Technology in law practice can be a gift and a curse. While it streamlines processes and saves attorneys time, it changes law practice in other ways. Unlimited access to information affects how lawyers have to behave ethically. Constant connection through technology contributes to a profession that already causes burnout and stress. Here’s how to be a good lawyer by paying attention to ethics rules and how to be a successful lawyer by paying attention to your personal wellness.
What does it take to be a good lawyer in our current era? Fundamentally, being a good lawyer means providing competent representation to clients. This competency has always been required for substantive law and practice, but the majority of lawyers these days also have an ethical duty to maintain technological competence. In response to how technology has changed the way we share information, the ABA updated several rules and comments to its Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Rule 1.1 covers lawyer competence, and the ABA added Comment 8 to address maintaining competence in the age of technology: “a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risk associated with relevant technology.”
The ABA also added Section (c) to Rule 1.6, which deals with confidentiality of information. Section (c) states that lawyers “shall make reasonable efforts to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, or unauthorized access to, information relating to the representation of a client.” In dealing with inadvertent disclosures by third parties, the ABA modified Rule 4.4, Section (b) to include electronically stored information: “A lawyer who receives a document or electronically stored information relating to the representation of the lawyer's client and knows or reasonably should know that the document or electronically stored information was inadvertently sent shall promptly notify the sender.” Comment 2 of this rule states that this obligation extends to metadata “only if the receiving lawyer knows or reasonably should know that the metadata was inadvertently sent to the receiving lawyer.” Comment 3 gives lawyers the option of deleting unread electronically stored information.
Technological competence supports not only confidentiality but efficiency as well. Lawyers who remain technologically incompetent could cost their clients time and money by spending too much time on tasks that have been made simpler with new tools or programs. Good lawyers should stay on top of new technologies in order to avoid disciplinary action or malpractice suits. They should also be mindful of how their documents and data are saved and shared. Most attorneys have technology training available to them in one form or another, whether it’s taking online courses, subscribing to legal tech blogs or reading up on software guides.
The money and status that comes with being a lawyer is nice, but is it worth it if you aren’t happy? Most successful lawyers are prone to anxiety, depression and substance abuse. A lawyer’s work was already demanding and stressful before the advent of email, smartphones and remote access. With so much access to technology, attorneys stay constantly connected to their clients, partners and responsibilities. Devices further enable lawyers to sacrifice quality of life by continuously working after hours and weekends. Their around-the-clock relationship with work can lead to burnout and poor physical and mental health.
Adequate sleep, regular exercise and healthy eating can help manage the stress of meeting deadlines and hitting billing requirements. Unfortunately, lawyers are smart enough to know this but are too overwhelmed to engage in this. Mindfulness exercises and breath modulation are small practices that can help with the daily stresses of work. Attorneys can also achieve a better work-life balance by setting aside time to commit to a hobby outside of work. Beyond these options, attorneys can get to the root of their mental health problems through therapy. It’s easy for attorneys to neglect their happiness in favor of their career. The most successful lawyers are ones that achieve professional success while also prioritizing their personal needs.
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