If you’re like most lawyers, you love your smartphone. Some might even call it romantic love. We bring our smartphones everywhere. According to the latest stats, most lawyers probably spend more time looking at their smartphones than they do talking to their friends.
It’s not just smartphones; we love other tech, too. So long as it seems helpful and flashy. Our smart coffee makers. Our Netflix. Our self-driving cars. We can’t get enough of technology.
Well, certain technology.
Because our tech love is not spread around evenly. Most of us lawyers don’t feel the same way about our work technology as we do about our personal tech. We love when Alexa takes down our shopping list. But when using our billable-hour tracker or editing a motion in Word—suddenly tech seems less friendly.
I get it. Work tech is not love at first sight. We’ve been burned by it. Probably more than once. Much of the technology we use at work is linked to, well, work. We might be stressed or busy when we use it. We might blame it for some catastrophe that happened in the past. And it just doesn’t seem all that exciting when we get that email from IT letting us know that there’s a new Outlook update.
But work tech has gotten more friendly over the years. You might be ready to see it in a different light. After all, if you love the ten minutes you save letting Spotify pick your music, you’ll adore the hours legal tech tools can save you.
So how do you open your heart to work tech? There are just three simple steps.
Understand what work tech can do for your personal bottom line.
If you don’t understand how a piece of technology or feature can add value to your everyday practice—why would you give it a second thought? This is the biggest problem for lawyers. Many don’t understand how different their work lives would be if they used the right tools set up in the right ways. This is all understandable. Lawyers are busy, we don’t have time for things that won’t affect our bottom lines.
But fill the knowledge gap, and suddenly our attitudes about work tech change some. For example, take knowledge management. Most legal organizations struggle to get anyone to use it. But experts agree that it’s a powerful tool.
When all lawyers understand about this tool is that there are some template documents on a system somewhere, along with some research memos written by someone else—why would they buy in? It’s so abstract. How do I know that the time I spend trying to find a template in the KM system will be fruitful? How will I know there’s a template for what I care about?
But if you understand how KM can change your daily practice, the tool looks a lot different. If you know the specific categories of templates in your KM, when it comes time to write a document that fits one of those categories, you will already know that a template is there waiting for you. And if you understand that a template shaves off, on average, two-six hours of work for attorneys on any given document, that KM tool looks a lot friendlier.
The takeaway here is: You might not be loving your work tech (and more importantly, might not be using it well) because you don’t understand the specifics of how each tool can change your day-to-day practice. This is the key question to ask with every tool you use, and every tool you consider using. What is the bottom line for you? Will it save you a lot more time than you put into learning the tool? How much more? Will it catch errors that will embarrass you? How often?
The answer will often be that learning to use a new tool or feature won’t be worth it. And just as well that you avoid it. But until you understand how a tool can integrate with your practice and produce results, it’s all abstract for you.
Stop blaming the tools and start learning enough about your tech so that you avoid the pitfalls.
“Word just deleted my draft motion!” It’s happened to all of us. And if I’m honest, I wanted to delete Word from my laptop last time.
We all use technology for work a lot, and we are bound to have the occasional misfire. But nearly all of those misfires are our own doing. So emotionally we may blame the tools, but the problem is usually that we didn’t invest the time required to learn how to set up and use our tools the right way.
Setting aside time to figure out what you don’t know about each of your work tools is hard for busy lawyers. But the investment is necessary. If you don’t learn enough about how tools work, how to set them up, and how to use them—you’re destined for constant late-night panics when those tools don’t do what you need them to.
Getting back to our disappearing document situation, there’s zero reason to ever lose a Word document. Even if your computer melted down, it shouldn’t touch your documents. But that’s true only if you know how to set up auto-saving and cloud backup the right way. You can’t blame Word for losing your document when it offered you a simple way to prevent that from happening.
The takeaway here: Figure out what you don’t know. Take stock of your current tools, and spend just a little time with guides, with the pros at your firm or org, with the tool’s instructions. Your goal is to see what features you aren’t using that you should be, what settings could boost your practice, and how the tool can help you do what you already do better.
Once you know how to do what you need to, the misfires will become rare. The frustrations about a tool not working or producing the wrong result will largely dissolve. Because the tools will do what they should. And when they don’t, you’ll know what to do.
Take control of your tech; don’t wait for others to do it for you.
Because so many lawyers start grumbling at the mere mention of a new technology tool, many organizations feel like they need to make folks use certain tools and in certain ways. But this just adds to the tech-morale problem. That work tech now feels even more annoying and frustrating because the users aren’t deciding what and how to use their tools.
Long term and productive use of a tool requires the user’s buy in. It’s as simple as that. You can only force things on folks so much before it backfires and productivity drops. And what’s more, the best tools are worthless if the user can’t integrate them seamlessly into how they work best. If a lawyer has to break their entire workflow and approach to finishing a task, just to use a tech tool, why wouldn’t they resent it?
The answer lies in our first two tech-truths: If a lawyer understands in specific, concrete terms how a tool will change their bottom line and they understand how and when to use the tool—that lawyer will take control of their work-tech destiny. They will invest in the tech because it pays them dividends. And if a tool doesn’t help, then it won’t be used. Which is a good thing.
It’s no real surprise, then, that attorneys don’t always use their firm’s knowledge management system. Or any other tool. Because they haven’t been shown how the tool fits into their daily practice. Nor have they been shown why the tool matters to them or had any say in how or when it’s used. The tool is just given to them and they are told to use it.
So don’t just wait around to use the tools your organization pushes down to you. Take some time and figure out what tools will work with your own workflow and habits. Figure out which ones will actually save you time and improve your work product. And invest in those.
A few other ideas.
Consider blending your work and personal tech (assuming your legal org allows it and there’s no data security concerns). Many of our favorite non-work technologies can be powerful work tools. For example, Alexa can just as easily remind you to work on that motion as she can remind you to check dinner in the oven. We already know how to use our personal tech and we believe it can help us.
Relatedly, look for work-analogs to the tools that help you in your personal life. There are tons of secure tools that can help you keep track of tasks, take notes on the go, and much more on the work side.
If you’re in a management or leadership position, consider the value of getting more input from attorneys about the types of tech they’d like to use. The more buy-in, the better.
Final thoughts: Show your work tech some love.
Yes, your new iPhone app is neat. So is your Alexa. But the features that make those things awesome are also hiding in your work technologies. And just like you love playing music from your couch with a command—you will love how much your work tech can make your life better.