Whether you are targeting an in-house legal/law job, finessing your law career, or positioning yourself for legal recruitment, you can feel the impact that technological innovation and development has had on legal practice. Office skills and familiarity with office software such as Microsoft Office are important tools to maximize efficiency. The incoming generation of lawyers is expected to be able to draft their own documents, manage some of their own administrative work, and maximize efficiency—on top of being a lawyer.
In 2012, the American Bar Association updated the Model Rules of Professional Conduct to reflect the impact of technological updates on modern law firm practice. One of the most significant changes was to the first rule, 1.1 Competence. Comment  Maintaining Competence was amended to read:
“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…”
As competition with external forces increase, familiarity with technology will be increasingly important. Pressure from alternative legal services and innovative changes some are calling for automation, virtual workspaces, and artificial intelligence.
Are you—or is your team—technologically competent? Here are some critical functions that you should be familiar with:
Tools in Microsoft Word (e.g., advanced find and replace, Styles, and Review) are essential tools for efficient generation and review of agreements and contracts to ensure your use of acronyms, business names, and other elements is consistent. Software like PerfectIt and Lexis-Nexis for Office provide additional features. Learn to utilize these tools to maximize your time and reduce errors.
If you have sufficient Microsoft Word skills to apply styles, sections, complex pagination, tables of authorities, and tables of contents, you’ll find generating documents for e-filing greatly simplified. Federal and appellate courts and many state courts require e-filing.
Do you know how to use track changes and compare on Microsoft Word? Get familiar with online collaboration through platforms like Office 365 and Google Drive. Understand the privacy features and security settings as they may effect your practice.
Learning how to use (and improve) whatever your document management system is will be essential for you to locate documents. This may be as simple as file naming conventions or as complex a full-scale training on an electronic system.
There are a handful of Office and Word tools that you should be familiar with:
- Microsoft Word, Styles: to create clean tables of contents and consistent sections in your work.
- Microsoft PowerPoint: although you might enjoy using Prezi, understand PowerPoint is still important as you might be asked to collaborate on a presentation using PowerPoint.
- Microsoft Outlook QuickSteps: program steps into one click, automatically folder emails, categorize it, prioritize it, and much more.
- Microsoft Excel: this is a core business technology tool that many of your clients will be using.
Since technology is rapidly developing, it is also important to stay on top of developments in the following areas:
How do you locate, preserve, authenticate, and present evidence about data in all its forms and all its locations? How will you work with forensics experts, interpret what they report, and know what questions to ask them—both for your client and of your opponent?
Rapidly becoming its own practice area in certain practices. Judges are increasingly frustrated with the lack of understanding and cooperation shown by many lawyers in e-discovery.
The modern jury expects modern presentation techniques. We are moving from basic slides to polished visuals with higher production value. Developments in 3-D printing, voice-responsive technology, and virtual and augmented reality will impact our ability to communicate information to an audience.
Even if it won’t replace lawyers, it will supplement some work processes. This is an area that lawyers should track developments in and try to have a general understanding of.
These are distributed ledger systems that have evolved from the software platform initially used for bitcoins. While they can be used for cryptocurrency, they can be used to prove title, identity, provenance, and much more. They can also be used as a platform for applications known as smart contracts, which can be programmed with contractual or legal logic. In a simple form, an escrow smart contract might automatically transfer a payment at the expiration of a set number of days.