What You Really Need To Know About Ethics And Online Legal Services
by Dave Zumpano, with special guests Dane Ciolino and Brittney Shearin
Many lawyers become paralyzed by the concept of ethics and sometimes use it as an excuse to bury their head in the sand or resist making changes in how they work.
As an entrepreneur and estate planning lawyer, I view ethics as a filter that we need to consider, not as an obstacle to progress.
When I hatched the idea of online self-serve legal documents (Guidr) that also offer support from a local attorney, I immediately called Professor Dane Ciolino Esq., who teaches legal ethics at Loyola University in New Orleans, to ask for his input.
I recently interviewed Dane, and Brittney Shearin Esq., Head of Product Development and Legal-Technical Attorney at Lawyers With Purpose, on the Legal Community Podcast. Dane also wrote the foreword to our new book The Digitization of Law: How to Transform Technology Disruptions into Abounding Opportunity.
The role that ethics play in legal online services
The first thing I wanted to know was what Dane thought about using technology to share legal documents.
Dane: “Lawyers are conservative and they are worriers; both of which can be good things because the lawyers who don’t seriously think about potential issues can stumble into problems. But just because something is new doesn’t mean there has to be some ethics rule that expressly allows it.
The rules, by and large, don’t tell you what you can do, they tell you what you can’t do. It’s a prohibitory code. Lawyers need to ask if the rules prohibit it. The short answer is almost always ‘no’ as long as the lawyer is exercising reasonable care.
The duty to exercise reasonable care cuts across the ethics standards. Can you store client information on the cloud? There’s nothing that prohibits it, although you must exercise reasonable care and protect the confidentiality and integrity of that data, which is not hard to do.”
What might reasonable care look like?
Dane shared some additional security measures (many of which you’ll likely be familiar with if you use online banking).
Dane: “Most of the modern platforms have built-in encryption levels and security. They’re all password protected; sometimes there’s two-level authentication. The bottom line is that those standards don’t require extraordinary measures, but they do require reasonable care. And as long as lawyers just keep going back to that first principle, then they’re going to comply.”
Ethics don’t prevent the use of technology in legal services, and it’s becoming clear that if lawyers don’t shift their practices to include a digital format, they’re going to struggle to find clients or run a profitable business.
What stops law firms embracing technology?
Brittney (who also describes herself as a millennial) shared a valuable insight into why some law firms are hesitant to move forward and maximize the use of technology.
Brittney: “I think some people get paralyzed by all these new changes. They want to completely understand it. They have analysis paralysis, but you can’t just stand still; we are moving towards digital efforts all the time. Everything is moving towards online. If you don’t keep up, you are going to be left behind.
Attorneys have a history of being a little archaic, but Covid-19 forced the legal industry to dive into technology. Personally I want to do everything online, I look for online ordering. I prefer to get online and talk to someone before I phone them. It’s forcing our members to rethink their relationship with technology.”
Brittney has demonstrated how the younger generation, your clients of the future, are willing to utilize technology to meet their needs.
There are already many online platforms that bypass lawyers; unless law firms start to adjust and meet demand, they will struggle over time.
How to challenge your fear of change
Guidr, an online platform that provides self-service legal documents supported by your local attorney, has been designed to keep lawyers at the heart of the service. This ensures the client’s needs are met by the right expertise, and that your legal firm retains business and helps maintain legal standards.
Dane suggested a practical approach to lawyers who are fearful of using technology in this way.
Dane: “The problem is that most lawyers don’t like anything that they see as scary or new or that involves technology. It’s important to remember that their gut reaction is an early warning device. They need to revisit the rules or talk to someone who knows them like the back of their hand.
The general rule of reason is going to govern your use of that new technology or that new process. It’s got to be reasonably certain to deliver competent legal services; you have to use reasonable care to protect the confidentiality and integrity of your client information, but once you do those things, what’s reasonable is just going to depend on the circumstances.”
Do you already embrace technology in your law firm? What benefits do you see? Do you have questions or would you like to find out more information? If so, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You might also like to check out our earlier blogs 3 Ways The Guidr Online Legal Platform Positively Impacts Law Firms and How One Company Is Stopping The Legal Industry From Lagging Behind.
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