With innovative technology and cutting-edge tools popping up at breakneck speed in the Australian legal market, is it time to introduce technology standards for the legal profession?
In October 2014, the Law Society of Upper Canada significantly revised the Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers, but there was one glaring omission – references to the use and the impact of technology in the practice of law.
The absence of commentary on confidentiality, communication and data privacy in a technology context has prompted discussion about the need for technology standards and regulation for legal professionals globally.
Monica Goyal – a lawyer and technology entrepreneur – says the lack of concrete guidance for the LSUC has two drawbacks:
“First, the approach puts the onus on the lawyer to analyse and decide the suitability of technology – a task we don’t have the training to do. It also places the developers of technology in the precarious position of having to create software and interpret rules in a satisfactory way in order to meet compliance obligations.”
One leader in this area is the American Bar Association, which has modified its Model Rules of Professional Conduct to reflect the reality of technology use in the practice of law. Lawyers are now required to keep abreast of technology developments, including the associated benefits and risks, and make reasonable efforts to prevent the inadvertent unauthorised disclosure of, or unauthorised access to, information relating to the representation of a client.
There’s no such guidance in Australia. Viewing the technology ‘revolution’ as one driven by courts and clients, a senior partner at Gilbert + Tobin, Michael Williams, has warned that lawyers may soon be forced to adopt technology in order to practise law. Williams has claimed that it’s possible that professional bodies could mandate the use of certain technologies in the near future.
“We’re going to see a trend where technology is no longer an option… When you start having professional standards requiring technology to be a part of practice, and people can’t just opt out of that, you’re reaching a point where there will be automatic adoption,” Williams told Lawyers Weekly last month.
The new technology standards
So what form would these new standards take?
“It might be a requirement of holding a practising certificate that you have a minimum ability within your firm or your practice to engage with the prevailing technology, and it’s not just market-driven, it’s standards-driven,” said Williams.
Rather than guessing about the application of technology to professional rules and standards, the system could provide a uniform set of Australian technology standards, providing guidance on:
- How solicitors should conduct their firms’ business and their professional duties when using apps, online platforms and cloud-based services.
- Confidentiality, communication and data privacy issues in the online world.
- What steps they can take when choosing IT and practice management systems for their business.
Key challenges and benefits
Like any set of new rules or standards, the challenge will be ensuring the standards do not overstep the mark by placing unnecessary restrictions on solicitors’ decisions, discouraging technology adoption or increasing costs for sole practitioners.
However, the primary benefits could include:
- Firms remaining competitive in a changing, global market.
- Increased efficiency in work practices and streamlined services.
- Happier clients enjoying ease of access to information.
- Financial benefits as more firms use cloud-based services and online workflow tools to manage their practice.
If you’re not already staying abreast of the latest technology developments, jump online, keep learning, stay competitive and most importantly, take advantage of the exciting innovations in this rapidly evolving environment.