***WARNING - Controversial Content Ahead***
Earlier this week, a Texas lawyer appeared virtually before a District Court in a civil forfeiture case. Unable to turn off a 'filter', his camera feed caused him to appear as a googly-eyed cat. A recording of the livestream went viral, earning him the moniker, 'Cat Lawyer.'
All laughs aside, this event exposes the worsening generational divide in technology comprehension in the legal industry. AI, automation, cloud computing, and legal management software have rapidly evolved the practice of law. Many practitioners are falling behind.
It is not uncommon for the most senior and experienced members of a law practice to have the least comprehension of legal tech. There are incredibly seasoned and well-respected attorneys that still insist on printed copies of documents, struggle to set up their 'out of office' email, turn white at the thought of executing documents electronically, and don't know the difference between a .doc and a .pdf (let alone how to convert them).
At the other end of the spectrum, junior attorneys are increasingly dependent on legal tech. They are beginning their practice in a technological era where much of their work is completed be 'someone else' - computers. When document versions are compared with the click of a button, legal research starts with Boolean queries, and almost entire contracts can be drafted from programmed templates, opportunities to learn legal 'hard skills' are declining.
In the middle of these two extremes lie the 'native adopters'. These are the (un)lucky professionals - depending on your perspective - who were coming into practice right as the digital transformation was taking place. This generation of attorneys was taught legal practice using physical books, conducted their research using law libraries, and sat the bar with a paper and pen. However, they were in the earlier years of their practice when smartphones meaningfully brought email to phones, practice management moved to the cloud, and Westlaw Next and LexisNexis brought Google-like simplicity to legal research. They are children of both worlds.
To be clear, this widening divide in practical and technological legal skills is not okay.
Senior attorneys should not still insist on paper copies and faxes.
Junior attorneys should know how to write certain contracts/clauses from scratch.
The reason this generational divide is not okay is because clients are ultimately the ones that suffer the consequences. They are left at risk of paying too many billable hours for tasks that can be partially automated with careful programming, or paying an attorney who doesn't understand what has been delivered.
Attorneys have a responsibility to understand and stay up to date with the law. They have an equal responsibility to comprehend and keep up with changes to legal practice. Anything less deprives clients of truly competent legal representation at best, and may run afoul of professional ethics at worst.
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