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Evolving Tech Competency Standards

Since the 2012 ABA adoption of heightened legal tech competency standards, some 28 states have followed suit and adopted standards of their own. The amended ABA rule, Comment 8 to Rule 1.1, reads as follows, “A lawyer has a duty to maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, and to keep abreast in changes in its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.” Now, the baby boomer generation of lawyers probably didn’t celebrate this new standard because they had their own systems that worked for decades. That said, I can attest that resistance to the prospect of a more technology-driven legal practice isn’t confined to the baby-boomers. As a millennial, even I have to admit I didn’t expect technology to play as big of a role in the legal field as it does. That said, the tide isn’t turning back. With lawyers using technology more than ever, the ethic rules are beginning to reflect the heightened responsibilities that go along with it.

Drawing from the sentiments of ABA rule 1.1, Florida has become the first state to enhance their own CLE requirements. The Florida Supreme Court ruled that starting in January of 2017, lawyers are required to complete 3 hours (every 3 years) of CLE training in approved technology programs. You can bet that other states will follow suit in the future.

With the advent of Florida’s heightened legal tech standards, the Florida Supreme Court also amended the comment to its rule to state “lawyers could retain non-lawyer advisers with established technological competence in the relevant field.” Firms will now have a decision to make with regards to the hiring approach they wish to take. I would bet larger firms with more resources might be inclined to have a non-lawyer with a technology background on staff to help manage the technology facet of the firm. Smaller firms, perhaps less inclined to hire full-time non-lawyers for their services, still might be well-served to seek out professional technology advice from these non-lawyers over and beyond the basic CLE requirements to help establish a good technological foundation for their practice.

Legal tech skeptics don’t know what they are missing out on. The infinitely expanding legal tech sector seems daunting, but lawyers today should guard against imposing unrealistic expectations on themselves. Yes, attaining competence takes effort and, yes, it requires learning new skills that at first don’t appear to immediately translate into a more efficient practice. However, as the Florida Bar Rules indicate, the standards of legal tech competence are being raised, and whether the skeptics realize it or not, it is to the benefit of both them and their clients.

     -Zack Sobel