The poet W. B. Yeats once bemoaned: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
The latest ABA TechReport shows how this dynamic can crop up in legal tech. Their report on Technology Training, released in December 2019, revealed some shocking numbers. Larger firms are more likely to make tech training available to their lawyers—but they also have the lowest levels of confidence in using their tech. Only 30% of lawyers at firms with 100-499 lawyers said they were ‘very comfortable’ with their firms’ technology.
On the other hand, small and solo firms have dismally low-tech training availability but are twice as confident in their ability to use it.
The numbers are so bewildering, that the study’s authors had to turn to the field of social psychology to explain it. The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias, where inexperienced people are more likely to overrate their competence. As they gain more experience, their confidence decreases. The report suggests lawyers are stuck in a Dunning-Kruger response to legal technology—newbies assume they know it all and those who get some training fall into a trough of self-doubt.
Graph image from Psychology Today
The report spells out two related problems:
1) Current methods of technology training aren’t making lawyers more confident. It’s leaving them insecure—and that can translate to lower numbers of tech use, which in turn causes waste and inefficiency in the system.
2) Lawyers who aren’t getting adequate training are exaggerating their abilities. This means they won’t invest time or resources for further training. And with all their extra confidence, they’re more likely to charge into situations where they misuse or lose information. Perhaps this is why the same TechReport found that 52% of lawyers responded that technology-related problems were negatively impacting their productivity.
Along with highlighting the problems, the latest TechReport sets the groundwork to solving them. Here are the top 10 ways that firms can solve the confidence crisis of legal tech.
1. Push Beyond False Confidence
First, we need to address those lawyers with the least training and the greatest confidence. It’s great to feel comfortable with your tech—but if you’re feeling like a pro and you’ve never been trained, you might be missing something. There are likely more advanced features and uses you’ve never even considered.
Diving deeper into legal tech might initially be unsettling. You might lose some of your self-assurance, but it will also improve your practice, sharpen your work, and put you above your complacent competitors.
2. Build Buy-in From the Beginning
As the Dunning-Kruger Effect graph shows, the trough of self-doubt doesn’t last forever. With more experience with technology, lawyers can gain reasonable and grounded confidence in their abilities.
So, the question for IT personnel and firm managers becomes: how do we get lawyers to put in the time and effort to actually gain that experience? The answer begins before the new tech is even chosen.
The collaborative process will look different for each firm, depending on the size and amount of specialization. Some good techniques for all are to solicit pain points and needs from all members. Conduct a survey to rate the importance of tech requirements, so you have data showing what others believe is most necessary. Let those needs guide your decisions—and then return to them again when introducing the new technology.
If you can show that you listened to others’ needs, you give them a sense of ownership in the solutions. This will help motivate users to push through their self-doubt and gain a better grasp of the technology.
3. Invest in Adapting Tech
Have you ever received a mandate to learn and use a new app—only to have it replaced by another app six months on? Frequently changing tools and technology teaches lawyers that they shouldn’t get too comfortable in any one system.
However, technology does change quickly, and the best lawyers will be those who can stay ahead of the curve. Luckily, there are options that combine staying power with constant development. Make sure your firm chooses case management software, platforms, and apps that have proven their ability to grow and adjust with your firm. A ‘future-proof’ system will earn more commitment from its users.
4. Create a Structure for Training
This is obvious—but the 2019 TechReport found that only 60% of lawyers have tech training available at their firm. That means that 40% of lawyers don’t have training (or don’t know about available training).
Make sure your firm has a structure for basic and more advanced training, and that each person in the firm knows about it. Training opportunities don’t have to be frequent or extensive, but they should be available.
5. Train by Role
The best way to make training sessions successful is to make them relevant. If attendees start tuning out because a section doesn’t pertain to their work, they might never tune back in and miss important instruction that relates to them.
One way to maintain relevance is to divide your training by the role played in the firm. The trainer can then focus on the process that’s valuable to that particular role, take less of the trainees’ time, and reduce the risk that others will feel they’re being bogged down with irrelevant details.
6. Give Trainees an Early Win
One of the most important strategies for new leaders is to give themselves some early wins. As the American Management Associate puts it, some clear, prompt victories build confidence and credibility in the new leader.
The same principle holds true for new tech. If you want to build long-term commitment to a new system, you need to show right off the bat how it will improve users’ lives. Right away, teach them a simple process that brings immediate awards. This could be something like running one report to see all upcoming deadlines, or automatically generating a document that would otherwise take them some time to create.
If they see benefits early on, lawyers and staff will be more likely to commit to that technology and gain the deeper experience they need to become truly proficient.
7. Train on Update
Good case management software will continue to grow and develop. The most powerful firms will be those who take advantage of their new capabilities.
New releases and updates are great times to schedule new training sessions. While you’re there, the team can also brush up on older techniques and address a few questions.
8. Take It Step by Step
Practice management and automation technology can bring dramatic changes to your workflow. But sometimes that’s its own problem: lawyers don’t have the time to learn how to completely change the way they work, even though it will benefit them.
In these situations, it can help to have slower, progressive training. Your office can work to streamline one task a week, or even one task a month if the team is particularly tech-averse. Once that new process is mastered, the next one can be introduced.
9. Take Advantage of Offers by Vendors
Tech companies want users to understand their products. That’s why we create resources like help centers, tutorials, videos, blogs, and ebooks. Take advantage of these. Bookmark them on your computer for quick access and direct others to them when they seem confused.
Sometimes vendors also offer more in-depth training. For Filevine users, check out our weekly webinars, which walk our users through features that might be new to them.
Another great option is attending legal tech conferences, such as our own Legal X. The ABA TechReport encourages tech conferences as a way for lawyers to “explore what technology they need to practice more efficiently (and competently).” By bringing lawyers into a new space, conferences also tend to create the mental space lawyers need to reconsider their processes and workflow.
10. Monitor Usage
Finally, take a look to see who’s actually using the technology. Case management software often has tools like Filevine Periscope that can show administrators who the top users of the product are, as well as who never signs in. Those who are falling behind likely need further training or need to be directed to online resources.
Pay particular attention to usage among leadership. If they don’t set the example, others will quickly stray as well. For instance, if you have a secure internal document-sharing system, but senior partners send their docs as email attachments, more junior members will immediately learn that email is the ‘real’ way to do it, regardless of what their training said.
With more experience working with the technology, team members will experience a boost in confidence as well.
As the ABA report puts it:
We are long past the time when it can be reasonably argued that a lawyer can provide efficient representation to their clients without utilizing technology tools. That is not to say that using technology in the practice of law does not come with its own difficulties that can affect a lawyer’s productivity. Many of those difficulties, however, can be minimized through adequate training.
The right technology and a commitment to training provide a path out of this crisis of confidence that legal professionals are experiencing. As the report shows, the first steps of tech training have made many lawyers feel inadequate. But steady, continued education will set them on the path to well-grounded confidence in their legal tech abilities.