Don’t Be Afraid, It’s Just New Technology

Many people want to learn more about one or more new technologies. Helping people learn more about technology is part of our mission here at Law Technology Today! In this month’s Roundtable Discussion, we asked members of the LTRC Board their thoughts on learning new technologies.

Our Panelists

Dennis Kennedy (DK), Britt Lorish (BL), Mark Rosch (MR), Peter Roberts (PR), Nerino Petro Jr. (NPJ), Natalie Kelly (NK), and Sofia Lingos (SL).

What does “learning new technologies “mean to you?

DK: Three things. First, learning how to use technologies I already use in more sophisticated and productive ways, either by learning more features and better ways to accomplish what I need to get done. I might call that “enhancement.” Second, to find a new tool to replace an existing way that I do things with a better technology. Third, picking a specific technology that you expect to impact you or your practice in the near future.

BL: Exploring and familiarizing myself with new software and/or hardware, cloud products, or collaborative tools. Determining which can make a difference in my day to day productivity and adopting those that can by learning as much as possible about how to effectively use them. This may include getting formal training, reading online materials, or watching training videos.

MR: To me, it means (hopefully) “being more productive.” For work, I want “new technologies” to help me do something that I’m already doing either better, faster, or doing something entirely new that I was unable to do (effectively) without the technology. I’ve just come back from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and often, especially in the consumer press, “new technologies” are touted just for being “new,” when there’s very little practical application for that technology. But on the business side, there has to be some practical application for me… otherwise it just becomes another place I’m spending time away from productive work.

PR: For me, this term includes “learning more” about the technology I have. But I am not going to spend the time learning new technologies unless I am aware of just how the new technology will help me. Healthy skepticism, I guess.

NPJ: I generally break this down into two categories: 1) Technology that you have not used in the past or that has changed significantly since you last used it such as learning how to use new tools, software or services such as e-discovery tools, secure file sharing, web conferencing, etc.  2) Learning more about the programs, services, and tools that you currently have, such as getting the most out of Word by learning how to use features such as Quick Parts, Cross-references, and Table of Authorities, etc. Or using features such as encrypted Outlook email that is included in your ShareFile service, or getting the most form Adobe Acrobat.

NK: “Learning new technologies” means investing some dedicated time and effort towards being engaged in a new product or service. I like to think that I am always “learning new technologies,”  but I find it is often me taking time to be more engaged with the products and services I already use. For instance, earlier today, I remembered that Siri could read my emails and when I asked this for the entire bevy of messages, she indicated the volume of messages before allowing me the option to select. So instead I moved to the message I wanted read, and said, “read ‘this’ email to me,” and pleasantly got what I wanted.

SL: The first step is identifying the technology solution you are interested in implementing. Next, legal technology is a relatively competitive marketplace so you should compare products which can often be achieved by reading reviews and opting for preliminary trials if they are software based. After you select a new tool you can decide the best learning mechanism for you. There are business based trainings, webinars, CLEs, articles, and even books to get you up to speed.

What technology learning resources have you used and what area of your practice, or of the law, has benefited the most (or could benefit) from them?

DK: For many years, ABA resources have been extraordinarily helpful for me. TechnoLawyer, ILTA, and other legal tech resources can also be highly useful for ongoing learning or to find out answers to specific questions. I also recommend that lawyers consider attending a state or national legal tech conference every couple of years. Lately, I’m focused more on general technology resources, especially podcast and business or strategy-oriented resources, since that’s where my strongest interests are these day. Project and task management, document automation, collaboration tools, and practice-specific software are the areas I see lawyers getting the biggest benefits.

BL: As a consultant rather than an attorney, I probably approach this a little differently, as I’m often the trainer. So I seek “train the trainer” resources typically. We are constantly having to keep up with the technologies and that includes constant reading of legal technology articles and online resources. We also attend industry and software conferences regularly to make sure we stay up to date. We regularly beta test various products and review white papers and other available resources.

MR: I’ve learned about a lot of legal-related technology from Law Practice Division resources, like the webzine (Law Practice Today), the magazine (Law Practice), ABA TECHSHOW, and, of course, LTRC. For non-legal-specific technology, I find the websites of CNET, Mashable, The Next Web, Pando Daily, Boing Boing, and The Verge (to name a few) particularly informative. I’ve also found Twitter to be very useful in identifying interesting technologies. The trick there is to find people to follow who are interested in, and tweeting about, topics that are of interest to you.

PR: Recorded webinars with screen capture are very helpful because they can be repeated. Learning technology demands seeing and imitating. ABA TECHSHOW is a must as an efficient way to grasp the possibilities.

NPJ: ABA TECHSHOW, online resources on YouTube,, and vendor resources such as those provided by NetDocuments and Clio. When it comes to learning new technology and finding how to do so on the Internet Google (or your search engine of choice is your friend). Using the tools we already have such as Word and Excel as well as practice management have greatly benefited.

NK: Because I often train lawyers on technology, I find myself on the opposite side of this question more often than not. But when I am getting training it is in classroom settings, or more recently, via webinar. I also like general—common—learning tools like the “Help Menu,” and FAQs. Searching forums and discussion boards are also helpful resources.

