California Bar Requires Attorneys To Embrace Technology

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Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP

Ditch those pens and Dictaphones!

A colleague recently commented about how a former partner liked to joke, “I’ll break your hand if I catch you writing a brief by pen and paper!”

Guess what his preferred technology was. The Dictaphone.

In a state that has driven technological innovation for decades, the legal profession has been slow to adapt. However, last week, the California Bar took a step to nudge attorneys into the 21st century (now that we're 21 years into it) by adding technological competence to the state’s professional conduct rules. California becomes the 39th state to adopt the rule change following a similar change made by the American Bar Association -- in 2012.

The new rule, which took effect on March 22, is a comment to California Rule of Professional Conduct 1.1, which provides that competent legal services includes “the duty to keep abreast of the changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.”

So, how can attorneys use technology to provide more competent legal services? Thus far, the California Bar has not offered any specific guidance. However, the following can arguably help attorneys demonstrate general technological competence:

  • Videoconferencing tools
  • Secure file transfer and document management software e-discovery platforms
  • Research and brief-writing tools
  • Time-tracking and billing software
  • Data security products
  • Word-processing, email, and calendaring software

Some states require attorneys to get a certain amount of continuing legal education in technology. California doesn't have such a requirement yet.

Still, as we slowly emerge from a challenging year during which the pandemic has forced us to adapt in all kinds of ways, with varying degrees of success*, we must continue to use technology to improve the quality of legal services we provide.

*Did the attorney with the cat filter violate the new rule? No, he was in Texas.

Fortunately (or, for some, unfortunately?), it’s now a professional obligation too.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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