May 312013
 

Are clients paying excessive legal fees because lawyers lack essential computer skills? A study conducted by D. Casey Flaherty, a corporate counsel at Kia Motors America, answers the question in the affirmative, reports the ABA Journal. To determine computer skills of associates at law firms, Flaherty created a test consisting of mock assignments assessing technical ability using four common office programs: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Acrobat. Done correctly – i.e., utilizing some basic, built-in functions of those programs – each assignment should take less than 20 minutes. On the other hand, done incorrectly, the assignment takes more than five hours to complete.

The test was given to associates of nine law firms ranging from large corporate to smaller firms. Perhaps surprisingly, all nine firms flunked Flaherty’s test, and not a single associate at any of the nine firms came “anywhere close to the 20-minute mark on the first assignment.” The associates reportedly approached the assignment in ways that would have required up to 15 times longer than necessary to complete them. “At $200 to $400 per associate hour, such inefficiency suggests to me that, indeed, waste is a righteous concern,” stated Flaherty.

Associates failed to complete the assignments swiftly because they are not being trained on such skills, added Flaherty. The majority of the firms do not bother to train their associates on how to provide PDF documents for court submissions or how to get documents Bates-numbered. This results in simple tasks taking far too much time. “Multiply a Microsoft Word or Excel task that should take seconds by minutes, especially if it is performed again and again, and it can add up to a significant amount of money at law firms’ billable rates.”

Of the nine firms, many took measures to improve their associates’ computer skills after the test. One firm, for example, agreed to invest in associate training and has commenced work on the firm’s internal practices and processes. However, the nine firms participating in the test are certainly not the only ones that need to improve their tech skills. Flaherty’s test results reflect the extent of the legal professions’ technology problem nationwide. Accordingly, unless law firms across the U.S. start training associates essential computer skills, clients will continue to pay for “unnecessary busywork.”