What is Legal Technological Competency?

Several of the sessions I attended at the ABA TechShow worked to define what technological competency is in the legal field (including law schools) or how it’s approached in law firms, including “Tech Competencies: Past, Present & Future”  to “Can Technology Competency Help You Get a Job?

Other sessions in the Academic Track, “Law School Tech Training on a Shoestring” (presented by Joe Mitzenmacher and Debbie Ginsberg) and the “Technology in Law Schools: A Single Course or Curriculum Integration?”  looked at the work librarians are doing to create “legaltech” training programs for law students within the law school curriculum.

Most of all, I was encouraged to see this topic brought enthusiastic speakers and audiences from a range of backgrounds, not just law school librarians but everyone from firm hiring managers to new law students. The presentations were excellent, but so was the ongoing context provided during the Q&A, so I’ve included my live tweets here that to illustrate this broader conversation at the TechShow.

Why does Legal Tech Competence matter?

The ABA Rule 1.1, adopted almost ten years ago, says

A lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.

In addition, comment 8, “Maintaining Competence” notes how this applies to technology (emphasis added):

To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology, engage in continuing study and education and comply with all continuing legal education requirements to which the lawyer is subject.

Bob Ambrogi has provided a map of Tech Competence state rules on LawSites, which he keeps up to date as new rules are adopted:

Defining Legal Tech Competency

While the  ABA’s professional responsibility rules emphasize “legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation” and “keep[ing] abreast of changes […] including the benefits and risks,” they don’t define what is meant by technology or how competency should be measured.

I liked this approach from Dan Linna, who has taught a range of legal tech courses at Northwestern and Michigan State University College of Law:

Training and assessment in tech competency is a moving target, of course, as the field is rapidly changing and so are client expectations:

It’s also important to recognize where the start line is for many new lawyers and not rely on generalizations based on age stereotypes:

Who Cares about Legal Tech Competency?

It was instructive to me to see the different concerns from tech trainers, law students, hiring partners, and more:

Law Firms:

Betsey Frank, Director of Staff Development and Technology Training at Sidley Austin LLP, shared how they built a team to develop the standards they wanted their first year associates to have in her talk.

They developed a core curriculum and offered ways to test out, but 97% of their first year associates took the training:

Law Students

Law students in the audience shared concerns about mixed employment advice they’ve received. They also noted ways they’ve been building their skill sets to position themselves for their legal careers:

Hiring Partners & Employers

Several times in the Q&A following presentations, employers raised concerns about the hiring process. One hiring partner was concerned that students with the skills weren’t advertising them. Another employer worried their interns would be missing basic skills needed to get started working quickly:

Librarians & Legal Tech Competency

Of course several librarians spoke in the academic track about their work incorporating legal tech training into law schools using a variety of creative approaches:

Kenton Brice, Director of Technology Innovation at The University of Oklahoma College of Law has been able to build up an extensive legal tech program that includes his position as a full time trainer, 75 lunch hour presentations, a university grant that includes $100k for tech and $20k for student lunches, and access to the LTC4 competency list and training:

Jennifer Wondracek, Director of Legal Educational Technology and Professor of Practice at UNT Dallas College of Law, has been teaching a legal tech course that meets their “Practice-Related Technology” requirement for graduation.

Elizabeth Farrell Clifford, Research Center Director & Professor at Florida State University College of Law, emphasized these full fledged programs are usually not where librarians start. It’s likely more effective to evaluate the wide range of competencies that could be taught and find your “MVP” – minimum viable product – that you could focus on to start building buy-in for more training:

Other suggestions from ABA Tech Show speakers and audience members: