Attorney Technology Competency: What You and Your Clients Need to Know

This month’s roundtable pulls back the covers on the effective use of technology inside of law firms and legal departments. What should law firms be doing to make sure their most valuable assets are technologically equipped to best serve their clients? What should general counsel accept from their firms and when is it time to request a technology use assessment?


While we can all probably agree that cost efficient delivery of legal services requires effective use of the best technology available, and that failure to have technology skills negatively impacts the firm’s bottom line, who decides the meaning of ‘effective use’? Who tests and challenges existing technology proficiency? Who selects and certifies application competencies? And who is involved in the tech proficiency cycle to make sure it yields positive results? Are law firm clients getting more fed up with their outside counsels’ technology ineptitude and calling for mandatory tech tests and audits?

Our Moderator

Nicholas Gaffney is a veteran public relations practitioner in San Francisco and is a member of the Law Practice Today Editorial Board.

Our Panelists

Tony Gerdes (TG), learning and development manager at Offit Kurman, P.A. A skillful educator with over 15 years of experience, Tony is responsible for creating training content, marketing new initiatives and rollouts, and delivering technological and professional growth opportunities. He also administers the firm’s learning management system, Offit Kurman University. In addition, Tony serves on the Certification Pod of LTC4 (the Legal Technology Core Competencies Certification Coalition).
Robert Karwic (RK), director of IT training at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, has worked in the legal industry in a variety of roles for over 25 years, specializing in technology training and adoption for much of that time. Robert is responsible for the vision, strategy, planning, communication and execution of technology related training programs for lawyers and staff. Before joining Orrick, Robert worked as the training manager at Jones Day and as a training consultant. Robert also volunteers on the Certification Pod of LTC4. Robert has a B.A. from Tufts University and J.D. from George Washington University Law School.
D. Casey Flaherty (DCF), of counsel and director of client value at Haight Brown & Bonesteel, and founder of Procertas and creator of the Legal Technology Assessment (LTA). Casey is the creator and pioneer of the LTA, which tests and trains legal timekeepers and staff on the use of basic technology, such as word processing and spreadsheets, to complete commonly encountered legal tasks. He began his legal career as an associate at Holland & Knight LLP and later served in the general counsel’s office at Kia Motors America. Casey is the member of the advisory board of NextLaw Labs LLC. His LTA approach has been profiled in the Washington Post. Casey is celebrated as a “Legal Rebel” and labeled an innovator by prominent legal trade publications
Virginio Basile (VB), is the vice president of Tikit North America. He understands the legal sector and knows that technology, when implemented well and when used to its full capacity can bring significant gains to firms from both a revenue and efficiency perspective. This knowledge had been gained from over 15 years spent consulting and working closely with the leadership teams in law firms to deliver enterprise grade systems, applications, change management, and training to ensure that the firm’s business objectives are met and exceeded. Before joining Tikit, he served in IT leadership roles for several of the top-tier Canadian law firms.
Bonnie Beuth (BB), information systems trainer, FordHarrison LLP, LTC4 founding member and board chair. She manages the instructional design and delivery of courseware supporting the organization’s key initiatives, including the delivery schedule to support those initiatives. Key initiatives include managing the design, delivery and continuous improvement of new hire training programs, facilitating onboarding at all levels. She consistently reduces disruption to firm operations by overseeing successful rollout of new applications across multiple offices. Bonnie also manages state of the art learning resources, including the FordHarrison University Learning Management System.
Justin Hectus (JH), ‎director of information at Keesal, Young & Logan. A two-time ILTA Distinguished Peer Award Winner, Justin Hectus is is charged with the broad mandate of delivering the right information to the right person at the right time to support good business decisions. Having served in that role for over a decade, Justin is involved in virtually every aspect of the firm’s business including leading KYL’s operational and cyber risk management program. Justin frequently speaks and publishes articles on topics related to trends in technology and entertainment and he sits on the Board of Editors of the newly minted ALM publication “Cybersecurity Law and Strategy.”
Jon Olson (JO), senior vice president & general counsel, Blackbaud, Inc. Jon is responsible for Blackbaud’s legal activities, including negotiating commercial transactions, managing corporate governance activities and compliance. Earlier this year, Jon also became the lead for Blackbaud’s Corporate Real Estate activities. Before joining the company, he was an attorney with Alcatel-Lucent beginning in 1997. Before joining Alcatel-Lucent, Jon was employed in various legal positions with MCI, Unisys and in private practice. He received his BS from Georgetown University, JD from Dickinson School of Law and MBA from Seton Hall University.


How do you currently evaluate attorney technology competence and training at your firm?

TG: When a new attorney joins the firm, it starts with the attorney’s own perception of their needs. Then as new projects demand greater skills, or attorneys are presented with learning opportunities, the gaps between one’s current level of performance and the required level become more obvious. LTC4 learning plans provide exceptional opportunities for growth and to demonstrate proficiency.

BB: Technology competence is achieved beginning with onboarding courseware and continues in multiple formats, through rollout and skills-gap opportunities.

RK: We are currently piloting a “white glove” training program wherein a trainer meets with anyone who requests training to observe their workflow at a mutually convenient time and make suggestions regarding how they could do things more efficiently. It may not be scalable but if allows us to maximize the training benefits that are going to those who are willing to take the time to improve their skills.

VB: Although we are not a firm, we do help our clients evaluate technology competencies. From a time keeping perspective, which is one of our areas of expertise, we will evaluation key indicators such as participation, collaboration, velocity of capture, usage of different capture points, mobile needs. This allows us to draw a complete portrait of the user community’s knowledge and usage gaps.

DCF: We are using the LTA with all associates and staff. As we build out LTA content, we will create micro-learning paths for each position.

JH: We have used both LTA and LTC4 for various training, certification and client validation initiatives. We tend to deliver training in tailored, short one-on-one sessions, but we also recently implemented an annual three-hour tech CLE requirement for all timekeepers.

JO: Blackbaud uses the LTA for attorney and staff training. We strongly encourage our external firms to do the same. We are a small department (eight people), so the training is largely by providing a varied set of experiences to our team and providing any necessary tools. Use of technology has become so integral to providing legal services that it should be thought of as a component in those services. Testing in firms is largely driven by firm clients.

What are the key drivers in assessing and testing technology competence? Is it purely client-driven?

TG: While our current clients may not be asking to see our certifications, some have been pleased that we have them. In addition, the ABA has made it clear that keeping abreast of relevant technology is part of an attorney’s ethical responsibility. From competency and ethics to profitability and cost reduction, ensuring that our attorneys are technologically proficient benefits both our clients and our firm.

BB: Training is client- and efficiency-driven in order to adhere to all aspects of the FordHarrison Client Service Promise.

VB: For time capture, the key driver is profitability and client retention. Data has shown us that realization is greatly impacted by contemporaneous capture, so our efforts are focused on helping attorneys improve their experience and participation in a typically mundane task. We help highlight the importance of tracking to the business and use data to substantiate our claims.

DCF: it is firm-driven with an eye towards clients. Primarily, it is one piece of a much larger puzzle in continuously improving client service delivery. Secondarily, it is one among many ways we can provide transparency to our clients and assure them of our commitment to providing maximum value.

JH: Clients, courts, the bar and competition have all been drivers in encouraging better adoption of technology and assessments are a great way to determine skill gaps and encourage uniform application of efficiencies.

JO: It is client-driven in that the LTA gives us one more tool to fulfill our commitment to best serve our internal clients. The benefits achieved from the LTA positively affect our speed of response and also enhance the quality of work and quality of life—i.e., using technology well helps our people focus on more rewarding, higher value tasks.

What do you see the role of the LTC4 and LTA in attorney tech competence? Can these be leveraged for firms of all sizes?

TG: Rather than a series of random features, LTC4’s learning plans provide relevant skills wrapped into real-life workflows that reflect an attorney’s work day. This allows firms of all sizes to compare their current skill levels with the industry standard. Initially, this helps to differentiate firms from others that do not train to competencies. Over time, I’d expect competency-based training to become the norm.

BB: Content developed using LTC4 core competencies allows for succinct, one-to-one alignment between training and daily workflow. Encompassing comprehensive workflows, LTC4 allows firms to train only core required competencies for legal professionals. An added benefit of using industry standard content is that it makes a firm’s training department efficient, too. The ability to prove technology efficiency gives a firm of any size one more competitive advantage.

DCF: Competence-based education is simply a superior approach to many forms of training, including technology training. It can be utilized by lawyers and allied professionals working in organizations of any size.

