5 November 2001
Let's face it, if you are reading this column, the chances are that you are already using IT as part of your work. Either that or you are a closet Wired-reading geek, secretly syncing your palmtop and angling for the Napster contract so that you can explore legitimately the darker corners of the MP3 community. If new research is to be believed, if you ask your colleagues who stop reading The Lawyer after the Tulkinghorn page what their favourite gadget is, it is the dictaphone, and they are just too busy to become any more in tune with the new e-conomy.
They know it is a good thing, with 87 per cent of respondents seeing it as saving time, 81 per cent identifying IT as enabling a better service and 67 per cent believing that it boosts the productivity of firms. But the survey, from LexisNexis, found that although 65 per cent of partners want to learn more about IT, they do not have the time.
This survey, then, paints a picture of professionals who are too engrossed in their day-to-day work to embrace something that they know would make their businesses more profitable, their clients happier and would save them time.
Herein lies the problem, and one that LexisNexis fails to address. IT is not an optional extra. It is not separate from lawyers' work. It is an integral part of modern business. Failing to make time to exploit it is like failing to keep up with the latest case law - it places individuals and their businesses at a competitive dis-advantage.
Although the survey finds that 85 per cent of private practice and corporate solicitors use the internet for work, of which 62 per cent do so daily, something is stopping them exploring beyond the web browser and the current crop of online services. Something is stopping them moving their firm's IT agenda forward, and they are content to leave it to the IT department to decide the pace at which interactive services are embraced, intranets and extranets developed and even software installed.
Would they leave a firm's expansion strategy to someone else? Would they wait for someone outside their practice area to show them a new market to exploit? Of course not, but a mixture of technophobia and a busy diary means that one of the most crucial business expansion tools is slipping off their agenda and out of their control.
This does not mean that every partner must become a geek; but it does mean that they must be capable of talking knowledgably, making informed decisions and spotting IT bullshit when it is offered.
This will only come if lawyers take the time to explore what is available now and, crucially, what is coming.
The survey says that more lawyers would make the time to get to grips with current and emerging IT if there were continuing professional development points on offer.
So what picture does this paint? Like disgruntled factory workers who refuse to undertake training unless it means an afternoon off or a free lunch, the modern lawyer buries their head in paperwork (or even in their email box) and waits until it is worth the time.
If they are not careful, when they come up for air they will find the world, the market and their clients have left both them and their business behind.