“The car defines the man.” Really? Personally, I never bought into that one or other messages like it. I guess others do, however. Over the years I’ve seen a lot of guys driving around in these tricked out cars behaving as if they own the road and my response is always the same. I just shake my head and wonder if they’ll ever grow up. My guess is that I am not alone in feeling this way.
Now, a fair question would be what does all this have to do with attorneys? Well, plenty. Think about what attorneys are doing or not doing with technology and the Internet. Certainly for most businesses, having a website is pretty much a given. In fact, if a business doesn’t have one, they’re off my radar because I haven’t looked up a number in the phone book or turned to the yellow pages for information in years. Truth be told, the first thing we do at our house when the new phone books come is put them in the recycle bin. Who needs the added clutter? Not my wife and trust me on that one! Now if you think we’re unusual in this regard, ask around. I have. We’re not.
Let’s run with this thinking a bit further. If a business doesn’t have a dynamic web presence in today’s world, that says something. It suggests that whoever is running whatever business I’m researching is someone who feels intimidated by technology. If that’s true then maybe other concerns such as competency, meaning one’s ability to deliver whatever the service is, may also be a problem. In other words, if they can’t build a decent website, how in the world can they handle my complicated matter? Want proof? Look at the fallout after the failed rollout of the Affordable Healthcare Act website. I also start to wonder about financial stability. Websites are dirt cheap, so why hasn’t the business invested in a dynamic web presence? Certainly these are assumptions on my part; but when people of all ages regularly post to blogs, have an extensive social media presence, and text and tweet all day long, I am not going to waste my time checking out a business that has done nothing more than post the equivalent of their yellow page ad on the web and calling that good. I call that a lost cause. There are too many other businesses out there that have positioned themselves to get on my radar anytime I wish to look and sites like Google and Bing have made that downright instantaneous.
I do recognize an apparent inconsistency here. In a way I appear to be saying that a car (having a dynamic web presence) does in fact define the man. No. I am starting this discussion by saying that to be in the game in today’s world you need to have at least a basic and reliable mode of transportation. My true interest is in this: How do you avoid looking silly or worse as you invest ever more heavily in technology and a web presence?
I will admit that I’m something of a tech geek and do often think that the latest and greatest gadget or online app is cool. In fact I was pretty disappointed when the original Surface Pro 128 gig tablet sold out within two or three hours post launch because I was trying to get one. That said, this doesn’t mean that I try to push to the front of the line every time a new gadget comes to market or that I need to be the first to try out the latest app. The lawyer/risk manager side of me always kicks in. I start to ask questions like “How reliable and secure is this device or application?” or “How will the use of this impact my privacy?” Hot things like the iPhone, Google Docs, and Dropbox have had security related problems due in no small part to their early and significant success in the marketplace. A few years back Twitter had a number of well publicized security breaches as they struggled to rapidly scale up in response to their tremendous success. Please understand that I am not trying to pick on any one company or product. That’s not my intention. This is about encouraging you to think through the implementation process when it comes to tech spending.
It’s so easy to buy into the advertising messages that try to convince you to purchase the latest and greatest. You are led to believe that doing so will result in your being a trend setter. You’ll have that cutting edge image, and of course you’ll have some sort of advantage over all your competition. Or at least over those who failed to see the wisdom of making the smart purchase decision you did! I equate all this with driving an expensive tricked out car. It seems to be all about image. However, this “Look at me; I’ve got the latest and greatest so I get tech,” image goes into the ditch when a client confidence is lost due to a missing unlocked iPhone or client funds are stolen due to poor computer security practices within the firm. If you really don’t understand how to properly use the device or deploy the application maybe you should wait until you do.
Let me share a story to underscore the point. Sometime ago ALPS was hit with a large amount of spam that turned out to be coming from one of our insured’s servers. Our IT folks certainly let the firm know and shared a little advice with them on how they might remedy the situation. As one who was aware of what had happened, I would never feel good about taking my legal work to that firm. At the end of the day they didn’t get tech and that led me to naturally ask “what else don’t they get?” When there are so many other choices, I don’t have the time, interest, or need to seek that answer. I will move on and so will others.
The interplay between reputation, image, credibility, and technology is a complex one. While my initial reaction to seeing a good friend drive up in an expensive brand new Porsche would be “this is very cool,” if the car is later driven into a snow bank because it was too much car for that friend to handle, I would quietly chuckle (assuming no one was hurt!). You see, it’s not about the car; it’s about what one does with it. There will always be the next latest and greatest device or application. Look at them, every one of them if you wish. Just be smart about what you decide to purchase and use. Think through the “what ifs” because our ethical rules are going to be in play. If due to improper hardware or software deployment a confidence is lost, money is stolen, data is corrupted, or your network is breached, it is going to be your creditability, reputation, and yes even your license that’s on the line. The reputation and good will that took years to build can be lost overnight given the right misstep.
Regardless of the technology under consideration, the question you should be asking is, “does the technology have a proper place for you?” Particularly with the latest and greatest, it’s ok to say no and wait to see how things shake out for the early adopters. You can always jump in later once the product or service has proved itself and you’ve had the time to really learn how it can be of benefit and how to use it responsibly. Remember this. Being first isn’t always the best decision because sometimes the car does turn out to be more than you or others in your firm could handle.
*A version of this article was previously published on the blog of Solo Practice University. I invite you to take a look at what is another useful resource for information about managing one’s practice.
Mark Bassingthwaighte, Esq. is Risk Manager for ALPS Property & Casualty Insurance Company (ALPS). In his tenure with the company, he has conducted over 1,000 law firm risk management assessment visits, presented numerous continuing legal education seminars throughout the United States, and written extensively on risk management and technology. Mark received his J.D. from Drake University Law School and his undergraduate degree from Gettysburg College. Mark can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.