Lawyers, the 21st Century Luddites

Earlier this month I received a letter from a partner of a New York law firm inviting me to present as part of a panel at a large legal conference.  I was asked to select the session that I wanted to speak at and return a signed copy of the letter by facsimile to indicate my willingness to participate.

The theme of the meeting was “How firm attorneys can better serve their business clients”.

And I was asked to use a fax machine to provide my reply.

How ironic.  It almost made me want to rummage through the garage and find that box with my old acoustic coupler and IBM XT. The truth is that I’ve been working at Adobe for nine months and I don’t even know if we have a fax machine. Obviously it’s not that we don’t need to communicate externally. Instead it’s because we use a host of different technologies that are more effective and environmentally friendly. One of these is a product called Adobe EchoSign that allows documents to be routed, tracked and signed electronically (and with the latest release documents can even be signed using mobile devices and while offline). We use it for almost every company document that requires a signature – as do many of our customers. It’s a much more efficient way to sign a form or agreement, forward it to another person and keep track of where it is in the approval process all through your PC, laptop or mobile device – no more having people walk around with colored folders of paper documents with “sign here” tabs. Electronic signatures are secure and legal in most jurisdictions.

broken-printer

I am constantly struck by how reluctant the members of my profession are to embrace new technologies. I still recall a law firm partner in the 1990s cautioning my company’s legal department against using email. A few years later, many legal seminars I attended counseled that companies should prohibit employees from accessing the Internet while at work.  I’m not alone in my views about lawyers as luddites. It’s a common complaint I hear from business clients and other in-house attorneys. As an example, the attorneys at Kia Motors have gone so far as to audit the technological prowess of the firms they use.

While I would love to have every member of my profession adopt Adobe EchoSign, I would be far happier to have them join the 21st century and embrace the many new tools available to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of their legal support.  To this end, last year the American Bar Association amended Rule 1.1, which describes an attorney’s Duty of Competence.  It now requires that: “To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology, engage in continuing study and education and comply with all continuing legal education requirements to which the lawyer is subject.” (Italics added)

It’s a change of just a few words; however, hopefully it will move the profession more quickly into the Digital Age. The result will be greater efficiency for firms and more satisfied clients.

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Lawyers, the 21st Century Luddites

  1. Dick Dillon

    If they joined the 21st century wouldn’t that cut billing hours in half?

  2. Kramer, Robert F.

    Mike, this post is very funny about the fax machine. IBM XT, brings back good memories, floppy disk drive and all. Regards, Rob

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