How Important Is A Lawyer’s Computer Skills?

When lawyers charge by the hour, it is natural to question how much of their time is wasted because they aren’t proficient at using software such as Word and Excel.

D. Casey Flaherty, who works as a lawyer in the Law Department of Kia Motors, decided to test the computer proficiency of lawyers.  As reported in an article published in the American Bar Journal, the results weren’t pretty.  The audit covers basic tasks that litigators would use to create or manage documents.  Flaherty reports that he can complete the audit in about 30 minutes.  Some lawyers have taken as long as 8 hours.  Here is how Flaherty reported the results:

I’ve administered the audit 10 times to nine firms (one firm took it twice). As far as I am concerned, all the firms failed—some more spectacularly than others.  The audit takes me 30 minutes. So, somewhat arbitrarily, I selected 1 hour as passing. The best pace of any associate was 2.5 hours.   The worst pace was 8 hours. Both the median and mean (average) pace rounded to 5 hours.

So should you administer a similar test to your lawyer before deciding whether to hire him or him?

For most people, the answer is pretty clearly no.  Flaherty is in a position that most people who hire lawyers aren’t.  He works for a deep pocket that retains large numbers of lawyers, most of whom charge by the hour.  Moreover, much of the work Kia Motors needs lawyers to perform involves lawsuits that involve large numbers of documents and data.  Thus, for Flaherty and Kia Motors, it is especially important to be concerned about the computer efficiency of its lawyers.  I don’t know how much Kia Motors spends annually on its outside attorneys, but I wouldn’t be surprised if more computer-savvy lawyers could save the company hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Few people can make a similar claim.

I therefore suggest that you take a somewhat different approach.  Technology is an increasingly important aspect of running a modern day business.  You should be concerned if a law firm appears unable to handle the business basics well–especially communications with its potential or current clients.  The most common complaint filed made against lawyers is that they don’t return phone calls and are otherwise unresponsive.  I’d rather that you focus on your lawyer’s ability to run an office effectively than the specific number of hours it takes them to complete a certain task on Excel.

This is not to say, however, that Flaherty hasn’t performed a useful service by shining light on an otherwise underappreciated source of lawyers’ inefficiency.

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