Much of this module has focused on traditional paper-based systems, and the basis of these systems is something each lawyer must understand regardless of whether they ultimately use paper systems or computer systems to assist in file and time management. It is difficult to imagine, however, particularly post-COVID, that any law office continues to operate without the use of multiple technologies, including file management tools. At the very least, even a completely manual and paper filing system will necessarily need to include copies of communications that have occurred via electronic means, such as email.
Optional Video: Of course, dedicated file and document management systems can be costly and complex. If you are interested in using tools you might already have to handle simple document management, watch Bite Size CPD – Built-in Document Management (9:38).
The Code recognizes an ethical imperative for lawyers to keep abreast of changes in technology that affect their practice. Commentary 4A and 4B to section 3.1-2 of the Code state:
[4A] To maintain the required level of competence, a lawyer should develop an understanding of, and ability to use, technology relevant to the nature and area of the lawyer’s practice and responsibilities. A lawyer should understand the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology, recognizing the lawyer’s duty to protect confidential information set out in section 3.3.
[4B] The required level of technological competence will depend upon whether the use or understanding of technology is necessary to the nature and area of the lawyer’s practice and responsibilities and whether the relevant technology is reasonably available to the lawyer. In determining whether technology is reasonably available, consideration should be given to factors including:
a) The lawyer’s or law firm’s practice areas;
b) The geographic locations of the lawyer’s or firm’s practice; and
c) The requirements of clients.
It is important to take a thoughtful and pragmatic approach to the adoption of new technologies and not allow yourself to become overwhelmed by the technology you use. There are many “best practices” resources available online that focus on technology and security. Take the time to educate yourself on the issues and to talk to your peers to see what systems and policies they use and how they assess their effectiveness. Think about your ethical and legal obligations and ask, “how does the technology I am using assist me in meeting my obligations, and how does it expose me, my clients, and my practice to risk?”
When in doubt about how the technology you use works, remember that there are professionals you can hire to help set up, maintain, secure, and monitor your computer systems.
Remember that technology does not make you ethical, nor does it make you competent. First and foremost, you must be aware of your professional responsibilities, otherwise you will not be able to assess how the technology helps or hinders you in meeting those responsibilities.