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4 Practical Ways Attorneys Can Gain Experience to Improve Their Technological Competence

Jan 19, 2021

(The following blog is Part 2 of a 3-part series on Technology Competence for Lawyers. To start with blog #1, please click here.)

As you begin to build a strong foundation for technological competence through educational efforts, it is essential to gain further understanding and skills through experience. I break experience into two categories: engagement and application. Engaging with your office, your colleagues, the legal services industry and the larger technology sector allows you to test and refine your knowledge and exchange ideas in a manner that will further enhance and accelerate your competency. Engagement is a way to develop your experience where the stakes are lower. Below are four areas of engagement where you can safely build your experience:

Element 2: Engagement

  1. Start in Your Own Backyard: I am often surprised at how little interaction exists between in-house legal and IT departments, and how infrequently outside counsel takes steps to understand the legal implications of how their clients organize their information ecosystem and data footprint. Your ethical duty of competence requires that you not only have a firm grasp of your client’s email systems, but also understand emerging trends associated with the growing number of devices and cloud-based communication applications, connected devices, and the broad adoption of collaboration tools and platforms, such as Zoom, Slack and Teams. Engage IT staff periodically to understand the types of data your clients generate, how information flows through the enterprise, and how IT systems evolve. These conversations can also serve as a forum to exchange information with IT to promote better information governance practices.
  2. Get Involved: There are many organizations that provide legal professionals with opportunities to develop their competency with technology. Legal associations may have legal technology specific sections, or committees within specific sections you can join. In addition, consider engaging organizations such as The Sedona Conference, ILTA, ACEDS, EDI, ITechLaw, and IAPP as well as LinkedIn groups and other online forums. My suggestion would be to actively engage a smaller number of groups rather than spread yourself too thin across several organizations.
  3. Validate Your Education: A good practice is to find mentors with the expertise to validate your competence with technology. These professionals can include a service provider, a lawyer at your firm or an IT professional in your network. Once you find a mentor, interview them and interact with them regularly. Sign up for free webinars, even if the topic is one you have seen presented over and over, to gain new perspectives and ask questions. You may even meet your new, career-long mentor.
  4. Consider Certification. What makes legal technology unique is that it is both the foundation for several specific practice areas (e.g., eDiscovery, data privacy or other areas of data and technology law) and also of general importance to all lawyers. The disciplines of eDiscovery and data privacy in particular have become so specialized that certification is almost necessary. There is a baseline level of knowledge all attorneys should have when it comes to technology, and there are a diverse range of certifications that can help one achieve and maintain that baseline. Outside of certificate programs offered by law schools, there are countless programs that are more IT-focused and software-specific.

Three certifying organizations that are particularly applicable to attorneys include:

  1. The International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP), which offers various concentrations under the Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP) certification and other specialty certifications such as the Certified Information Privacy Manager (CIPM) and the Certified Information Privacy Technologist (CIPT),
  2. The Association of Certified E-Discovery Specialists with their Certified E-Discovery Specialist (CEDS) Certification, and
  3. Relativity, which offers numerous certifications designating various levels of expertise within the legal industry’s leading platform.

Though certification may not be for everyone, I think all lawyers can benefit from at least exploring these, or similar, certifications.

As you build your competence through engagement over time, you should feel comfortable applying your newfound technological knowledge and experience to your cases. However, becoming more competent does not necessarily mean you are an expert.  You must always consider what you don’t know with as much importance as what you do know – and there will always be things you don’t know no matter what your level of technological expertise. Gaining technological competence is a lifelong endeavor that evolves with the times. Our next blog will discuss the third element of competence: Application.  We will also consider how to mesh what you know with what you don’t know.

If you would like to read Part 3 of the 3-part series on Technology Competence for Lawyers, click here.

About the Author

Matthew F. Knouff, Esq., CIPP/US/E, CEDS, RCSP

Matthew F. Knouff, Esq., CIPP/US/E, CEDS, RCSP

Matthew F. Knouff, Esq., CIPP/US/E, CEDS, RCSP is Vice President and eDiscovery Counsel with Complete Discovery Source, Inc. (CDS). Matthew advises law firms, corporations, and government agencies worldwide on e-discovery and information governance policies and processes, data privacy and security policies and practices, defensible deployment of technology during legal proceedings, and cost and risk reduction strategies.