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Attorneys have been historically slow to adopt new technology, and now is no exception. Many attorneys of the “Baby Boomer” and earlier generations are accustomed to creating, using, and storing paper documents despite the greater efficiency afforded by electronic media. Many paralegals find themselves doing more work to accommodate requests that could be performed more efficiently with computers and computer software programs. Could it be that your attorney suffers from the dreaded disorder “technophobia”? Has your work flow been affected by this disease?
What is technophobia? How do you know if your attorney or you suffer from it? Is it contagious and is there a cure? Knowing the signs, symptoms, and treatment options available can help you and your attorney overcome the disease and face the fear of technology.
Signs of Technophobia
Of course, the simplest definition of technophobia is the fear of technology or complex devices, which includes computers. This is not a new issue. Ever since the Industrial Revolution, people have been afraid of technology and its effects. The legal industry is not immune to this unfounded fear.
Paralegals often find that attorneys are afraid to adopt new technology, whether it is purchasing the newest hardware device like an iPad or netbook, to purchasing the newest software to assist in processing discovery documents, or even buying the newest smartphone. Many feel that they are too old or too busy to learn to use the newest “gadget” or they do not understand the benefits available with using such technology in their law practice. They are afraid of embracing this technology for fear of it becoming a “monster” and consuming their time and their money.
One of the most common symptoms of technophobia seen is the desire to have all discovery documents printed for review and production, even when their digital counterparts are far more useful. Seasoned attorneys have used paper for the majority of their careers and are very comfortable with the capabilities paper documents afford them. They can highlight responsive information with a highlighter, mark relevant pages to be produced with Post-It notes and hand label the document with the old-fashioned Bates labeling machine. Their fear has kept them unaware of the fact that these tasks (highlighting, marking, and automatic numbering) can be accomplished with the use of technology at a fraction of the time and cost. Unfortunately, when attorneys select this outdated method of review and production, it is almost always inefficient and can be more expensive when converting electronic documents to paper, incurring printing costs, and wasting valuable review time. Most likely the heart of the matter is attorneys may not fully understand the capabilities and the inner workings of software programs—but neither do a number of legal support professionals. Technophobia can be contagious and can have the potential to infect the mindset of the attorney’s staff. However, most legal support professionals are more willing to be “vaccinated” against this disorder and to experiment and investigate the technology available.
Another symptom of attorney-related technophobia is a perception of large up-front costs and overall greater costs for technological solutions instead of paper-based answers. Most attorneys believe that because a software program or hardware device costs more money, it is a waste of resources, which they believe can be better spent on staffing and other law practice areas. Unfortunately, this misconception actually can cost the firm more money in the long term than investing up front in technology. By spending a few more dollars up front with technology, a law firm can utilize its professional staff more efficiently and ultimately provide clients with cost-saving opportunities and maximize the billable time available to attorneys and paralegals.
There is hope for those who suffer from technophobia. The disease process can be stopped in its tracks and reversed with the assistance of the techno-savvy legal support professional. The trick for the paralegal is to know their “audience” when they implement the “treatment plan” and help their attorney overcome this dreaded disorder. Attorneys have many demands on their time, and learning new technology, they feel, is not a high priority. Therefore, it is important for the legal support professional to prepare and conduct very thorough research concerning the appropriate technology available when implementing the treatment plan. The following are some of the methods to consider when developing your treatment plan:
- Do not let technophobia be contagious.
Just because an attorney says that the office does not need a particular process or piece of software does not mean it is the final word. Look at the problem like you are an efficiency expert, focusing on the best ways to streamline your office. Identify your goal(s) and resist the urge to give in to your attorney’s technophobic mindset. Just because he or she says “no” today does not mean that a persuasive argument will not lead them to say “yes” tomorrow.
- Focus on the positive.
Attorneys may not know about the powerful features of software they already use; for example, keyword searching in .pdf documents, email inboxes, and Word documents. When introducing new software, ease the transition for them by using programs with graphics, displays, and menu systems that are meant to mimic file cabinets and the physical appearance of documents. Attorneys tend to think abstractly and simplifying the steps to perform a task in a new program with graphic representations can alleviate some of the fear of using technology.