SL: The ABA LTRC has excellent overviews covering new legal technologies as they emerge. There are a number of legal blogs I frequent, the ABA bookstore for more in-depth topic coverage, and also basic internet searches for articles on a specific product are all helpful. Companies do a good job of creating educational content and YouTube is often a valuable learning medium.

Where in your practice, or in the legal profession, do you want to learn more about technology?

DK: Because I do so much speaking, writing, and podcasting about legal tech, I’m interested in trends, the newest tech, and thinking strategically about legal tech, so my focus is different than most lawyers. Our ABA TECHREPORT is a helpful resource in that area, as is the annual ILTA Inside Legal survey summary. Lately, my focus in my legal work is on personal productivity, project management, workflow tools, and collaboration technologies.

BL: I think I’m decently diversified in my knowledge but I can always learn something new. I think continually expanding upon my knowledge of various products and tools is an ongoing desire of mine, particularly when the little tips and tricks I pick up daily can often make such a big difference in day to day productivity. I’m fascinated by the application of AI technologies in the legal field, so I’m sure I’ll want to learn more about that as it evolves.

MR: I’m interested in anything that can help me streamline my work processes or automate (or lessen) the work I’m currently doing manually.

PR: If there is staff, it can be a competitive endeavor but with staff taking the lead. I believe every law firm staff meeting must include some kind of tech tutorial such as viewing an LTRC video.

NPJ: I see technology overall as a way to improve efficiency and effectiveness, so I am always looking at how technology can help in the day to day operations and workflow of the firm.

NK: The latest areas of interest for me are the tools that would work in smaller e-discovery or “small-value” e-discovery settings.  I’d like to master knowing what to recommend to lawyers in this area more confidently.

SL: Many technologies have the ability to be customized, which would be ideal, but basically require a computer science PhD. I would be interested in learning how to adapt technological tools as the layman.

What practical benefits of learning new technology should lawyers hope to achieve?

DK: I’ve always felt that the best tech to learn about is tech that helps your clients more than it helps you. That might be client-driven tech: using tech to produce results that your client is asking  for—or, more interesting to me, is client-anticipating tech—where you find and use tech that anticipates what your client will want. And, of course, we all should want to learn tech that measurably makes our lives easier.

BL: The goal should always be to streamline processes, improve efficiency of all day to day tasks and be a more productive person. Doing things as quickly and accurately as possible is ideal, and that is something technology should inevitably help, not hinder. Sometimes you have to invest time to learn something new, in order to save time on the back end.

MR: I really think it goes back to either doing something that they’re already doing better, faster, both, or doing something entirely new that they unable to do (effectively) without the technology. In the practice of law, the goal should be to be more productive, provide better service to the client, or manage one’s practice better (or more easily).

PR: Saving time and improving service to clients.

NPJ: To me, it is part of our obligation to stay current on firm operations. We need to be able to use those tools and technologies that our clients are using and to stay current on best practices to help us practice law as effectively and efficiently as possible.

NK: Learning to really use the tools they are working with or the new tool they are trying out to achieve more productivity should always be the goal of a lawyer learning new technology.

SL: Technologies increase efficiency which is mandatory in a time-driven service-based profession. Though the initial time investment must be made during the learning curve, the long term results of efficiency should be worth the outlay.

Should lawyers be afraid of or encouraged by today’s opportunities to learn about new technology?

DK: It’s very easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of resources, so I probably fall in the “afraid” camp. It’s more work than ever to sift through resources, to find trusted resources and to think critically about who information is offered to you. There are also so many technologies that lawyers now use and might be expected to know in client matters. It’s a lot for lawyers who consider themselves “non-techie” or only dabblers in tech. What is encouraging is that tech, like law, involves continuous learning, so lawyers do have the skills to learn new things, if they want to take on the challenge. In terms of client satisfaction and competitive advantage, lawyers have every incentive to keep learning, especially in the current market.

BL: Encouraged! Learning is never a bad thing. Of course, you have to balance it with actually making sure you get a good return on your investment of time. Learning new things just for the sake of learning them (e.g. just because it is cool or the latest/greatest thing), isn’t always a good investment of time. If it results in a benefit to you and recaptures some of your time so that you can spend it doing something else you enjoy, or allows you to bill more in less time, then those are valuable lessons learned.

MR: If I could split the difference between the two, I’d suggest that lawyers should be “skeptically optimistic.” I say that because of the hype I see around consumer technology and the push by manufacturers, and the consumer press, to find applications for every technology in every industry. The reality is that there’s not necessarily a matching “industry hole” to fit every “technology peg.”

PR: Because the choices are endless, fear is a real issue. Therefore, it is important for lawyers to know about LTRC as a safe place to get the learning process started.

NPJ: They should be encouraged by what is currently available. The wealth of resources available online (both free and paid) as well as digital content for training and how to resources means there are more options to learning and staying current on the technology that they and their staff rely on daily.

NK: I think with the educational opportunities to “learn more about technology” and the many formats of learning about technology should not be intimidating to lawyers. I think if a lawyer accepts where they are in using a product or service in relation to what they understand the product or service can do for them in their work (or play), then they are poised to decide about wanting to or needing to  learn more. It’s this decision that affects the lawyer’s progress with using technology. For instance, “I’m a dinosaur, but I’m willing to run a little faster so I’m not eaten out here!”

SL: There is nothing to fear except not embracing new technology. Don’t get overwhelmed by the ever-changing options. Identify and enact.

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