Legal Technology | An Anomaly Or An Ethical Necessity?

Legal technology has become crucial for an effective law practice – both in the private sector and the public sector. Gone are the days of large rooms packed with file cabinets. The large law libraries you may see when you walk into an office now are generally used for aesthetic effect. Most cases are uploaded onto legal databases shortly after a ruling comes down from the Court. Due to increases in remote capabilities, attorney’s are able to move more freely about the world. This means that instead of lugging huge case files everywhere, lawyers hold their entire client base in one computer.

The legal library of a law firm.

Total 360 Tech View
Managed legal tech services may seem like an intimidating concept to tackle, but it is genuinely pretty simple. By using technology to accomplish many of the mundane aspects of the practice of law as well as passing the general troubleshooting to an outside source, firms are able to do what they do best-practice law. Technology managed services can encompass server management, file share management, account management, as well as other administrative tasks. There is no surprise that many firms have placed great emphasis on investing in legal technology to keep pace and avoid being left behind.

Overview Of Legal Technology In Texas | IT Services For Law Firms

An overview of legal technology goes beyond the basic case management software. Software such as CLIO and NetDocuments are great for data storage. While solo attorneys and small firms are still able to utilize more traditional storage techniques, larger firms are finding it impossible to keep up without some sort of cloud-based software.

The Precipice of Change: When attorneys think of legal technology, there can be certain hesitation that accompanies any change. This is especially true for some people in specialized fields. For those lawyers we associate with TV shows making their pleas dramatically before a jury, it is safe to say that technology can do nothing but help them do their job faster and better.  However, most transactional work could be overshadowed by these technological advancements. Bills have been introduced in certain state legislatures to allow for paralegals to handle some of the attorney’s duties, and websites such as LegalZoom allow for quick document creation. These are accessed in lieu of paying an attorney by the hour to conduct legal work. This fact alone shows that the practice of law is changing. 

These changes to the legal practice are not going anywhere any time soon! . According to Forbes, legal tech set an investment record in 2018 recording 713% growth. As the client base for law firms gets younger and younger, so do the ideas and methods used for obtaining legal services. Now, this does not just apply to clients as attorneys are looking to utilize technology to achieve a stronger work-life balance while continuing their practice through a virtual work space.

Virtual Law Firms | Online Law Firms In Texas

From advancements in remote desktop login to web meeting platforms, it is becoming easier every day to run a business from anywhere in the world. Law firms around the country are moving to more of a virtual presence to save money and resources. This allows for firms to minimize infrastructure and make themselves conducive to the sharing of support staff and personnel. This process allows for the profit potential to skyrocket.

Despite its reputation as a traditional state, even members of the Texas State Bar have moved to a web-based presence. Utilizing similar technology to that of online banking, some legal practitioners are serving a different set of clients while taking consults and delivering legal services solely online. A virtual law firm comes with its own challenges - primarily security and protecting client confidentiality making the need for secure, legal technology a necessity. This is remedied with the managed IT services provided by a company like Cima. 

The Importance of Legal IT Security | Lawyer Confidentiality & Technology

A law firm’s IT security should be its most important investment. A simple data breach of a  law firm’s files opens up a huge liability. Lawyers are bound by their ethics rules to be minimally competent in technology and to keep all client information confidential. Interestingly, some lawyers actually cite unfamiliarity with technology as a reason for not switching to cloud-based storage – 39% to be exact (American Bar Association). Rule 1.6 of the Model Rules for Professional Conduct provides for the confidential portion of the client-lawyer relationship and provides that in the absence of informed consent or various other important circumstances, client information is to remain strictly confidential. That is why having someone monitoring for breaches and potential breaches is so important. 

The past rules were written liberally and do not address cybersecurity; however, many state supreme courts are reviewing the matter to suggest edits that could be made. With more and more law firms switching to cloud-based security and data storage, some states have issued directives as to whether this practice is actually ethical. 

According to the American Bar Association:

“While more lawyers reported using the cloud, they continue to express reservations and concerns about the cloud. When current cloud users were asked to identify their biggest concerns, they cited “confidentiality/security concerns” (63%, down from 69% in 2017) and concerns about losing control of data (47%, down from 49%). Concerns about losing control over updates (25%) and vendor longevity (23%) were other significant concerns. Only 9% listed client concerns about lawyers using the cloud.”

Regardless of the risk, cloud-based data storage is the growing trend for expanding law firms who are regularly receiving new clients. Solo practitioners and smaller firms are still able to use local servers; however, once a firm grows to an excess of 10-12 attorneys, there becomes a need to be able to access client files remotely unless willing to pay for expansive infrastructure. Despite its necessity, cloud-based operations leave law firms open to hackers both foreign and domestic.

Legal Technology Disasters

Robert Mueller said it best in his quote that rings throughout law school technology courses, 

“I am convinced that there are only two types of companies: those that have been hacked and those that will be. And even they are converging into one category: companies that have been hacked and will be again.”

Law firms have become increasingly viable targets to hackers – not just because of what they do, but the information they house. Law firms are often the holders of confidential personally identifiable information, product designs, testimony that could harm a business, and many other documents that would lead a barrage of lawsuits in ever released.

Close to Home: Texas is no exception to this rule. Four out of five corporate law firms operating in Texas have experienced a “cyber incident” or an actual data breach during the past two years, according to an exclusive new Texas Lawbook survey. 

In an actual documented case, in 2017, a United States intellectual property law firm with a practice aimed at assisting Chinese companies entering the United States markets was hacked(Recorded Future). This is not the only occurrence, and it will not be the last either. Still, despite its opening and susceptibility, the practice of law is going digital.

Where Is The Practice Of Law Going In Texas?

The legal profession, like many other industries, is stepping out into an era of artificial intelligence with both feet. Though risky and somewhat unknown, the use of AI does wonders for law firms due to the time and money it can save both clients and attorneys. The practice of law is under constant pressure to provide the best legal services for the best possible price. . Given the amount of competition between firms, there is always a concern that your best client will go “down the road” to a new firm if it determines that the pricing of your legal services is too high. Attorneys are under a duty to provide the best legal services to any client that signs a retainer, so the use of AI in law firms makes the most sense to divide the time an attorney has as wisely as possible.

Requirement?: Can the legal technology of AI ever become a true requirement, though? There is an argument that attorneys are under an ethical obligation to use AI to ensure that the services they are providing are accurate and abreast of ever-changing practices. As mentioned above, attorneys are required to follow the Model Rules for Professional Conduct.

Comment 8 to Rule 1.1 of the MRPC states:

“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.”

“Relevant technology” today means the use of the most recent and vast technological advancements. Based on this interpretation of the rules, lawyers are required to stay up-to-date. That being said, State Bar Associations need to provide resources to seasoned attorneys while still allowing for autonomy in the profession and the use of creative techniques. 

Technology is not going anywhere and is, in fact, developing at a rapid pace. Using a managed IT service can provide exponential value to your legal team. From the everyday issues that come up when dealing with technology to attorney client privilege, Cima Solutions Group has you covered!

Leave a comment!

All fields marked with an asterisk* are required.