Ivy Grey Speaks on Technology Competence and Ethics

Ivy Grey, vice president of strategy and business development for WordRake and legal tech entrepreneur, opened this semester’s Future of Law Lecture Series. Grey made a compelling case for technology competency among lawyers and challenged students to consider the connection between the efficient use of technology and the responsibility lawyers have to ethically serve their clients.

Eight years have passed since The American Bar Association formalized a significant change to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Specifically, wording in Comment 8 of Model Rule 1.1 now states that attorneys have a duty of technology competence. It reads:

“To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology, engage in continuing study and education and comply with all continuing legal education requirements to which the lawyer is subject.” (Emphasis added.)

While each state is free to determine whether or not they will adopt this measure, at present 37 states have chosen to do so, including Utah which approved the change in March 2015. 

Grey called attention to several common misconceptions among lawyers about the need for technological proficiency, including the notion that word processing skills are a lesser duty to be delegated to legal support staff. Grey stated, “Tech use is not an individual problem. We must care about how our colleagues work. Any lawyer who supervises others is responsible for their work and ethical competency. Delegation does not dissolve responsibility.” Grey also highlighted potential breaches of Model Rule 1.6’s confidentiality requirements that could result from a misunderstanding of how electronic documents are created or “metadata” (information about document history or management). 

According to Grey, technology competence in legal practice includes “a baseline understanding of, and reasonable proficiency in, the tools used to practice law” such as MS Office Suite, a PDF system with redacting capabilities, document and case management software, email, and billing software. Grey firmly believes that the duty of technology competence is a forward-looking rule.  In the days ahead she says, using simple tech will enable lawyers to work smarter, reduce risks, and ultimately better serve their clients by aligning effort with value.  


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