Outdated technology bad for your client, firm and the law

Tamara Hunter knows what people think about one of her technology choices.

“I use a BlackBerry and get teased about it frequently,” explains the associate counsel at DLA Piper (Canada) LLP. “I have been in elevators and had people (even people I don’t know) say ‘Hey, is that a BlackBerry? I haven’t seen one of those for a long time!’ ”

Hunter can deal with the teasing. “I like my BlackBerry,” she says, “because I’m familiar with it, I find it easy to use. I like the raised buttons on the keyboard.”

BlackBerries still serve their owners well. But other outdated technologies still being used by Canadian lawyers can cause consequences worse than teasing.

Lack of awareness of better technology

“From a technology perspective, working in the legal industry is frustrating,” Chuck Rothman says. The director of data engineering and analytics for McCarthy Tétrault LLP has seen both in-house counsel and their law firm counterparts stick with older or inadequate technologies for various reasons.

In-house counsels’ “technology is driven to some extent by the organization,” he says. But “the technology is not focused on the legal work. It’s focused on the business. They tend to do things even less efficiently than outside law firms,” noting the extra work he’s seen go into tasks like collecting documents for litigation.

“In many cases, they don’t know what (technology) to ask for,” Rothman says.

Outdated system requirements

Certain requirements outside a firm’s control can compel suboptimal technology choices. “The fax is an antiquated technology,” wrote Stuart Rudner. “That said, in order to properly and easily serve a court document in Ontario, the fax is still necessary. … That’s the only reason that my new firm has a fax number.”

Having a fax number doesn’t mean you have a fax machine. “We use an online fax service,” explains the employment lawyer and mediator at Rudner Law.

New models of technology adoption

The cost of new technology does not block adoption anymore, Crystal O’Donnell says. “Most good technology isn’t a one-time investment. It’s done as software as a service SaaS (software as a service),” says the CEO and senior counsel of Heuristica Discovery Counsel Professional Corporation. “You no longer have to make those large one-time investments to have access to fantastic resources.”

The most outdated legal technology?

What’s the most egregious example of outdated technology still kicking around law offices? Given their professional lives include e-discovery, it isn’t surprising that both O’Donnell and Rothman look down upon Summation (but not its users, of course).

Rothman tears Summation apart. “It’s a complicated program. It can’t handle large volumes of documents well. It has none of the advanced features that more modern software has.”

Why do lawyers stick with it? “People don’t want to learn something new,” he says. “They spent years learning how to use Summation.”

The Blackberry-toting Hunter understands this perspective. “Life is pretty busy and if I change to an iPhone, I will have to spend time learning how to use it.”

Rothman begs to differ. He wants the industry to change its perspective from “I’m going to use this technology until it breaks, and then I’ll switch” to “I need technology to make my life more efficient.”

“If there was technology that enabled me to work only five minutes a day, I’d definitely adopt it,” Rothman says.

Costs of not updating technology

Outdated technology can cost “business-as-usual” lawyers and their clients. In a 2013 decision, (Harris v. Leikin Group Inc. 2013 ONSC 3300) Justice David Brown chopped e-discovery claimed costs from the $168,990 demanded to $58,200 granted. Why? Here’s a hint: the same judge had written and presented a paper called “Making Mountains out of Molehills: Or How can we save Civil Litigation from Committing E-Seppuku?”

Confidentiality and security also matter. Using, for instance, Internet Explorer 7, a browser Rothman says has “numerous publicly known security faults (that) … could contravene requirements to keep client information secure.”

Keeping up with technology takes time and expertise lawyers may not have. It might be better to outsource this responsibility. Choosing a SaaS-based offering over one that resides in the office would be a good start, since updates and new features arrive regularly and somebody else ensures the hardware stays cutting edge, all as part of the subscription fee.

Applied judiciously, up-to-date technology could improve both the practice of law and the legal system as a whole. It often improves efficiency and access to justice, and “smaller firms can take on bigger matters without taking on more lawyers,” says O’Donnell.

This article originally appeared on The Lawyer’s Daily website, published by LexisNexis Canada Inc.

1 Comment
  1. Two comments: Love the BlackBerry keyboard but now using BlackBerry KEYone that gives me enhanced security, access to all Google Play apps and Hub+ for viewing all my messaging applications in one application. Would be ideal for lawyers. It’s actually made by TCL Communications of China and marketed through their subsidiary BlackBerry Mobile, all under licenses from the original BlackBerry who also provides the security enhances Android Nougat 7.1 operating system software.

    Anyone using Windows 7 is now leaving themselves exposed to security issues; Microsoft is dropping ongoing support for Windows 7.

    It may take a bit of learning an time but their are significant productivity reasons for using updated technology, not to mention the potential for security breaches.

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