IT use by Trainee Solicitors

This is the text of the talk given by Brian Inkster to the WS Society Trainee Summer School at the Royal Faculty of Procurators in Glasgow on 19th August 2010 (also see the SlideShare Presentation):-

‘Most lawyers are pathologically late adopters of IT. Despite promising, early successes, until the worth of an emerging technology is proven beyond reasonable doubt it will not generally be embraced by the legal world’ [Richard Susskind].

My law firm has a Case Management System, 4 websites, 9 Twitter streams, a Blog, a you Tube Channel, a web based digital dictation system and a location based system for marketing properties for sale to mobile phones. I suppose that is why I have been asked to talk to you today about the use of IT in law firms.

Not every law firm is like Inksters. We are perhaps the exception rather than the rule. You will all find varying degrees of IT use at the firms you are about to do your traineeships in.

When preparing this talk I decided to throw a question out on Twitter to see if there were any ideas from others in the legal world that I should be bringing to you. I Tweeted:-

“Preparing talk for Trainee Summer School on IT use by Trainee Solicitors. What should I be telling them?”

The power of Twitter was demonstrated by the large number of responses I received which resulted in my talk being developed around those responses and using them as slides in my Presentation.

Not the Law

One witty solicitor suggested that you might wish to consider a career outside the law:-

@simon_stevens: go be a plumber or an electrician instead!!

You can perhaps reflect on that in two years time when you finish your traineeships.

Not Your IT

The IT you will be working with will be dictated by the type of firm that you are working for and the ethos of the partners in that firm.

The American ‘cartoon’ Attorney, Richard Prickman (@rprickman), offered a graphic that illustrates the fact that there is a need to respect the Partners’ decisions in this regard: "Here’s a graphic showing how to bond with a partner. Must know info for solicitors in training."

As Barbara Cookson (@filemot) says you will have to work with the IT that you are offered and learn how to make the most of it – from accounts to databases and Westlaw.

Duncan Eadie (@duncaneadie) points out that you must take IT training seriously. The average of 2 hours a year for a fee earner is not enough.

Elizabeth Miles (@IkenCEO) of Iken Business Ltd (providers of Legal Software for Matter and Case Management) was inspired by my Tweet to write a blog post on ‘9 Things to tell Trainee Lawyers about IT’. Her first point is that your documents and e-mails are no longer your own. They belong to the case, and your clients’ and the firm’s well being depends on the content.

Elizabeth also points out that you must engage with the business reasons for IT use and drive IT usage rather than let it drive you.

The Highland Lawyer (@HighlandLawyer) says that you should know what you should do in IT and what to leave to technical support (small firms excluded). Although, even small law firms may have external technical support that they can turn to for assistance when necessary. Find out what the set up is in your firm and what the e-mail address and phone number is for such external help if it does exist.

Back to Elizabeth Miles who tells you not to be intimidated by geek speak. So when you do get that external technical support make sure you get it in language you understand. Elizabeth suggests that if you run into trouble in this area you should ask the Geek to write down what they mean. If that does not work write it down yourself and pass this back to the Geek for confirmation that your understanding is correct. Elizabeth also asks you to make sure that you control the mouse when you are being trained at your desk top. You won’t learn nearly as well if the trainer controls the mouse and just shows you what to do.

More from Elizabeth: See your work in the context of the big picture. Elizabeth suggests that you should consider your firm’s operational approach and make sure you understand how IT is used in your firm to underpin each operational area, and how you fit in. In her blog post Elizabeth mentions the Lexcel Quality Standard. There is currently no equivalent to this English/Welsh standard in Scotland.

You should look out for improvements. Elizabeth says that whilst you may be a junior trainee you also bring a fresh view of what is going on and may be able to see better ways of doing things with existing IT systems. Tread carefully though and communicate any suggestions to the right people in a positive way.

Elizabeth recommends that you develop a healthy scepticism of IT fashions. In her view not all new IT is a must have. Be open minded. Assess the potential of the IT in terms of your business objectives and take the bits that are useful to your business and reject the bits that aren’t. Of course as a trainee you will probably have to make do with what is there although you may have some choice in what bits you use.

Make sure you get what you want from IT. As Elizabeth says this is perhaps for a later stage in your career when you might be involved in IT procurement. In her blog post Elizabeth provides a useful checklist and process to follow.

The Internet

Michael G (@grabbeh) an ‘unemployed lawyer’ tells you not to surf sites that contain material of an adult nature. Perhaps an extreme example but really you should not be surfing anything other than that required to do your job during your work time. Your firm is likely to have a communications policy detailing what you can and cannot do with regard to the Internet. Familiarise yourself with this as soon as you can. If there is no such policy then use some common sense.

Lisa (@Sue_Generis) who is a paralegal points out that people do know when you go ‘on lunch’ so you should not be surfing the net for longer than you should. This is of course if your firm allows you to surf at leisure during your lunch hour in the first place.

David Flint (@dfscot) from MacRoberts wisely tells you that “Google is not a substitute for proper legal research; try reading law and cases; look at books; #1 in Google may not be right.”

Law lecturer @loveandgarbage points out that “keeping up to date through court site (or BAILII), gov site, and OPSI for new legislation is essential whatever area you are in”. He knows that some firms have set this up as a formal trainee role after arrival – as it is a good way to get to know parts of the firm.

