they work or knowing how to use them. In large law firms these database programs are prevalent, but it’s uncommon for lawyers to actually use these programs to find or filter for information. They rely on paralegals and support staff to do the hands-on work.

So what’s wrong with letting paralegals exclusively handle the case database?

Embrace Technology, Be a Hero to Your Clients

Nothing, if you don’t want to gain an advantage over other lawyers (e.g. your opponent). Here’s a fact: a lawyer who goes to a deposition or trial armed with the ability to quickly search a database of information specifically tailored to his or her case is a formidable adversary. Simply understanding the importance of OCRing documents and how to search PDFs, can create huge tactical advantages. I’ll give you an example.

I was once in a deposition in an ornate conference room at the top of a 50 story building. The room was filled with lawyers from several different states and boxes stuffed with documents. Someone asked the deponent if he knew who a certain person worked for. This was a critical question to almost everyone in the room (except for me). The deponent didn’t know the answer, so a break was called and then several paralegals and junior associates came in to scour through the boxes for some clue that would answer this question.

While the minions were combing the documents, I opened up my laptop, which had all of the case documents in PDF format. And I had OCRd all of these documents so that it was possible to search for text in the documents. So I entered a search using the mystery man’s name.

The results came back in about 30 seconds. I found a document with the mystery man’s company letterhead, which he had written. I knew who he worked for and what his job title was. Then I sat back and watched the frantic searching of boxes, quietly realizing that the other lawyers were spending thousands of dollars searching for basic information that could have been found in 30 seconds.

It’s not as if those lawyers couldn’t afford to scan and OCR the documents. And it’s not as if they couldn’t learn how to search for PDFs. It’s just that they have a certain mindset about how cases should be managed. It’s not a helpful mindset, and I doubt that any of their clients cherish it. They certainly don’t benefit from that mindset.

Lawyers who embrace technology typically use it in ways that help them save time and money and do a better job for their clients. The challenge for clients is to find such lawyers. It’s not enough to find “tech-savvy lawyers,” obviously. Being “tech-savvy” doesn’t automatically correlate to being a good lawyer. But, not being tech-savvy increasingly correlates to being inexpensive, inefficient, and less likely to find key information.

Change has always been a constant; what’s different now is the rate of change. Those who can capitalize quickly on new ways of doing things will have the advantage. The famous sociologist Alvin Toffler pointed out that “the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

So again, “Why should lawyers embrace technology?” One answer is because they have to. A better answer is so they find ways to use it to do a better job for themselves and for their clients.


Ernest Svenson is a former commercial litigation lawyer and technology enthusiast. He’s a prolific blogger, and founded PDFforLawyers, DigitalWorkflowCLE, and the “Ernie the Attorney” blog (which was chosen by the ABA Journal as one of the top 100 law blogs two years in a row). Ernie believes that the practice of law is largely an “information processing business” and helps lawyers find ways to improve their practice. If you want to get in touch with Ernie, you can send him an email message. He doesn’t print them out.

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