RK: I think both LTC4 and LTA are raising awareness throughout the industry that there is a gap between what lawyers think they know and what they actually know. Five years ago having people take tests or quizzes after training was unthinkable in some places, but with the drive toward efficiency and importance of strong technology skills, it is now a key piece of many firms’ training programs. I do think it is easier to deliver a competency-based training program and using LTC4 certification or LTA results to highlight technology skills to clients in smaller firms. The logistics of administering such a program in large multinational firms can be quite daunting.

JH: Both approaches can be used in firms of any size and, frankly, I think that small firms or even solo practitioners have an advantage in their being able to pivot more quickly. There has always been a decent ecosystem of technology training providers in the legal industry, but with the specter of client LTA audits and the industry standard of the LTC4 core competencies, training providers have more juice and more consistent approaches to leverage for their clients. Likewise, internal trainers have a greater responsibility and a greater potential impact for their firms.

JO: I think competence-based training is effective and can be used by any size law department or firm. Ideally, introduce the training at the time of hire, so that everyone has the same base knowledge.


How do you use data and metrics to increase users’ technology proficiency and overall use of technology?

BB: Matrices help us target workflow-specific skills-gap training.

DCF: We are at the front end of our data strategy. We are not only asking what tools our people have and how well they can use them (competence-based training),but also how frequently they do use them and how. Our goal is to modify behavior to the benefit of our clients. And without measurement we have a very hard time knowing whether behavior is actually changing.

RK: I think that as more data becomes available about the use of technology from the software itself we will learn more about how it is being used. One challenge with most testing methods is that people may give the right answer on the assessment, but then go back to their work and revert to doing things the “old” way after training. More data is needed to truly change behavior and measure how that change is impacting the bottom line.

JH: We looked at application usage data over a 10-year period and saw proof of a shift to attorneys doing more with tech. That study was about three years ago. Since then, we have focused our analysis on other areas of workflow and staffing. Good data can validate your assumptions, but occasionally it will also tell you something important that you didn’t even think about.

JO: The measurement turns out to be an excellent motivator to self-improvement. I received a lot of positive feedback from my associates after using the LTA. I think that is because the diagnostic assessment opens their eyes to what they don’t know and shows them how to improve their use of technology in a very user-friendly way.

How can law firms, vendors and firm clients work together to create a more proactive and synergistic ecosystem as it relates to technology competence and proficiency?

RK: As mentioned above, vendors need to give us the ability to measure how our lawyers are using their software. Firms then need to use that data to target training where it is needed, and clients need to demand technology proficiency. All of this will lead to greater transparency and improved efficiency across the industry.

BB: Collaboration among law firms, vendors and clients has been unprecedented in the legal industry in the formation of coalitions like CLOC and LTC4. These coalitions need to continue to work together to assist law firms, vendors and clients in accomplishing mutual goals.

DCF: We’re part of a single value chain. We should act accordingly. Firms and law departments should both strive toward tech competence. Vendors should help them get there. But, as clients, law departments also have to care how legal services are being delivered. Once the quality threshold is met, the question becomes one of value. A big part of value is how the qualifying expertise is being leveraged through process and technology. Technology is more than a purchase decision. It is behavioral change that demands competence with the tools.

JH: It feels like we are getting there. The ACC and CLOC have provided solid recommendations and encouragement for law firms to sharpen all aspects of the legal service delivery model, including tech proficiency. The CLOC approach, in particular, has put forth the notion that we all win or we all lose and that seems to be moving the needle.

JO: Firms can be proactive and respond to our encouragement to use LTA. Vendors like Procertas can give us the tools we need.

Let’s conduct a quick poll of our panel: 

Is attorney technology competence a current fad rather than a long-term firm focus?

[0%] Yes (Fad)

[100%] No (Long Term Focus)

Have you been audited by your clients based on tech proficiency?

[25%] Yes: (RK: I think most firms are getting security audits from their financial services clients, but no, we have not yet been audited on tech proficiency)(JH)

[75%] No (TG and JO)

Have you changed your training methods/practices based on client expectations/feedback?

[50%] Yes (RK: Yes. Security awareness was client-driven. We also represent many “yechnology” companies and are constantly retooling our training to better meet their expectations)(JH)

[50%] No (TG and JO)

Can technology proficiency certifications and assessments give firms a competitive advantage?

[100%] Yes

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