The Technically Competent Lawyer

[This article was written for solo practitioners or small to mid-sized law firms. If you fall into those categories, read on]

Competent legal representation requires the knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and preparation reasonably necessary to act on your clients’ behalf. Ethically and practically speaking, technical competence and skills are a must.

In this article, we will address two places where lawyers must adopt new technologies in order to perform their duties competently.

Technical Competency in the Office

Legal technology has come a long way since the typewriter and the Telex. A well-run office now works effectively with electronic document management systems. There are systems for every budget, and therefore, every law firm should have one. It will not only help you manage your office better, it is the only way to run an office in the digital world.

What is an Electronic Document Management System (EDMS)? An EDMS is an enterprise level software that controls and organizes documents throughout an organization in a central location. It makes document access and storage easier while you save space. An EDMS incorporates document and content capture, provides metadata indexing, access control, workflow, output, and allows for organization-wide retrieval, archiving, and destruction.

Most EDMS can:

With an EDMS, your firm can control who can retrieve data. This is critical because client documents must be protected at all times. Digital information is vulnerable to both internal and external attacks. Most systems include robust access, backup and security features, such as:

These features also protect your documents from disasters, fires, and floods because they are safely stored in the system and backed-up.

Other EDMS features may include the ability for audit trails, email management tools and key integrations with many other apps on the market or e-discovery platforms. Especially with online or “cloud-based” storage, an EDMS can also offer data readily available remotely on mobile and other devices, making the job in and out of the office easier.

Which EDMS is good for my firm?

Some firms have more complex document management requirements. Many options are available depending on the features you need and your budget. Some offer on-site solutions; others are “cloud-based” and exist on a hard drive online. Others provide both. Because an EDMS is a significant investment of time and money, always have an outside consultant help in the selection and pricing process. Moreover, have an onboarding and implementation plan in place so that your intended users embrace and adopt your new technology. In this case, all of your office employees are intended users and you should have a process for proper implementation so you don’t end up buying a tool nobody uses or knows how to use fully.

Technical Competency at Trial

While PowerPoint and audio recordings are still used, there are now countless presentation tools. What you choose can make the difference between a smooth trial and one riddled with missteps. These are some questions to ask yourself before trial to help you choose the right tools:

Trial preparation software is effective for:

Choosing the Right Trial Preparation Software

The number of exhibits you’ll present and whether you’ll use video can help determine the best software for your needs.

For example, if you have under 50 exhibits and don’t need to show video, the Trial Director for iPad app may suffice. This is a simple app that any tech-savvy attorney or paralegal can run with minimal training. It offers basic annotation tools: a split screen for showing up to two documents at a time and a simple “pinch zoom” to easily navigate documents. For fewer than 200 exhibits and no need to display video, you may consider TrialPad for iPad. On the other hand, If you need to store, manage, retrieve and display lots of images, documents and video, you may need to invest in a trial presentation database program such as Trial Director or Oncue.

It is important to be aware that many courthouses have undergone technological upgrades designed to create more modern and efficient hearings and trials. Know what resources are available at the courthouse, which adapters or hook-ups you may need, etc. And don’t overlook the many items you need for a successful presentation: a power cord, external storage media (copies of evidence), wireless mouse, a projector, external speakers, additional monitors, a portable document presenter, etc.

Never go to trial without a project manager in tow, or someone who has properly planned the scope and requirements and is in charge of implementing all the logistics of your trial.

The time for the technically competent lawyer, in the office and at trial, is now. If you need help with an EDMS selection, acquisition, or implementation, or project managing a trial, call Karta Legal today.