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Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Who's your legal tech geek?

Intellectual property, business law, free speech and privacy, telecommunications, criminal law -- these and other areas of law are undergoing rapid, fundamental changes as a result of emerging technologies. But who has the time to track new technological developments in these areas, and to relay them in a meaningful way to the rest of the staff? If recent poll results are any indication, those chores are being distributed almost haphazardly.

Fios, an Oregon-based electronic discovery and litigation service, recently asked participants in one of its webcasts, "Who in your firm is responsible for directing traffic at the intersection of law and technology?" The answers, coming from an audience split between law firms and corporations with in-house counsel, showed no clear answer:

• General counsel: 12 percent
• IT staff: 16 percent
• Staff attorneys: 24 percent
• Paralegals: 4 percent
• Litigation/practice support staff: 30 percent
• Partners: 14 percent
• Associates: 0 percent

Broken down further, the poll found that within firms, support staff are primarily responsible for tracking these changes 52 percent of the time, while within corporations it's more likely to be a staff attorney (35 percent) or someone from IT (22 percent).

The results seem to speak to a quandary about who is qualified for this task. IT staff are likely to understand the technological developments, but not the legal ones. Attorneys, vice-versa. As a result, support staff are called on to be generalists capable of working both sides of the street.

Is it time for firms and corporations to develop positions that specialize full-time in legal technology? By assigning that beat on a catch-as-catch-can basis, it seems more likely that new developments in this area could be missed or misunderstood.

1 comment:

Michael Fleming said...

This is a long-standing concern discussed amongst lawyers I know and work with who do have the understanding described in the above. The cynics among us are thinking the only way to resolve this is to have more bad examples to point at (i.e., the TJX breach that was featured on the WSJ just a couple of days ago). The optimists believe that there is simply a business case to be made, and we need only make that case. No doubt both are right.