- Vaccinate yourself.
If you educate yourself and your staff about the technological alternatives to paper, you can be the best advocate for switching to a more efficient system. Compare and contrast the features of what is available. Make sure that you have done your homework and condensed your research and findings into short, succinct facts that help explain the benefits of making that transition over to technology. Remember, your attorney’s time is valuable and limited and the more succinct and persuasive you can make your presentation, the better.
- Seek out a support group.
Firsthand knowledge and experience of using a particular piece of software can greatly ease your decision-making process. If no one in your immediate circle uses a particular program, search online through blogs, forums, and online professional groups to seek out individuals who can give you an unbiased opinion. Sometimes you can learn far more information from a firsthand user of a new piece of technology than from solely relying on the package description or company website product review.
- An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Paralegals and attorneys are very aware of how much their time is worth and attorneys are often trying to maintain a budget for their clients. Educating your attorney on the benefits of utilizing technology at the beginning of a case and demonstrating the cost-saving methods can help prevent a lot of wasted time and money on inefficiency. If you and your attorney can perform a task more efficiently in less time, then you can improve service to your client and win client loyalty.
- The road to recovery.
Once you have selected a software package or the newest technological device, spend some time learning every aspect of it either through official training or with your peers. The more proficient you become on a piece of technology, the better an example you are setting for an attorney to follow suit.
Recognizing your (and your attorney’s) resistance to embracing new technology is the first step in combating technophobia. As paralegals, legal assistants, and other legal support professionals, we are on the front lines of encountering the newest and greatest technology available to our industry. It is up to us to educate ourselves and stay current on technology, as well as demonstrating to our attorneys the benefits of utilizing this technology and identifying the cost-saving benefits available to us. Our ultimate goals with combating the “disease” should be efficiency and cost effectiveness. Only when we recognize these benefits can we ultimately eradicate the disorder and save our attorneys and our firms from the phobia of technology.
About the Authors
Carl H. Morrison, PP, AACP, is a senior certified paralegal for the law firm of Rhodes, Hieronymus, Jones, Tucker & Gable in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He has been in the legal profession since 1992 and concentrates in the areas of medical litigation, including medical malpractice and medical products liability, as well as general insurance defense. In his firm, Mr. Morrison is involved with the firm’s management committee on the issue of paralegal staffing. He has presented numerous seminars, webinars, and in-house training sessions over the past several years for local and national organizations. He is a published author, having written The Paralegal’s Guide to Vaccine Litigation—from Roadmap to Resolution, appearing in the @Law Magazine, as well as Basic Medical Literature Researching Skills for Paralegals, appearing in the Institute for Paralegal Education Newsletter. He has been featured in popular paralegal e-zines and appeared on a radio broadcast for the Legal Talk Network concerning the paralegal industry. He is an active member of NALS, the association for legal professionals at the national level, as well as serving locally as an officer in the Tulsa County Bar Association Paralegal Section. Mr. Morrison is dedicated to paralegal education and serves on the Paralegal Studies Advisory Board for Community Care College. He earned his B.S. degree from Northeastern State University and his A.S. degree from Tulsa Community College. He received his American Alliance Certified Paralegal (AACP) certification through the American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc., and his Professional Paralegal (PP) certification through NALS, the association for legal professionals.
Gavin W. Manes, Ph.D., is a nationally-recognized expert in e-discovery and digital forensics. He is President and CEO of Avansic: E-Discovery and Digital Forensics, holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science, and worked as a Research Assistant Professor at the University of Tulsa. Dr. Manes has published over 50 papers on computer security and digital forensics and has given hundreds of presentations to attorneys, executives, students, professors, law enforcement, schools, and professional groups on topics ranging from digital forensics issues to cyber law. He has also briefed the White House, Department of the Interior, the National Security Council, and the Pentagon on computer security and forensics issues.
This article was originally published in @Law, the NALS magazine for legal professionals.