Wednesday, November 14, 2007

How risk-averse lawyers stifle innovation

Kevin O'Keefe at Real Lawyers Have Blogs asks, "Do lawyers try to kill good uses of technology?" The unsurprising answer: yes.

Snead uses IM as an example of where unfounded fear causes lawyers to advise clients to significantly rein in technology.

...[T]hat IM may lead to accidental disclosure of confidential information. I’ve heard many attorneys spout this rationale for advising their clients to wall off IM. But how true is it? I’ve used IM for over 7 years to communicate with my clients, often with several different conversations going at once, and maybe one or two with friends chirping away as well. Not once have I told client X what client Y was doing, or one of my friends that the other hated his guts.

Why the lawyer fear of technology? Per Snead:

First, we’re trained (and like it or not, paid) to spot all the possible problems that issues may present our clients. In the case of new technology, that may result in one of two outcomes: the number of problem issues spotted by the attorney becomes so overwhelming, that the client simply abandons the technology fearing that any potential upside will be overtaken by liability issues; second, the lawyer fails to identify ways that the client may mitigate any liability, or work around it. This second reason seems to stall or kill many projects.
The money quote:

Any idiot can spot issues and advise stopping. It's the good lawyers who craft solutions that allow innovation to move forward. Imagine in-house counsel at Google running around saying 'we can't do this, we can't do that' trying to put a stop to innovation. They'd be thrown out on their ass.

Each day lawyers tell me they want to get started with blogs in their firm, but that those in control (executive committees, administrative partners, chief marketing officers) believe the legal liabilities and ethical issues are too great. Rather than craft a law firm blog policy (an hours worth of work to follow what other firms have done), unfounded fear stops everyone in their tracks.

Like cell phones, which we lawyers were told not to use because of confidential info being tapped into, blogs will be used by the vast majority of lawyers in a few years. Just disappointing today to see talented lawyers try to kill the use of blogs rather than crafting solutions allowing effective technology to move forward.

1 comment:

Kevin OKeefe said...

Thanks for sharing the post and commentary Jim. When I read Snead's post, he made all the sense in the world about lawyers needing to craft solutions as opposed to holding people back by pointing out risks and liabilities.