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But I have people for that...

by Joe Kaczrowski | Oct 08, 2015

The MSBA's Tech Conference is less than a month away (November 5 in Lakeville), and the opening session features Casey Flaherty. Casey Flaherty and his Legal Tech Audit have been mentioned with some frequency in this blog (and elsewhere), and one of his common themes is the Myth of the Digital Native.

The younger generation(s) are often considered to be "digital natives," being born with Bluetooth in their ears. Technology seems to come naturally to them, so much so that many teens experience sleep-texting. But as Casey notes, even though it has always been a part of their lives, people are not born understanding technology; it is still a skill (or skills) that must be learned and mastered.

Casey uses a personal anecdote to illustrate the point. His wife suggests his one and a half year old is a genius because he already knows how to use a iPad. Casey agrees that is indicative of genius, but not his kid; rather it is a testament to the genius of Steve Jobs and the designers at Apple that the interface is so simple that a toddler can master it.

Millennials, often among those considered to be digital natives, have performed horribly on some assessments of readiness to join the workforce in terms of ability and workplace skills. Familiarity with technology does not equal competence. 

Another common theme for Flaherty is that education, and in this case continuing legal education specifically, should be outcome-based. Whether it takes 10 minutes or 10 hours to master, the objective should be competence not the passage of time. The LTA is designed with that philosophy in mind. The goal is to provide a means to achieve competence with specific technical skills relevant to the practice of law today.

The LTA is a way for lawyers to indicate to their clients (and perhaps more importantly potential clients) that they have a sufficient understanding of basic office tools and technology necessary to the practice of law and that the client won't be billed for inefficiency. Similarly, Casey's new company, Procertas, markets the LTA to corporations as a way for clients to ensure their outside counsel are competent and not billing for inefficient processes.

As attendees at the Tech Conference next month will learn, the MSBA is working with Casey and others to develop a Minnesota-specific version of the LTA, designed to provide a means by which Minnesota attorneys (and clients) can demonstrate a baseline competence with the relevant technologies.

One of the most common objections to the LTA is from attorneys who say that it doesn't apply to them, and that they have people for that. While that may be true, the fact remains that the tasks must still be completed by someone on the team. Whether an attorney, paralegal, or legal assistant, the LTA is a way to demonstrate that the task is being completed effectively by the person to which it is assigned.

For a solo or small firm attorney with limited or no additional staff resources, process efficiency is critical. The LTA can help the attorney develop efficient processes and then demonstrate that competence and skill to clients and potential clients. For larger firms, or instances where a lawyer delegates certain tasks to other personnel, the importance of process efficiency doesn't diminish but rather its noticeability is decreased. In those environments, the tasks are often assigned to non-billable resources and the time on task is perhaps not recorded or reviewed as frequently or in as much detail. However, because this is non-billable time, and the annual cost may be fixed, efficient use of these resources and completion of tasks is vital to the business. 

Time on task is an important measure. Whether it's done by an attorney (and may be billable) or by support staff. For the latter, the actual cost of a specific task will depend on the time spent completing it, and a pro rata allocation of overhead costs based on the relative usage of that resource. In an earlier post, this calculation discussed in the context of effective hourly rates. As the video on the LTA site shows, simply knowing how to use features of Microsoft Word can dramatically decrease the time spent drafting a document, which then decreases the cost of that task.

Whether you're on your own or have people to help you, technological competence and familiarity with basic office tools is an important part of the practice of law. The LTA can be used to demonstrate competence, but it can also be used to develop understanding and efficient processes internally.

As a reminder, registration is still open for the MSBA Tech Conference on November 5 in Lakeville. A full schedule is available on the webpage. The member rate is $65, and law students can attend at the reduced rate of $25.