Ten to fifteen years ago, one could still find lawyers bragging about their unwillingness to adopt technology in any form. Those days are long gone. Indeed, state bars like Florida mandate that lawyers take technology education classes as part of their mandatory general CLE requirements. (Florida requires 5 hours out of a 33-hour, 3-year cycle). Beyond the basic requirements to stay licensed, one should also bear in mind that courts have sanctioned lawyers for technological incompetence in a variety of factual settings (e.g. failing to preserve electronic evidence).
Many trial lawyers have been at the forefront of adopting technology as a way of gaining a winning edge in practice. Witness the advent of trial-presentation apps and practice-management software. As you reflect on the direction of your trial practice, consider whether you have sufficient technological competence in the following areas:
Electronic discovery is now fundamental to pre-trial practice. We routinely communicate by texts, email and other electronic messaging channels. All this electronically stored information is potentially discoverable in litigation. E-discovery comes with a set of unique rules. The consequence of ignorance can be huge court fines and client sanctions then resulting in malpractice claims. Ignoring E-discovery is not optional. Consider looking at my E-discovery reference guide: Glance Charts’ Quick Guide to Federal E-discovery. (Florida lawyers can earn ALL 3 hours of technology credits by viewing this course).
Above and beyond basic business and personal communications, we live in a social-media-obsessed world. So many of our clients can’t help themselves: they post about all aspects of their professional and personal lives on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Et al. Unfortunately, these posts can kill a case. Competent trial attorneys must know how to retrieve such social-media evidence through pre-trial discovery and admit the best of the evidence at trial.
It is perfectly okay to use boards and sketch pads at trial. To some extent, these are best for certain factual presentations. Nonetheless, many courts will require you to understand how to use Elmo projectors or similar devices to publish such evidence to the jury. Moreover, you will lose out if you don’t know how to display accident scenes, documents like medical records or contracts or videos at trial. This isn’t necessarily an expensive proposition. In previous articles, I have mentioned TrialPad, an iPad app with features that rival products nearly ten times as expensive.
If you are reading this article, you probably have at least some technological proficiency. Nonetheless, you need to inventory your shortcomings and address them. Technological competence is a core trial lawyer skill.