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Turning Users On to Technology:
Hurdles of Law Tech Evangelists

National Law Journal - February 17, 1997

NEVER HAVE so many lawyers played Solitaire at work. The card game comes bundled with Windows software, and it is not put there to allow attorneys to relax their minds while making personal calls. No, Solitaire's electronic raison d'être is to teach even the most stubborn DOS users how to use a mouse.

The cards in Solitaire cannot be moved with the keyboard commands beloved by DOS users. Instead, a Solitaire player must take one hand off the keyboard and manipulate that little gray thing on the pad.

As a tool for enticing people to use unfamiliar technology--and the mouse is one of the gizmos DOS users most resist--Solitaire is brilliant. Now, where are the tools that will motivate people to use unfamiliar software?

They are being devised, invented or simply wished for by lawyers and information service staffers every day. Without something Solitaire-like to pull busy people into using the technology on their desks, many professionals will refuse to use it. The crucial step in implementing new technology, then, comes after it is distributed and initial training is complete: getting people to use it.

"I think of it as technology evangelism," says Adam Bendell, a lawyer who heads the tech committee at Los Angeles' Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher L.L.P.

Macintosh users even have an electronic discussion group, or listserv, called the MacEvangeList. A contributor to the list, Bill Pope, recently debunked what he called "the myth" that there is not enough Macintosh-based legal software.

Tricks of the Trade

Paul Mickey, a partner at Washington, D.C.'s Shaw, Pittman, Potts & Trowbridge, experiences the difficulties of a tech evangelist, even at the partnership level. "Anyone who has played this role knows how fruitless managing by decree is--particularly where computers are concerned," he e-mails.

So the firm used a carrot, not a stick, to encourage lawyers to use electronic tools and search for information online. "By putting important financial data and firm management materials online and making them available only online, we created a situation where everyone, even the most senior attorneys, needed to learn the basics right away," he says. "And to my surprise and delight, everyone did!"

It is amazing how adept people can be with new technology if using the stuff is the only way to find out what their partnership share is.

Robert L. Womack, director of technology at Boston's Hale and Dorr, uses the government's old securities filing data base, EDGAR, to teach people to use Netscape, the firm's Internet browser, as SEC filings are now available on the Web. Mr. Womack shows them how to view EDGAR filings using Netscape.

Interestingly, he found, the reverse also works. "If people were familiar with the Internet but unfamiliar with EDGAR, they were able to use their Internet skills to become familiar with the SEC," he says. "One skill builds on another."

Patience is a must. Carol Rumer, director of information technology at Dallas' Jenkens & Gilchrist P.C., builds knowledge in baby steps. "If you can find one thing that is simple and will improve their quality of life, they're going to learn it," she says.

If lawyers who are constantly on the road want to pick up their e-mail remotely, for example, that ability is taught and learned. Similarly, a CD-ROM package that provides data about financial institutions will be mastered by a lawyer who needs that information.

Partners might learn a calendar program that, in addition to personal scheduling information, displays client "to do" lists, allowing them to track which associates are working on what client matter and where they are in a project.

There are 300 lawyers at Jenkens & Gilchrist, and Ms. Rumer says she and her staff seek to find the functions that make technology most relevant and helpful to each lawyer's practice.

If lawyers who could benefit from the technology repeatedly decline to use it, Ms. Rumer does not blame them: "We're the ones who falter because we have not spent the time to find out what their needs are."

As the tech support staff may be working full time on maintaining the network, Ms. Rumer assigns a practice support manager to each area of the firm to specialize in identifying what work can be automated and where technology might help the lawyers.

Feed Them and They Will Come

Many tech training sessions are held over lunch; cookies should be served at afternoon meetings. Food always boosts attendance significantly.

Laptops are another lure--almost as strong as Solitaire. As soon as one lawyer has a nice laptop, many other lawyers in the firm discover the need for a laptop that is just as nice, or a bit better.

Negative reinforcement also works. Horror stories are good motivators, found Dennis Egan, director of technology at Los Angeles' Graham & James L.L.P. "Did you hear what happened to the attorney who sent unencrypted e-mail across the Internet?" he asks.

Mr. Egan finds that there is an initial period of resistance of about six months to a major tech change. Then people begin to grasp what the technology can do.

"It is no longer necessary to send an e-mail with a document attached to it anywhere among the firm's eight offices," he says. "You can say the document is No. 12345 in the San Francisco library, and someone can connect from New York and get it directly."

People began to share ideas as to how to standardize document names and establish firmwide standard formats. Mr. Egan collects the e-mail addresses of the people interested in technology and informs them as to what other offices are doing. "I hope that the firm as a whole will become more collaborative as a result of the technology," he says.

The going is rough at first. He recalls reactions to the videoconferencing studio: "What are we going to do with this?" They used it first for intrafirm meetings and then with clients. After six months, the studio was booked solid, he says.

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This article is reprinted with permission from the February 17, 1997 edition of The National Law Journal. © 1997 NLP IP Company.


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