Highland Lawyer (@HighlandLawyer) thinks it would be a good idea for you to learn to read basic HTML and to know the format and purpose of Internet Protocol (IP) and Media Access Control (MAC) addresses.


You would expect in this day and age for all law firms to use e-mail. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Many still prefer to dictate a letter for a secretary to type (hopefully on a word processor rather than a typewriter), put them in envelopes, stick stamps on the envelopes (unless they are savvy enough to have a franking machine) put them in a post box and hope they reach the recipient the following day. Of course there is still a need for some types of correspondence to go by post (say enclosing a pile of title deeds or a contractual letter) but often solicitors are still posting letters that could easily and more efficiently have been e-mailed (if of course the solicitor on the other side of the transaction has an e-mail address).

Let’s assume your firm is an enlightened one and you have a PC on your desk and e-mail access (the summer law student working at Inksters has that by the way). As a trainee your work needs to be checked so you may not be given a free reign to issue e-mails. You might need to run the text past a partner before sending it. Find out the protocols for this within your own firm early on so you know what is or is not allowed.

To my mind an e-mail is a little less formal than a letter and is usually addressed directly to the fee earner on the other side of the transaction rather than the firm itself. More like:-


The funds have been received and your clients can now collect the keys from the Estate Agents.



Than like:-

Dear Sirs

Mr & Mrs John Smith
Mr & Mrs Robert Brown
1 High Street, Glasgow

We refer to your letter dated 18th August enclosing your cheque in respect of the purchase price of the above subjects. We now confirm settlement of the transaction and accordingly have authorised the Estate Agents to release the keys to your clients.

Yours faithfully

Inksters Solicitors

However, I have seen some firms who adopt the latter approach even in e-mail correspondence. So find out what your firm prefers before you hit ‘send’. I should add that the approach adopted by individual partners within firms could vary so you may have to vary your e-mail style as you would your letter writing style depending on the partner that you are working for at any particular time.

Your law firm is unlikely to be happy with you spending time on personal e-mails. They may not have a problem with you doing these to a very limited extent or perhaps during your lunch hour. Again read the firm’s Communication Policy, if they have one, and see what you can and cannot do on that front.  This policy may also cover whether or not your e-mails are monitored by the firm.

Employment Lawyer, Michael Scutt (@michaelscutt), gives very good advice when he tells you to “always think before sending an e-mail”.

Commercial Property Paralegal @travisthetrout highlights “correct use of reply all when emailing and to take notice of using correct email lists”. Thus if a solicitor e-mails you and does a cc to their client is it appropriate to reply to both the solicitor and their client. Probably not but just to the solicitor who can forward your reply onto their own client should they so wish. Obviously in general be careful not to e-mail the wrong person.

Case Management

Some firms may just have a basic word processing system that relies on Microsoft word and a bank of style documents and little else. Others will have more advanced case management systems where information inputted at the outset of the transaction is used to populate documents as the transaction progresses with ease and little need to dictate or type much in the way of content. You will need to find out what systems your firm uses and get appropriate training on how best to use the system in hand.

James Dickson (@James__Dickson) of BTO tells you to watch out that a spell checker that does American English does not make for a happy boss.

Andrew Sharpe (@TMT_Lawyer) of Charles Russell suggests learning advanced features on software for timesavers.

Elizabeth Miles talks about risk management, key dates and scheduling tasks leading up to them. Use of IT in this regard gives more ease to supervision.

David Hardie (@DHardieTweets) suggests you should be using a Content Record Management (CRM), Time Capturing, Feeing, Legal Aid System on the Cloud like that supplied by Denovo Business Intelligence. A system that also allows you to create a document, record the time, email it and do it all on your smartphone.

Such a system may enable you to do work in 10-20% less time. What, Elizabeth Miles asks, would be the business benefits of that?  Well if you are doing work on a fixed fee basis then it gives you 10-20% more time in the day to do other such fixed fee work thus increasing your firm’s profitability.

Time Recording

If your law firm records time it is likely to do so in 6 minute units. 10 units in an hour. You may have a paper time sheet to complete with the data being inputted into the firm’s computer system by another member of staff the following day. You may have to input your own time recording as it happens on a time recording system on your PC. There may be a time capture system that records time on each activity you do as you do it. To impress your employers you will want to maximise your chargeable time and minimise your non-chargeable time.

Elizabeth Miles tells you to just “get over it or escape into a corporate in house team”. You are just going to have to do it. It’s the means by which you get paid. It isn’t all bad news however as it’s also the way you can demonstrate to the powers that be how hard you are working. Don’t leave it to the end of the day or week (if your system allows you that freedom) record your time as the clock ticks.

Dictate or Type?

You may be expected to type all of your own documents or you may be expected to dictate it for a secretary to type or it may be a combination of both. Dictation systems range from old fashioned tape recording to modern digital systems. The latter creates a sound file on your network or the web that can be picked up by a secretary in your office or possibly an outsourced secretary in India or the like. There are also voice recognition systems such as ‘Dragon Naturally Speaking’ which cut out the need for a secretary to be involved in the process at all. Again it is a case of finding out what system your firm operates and learning how to use that. However, as Elizabeth Miles suggests it may be a case of you deciding whether, and to what extent, dictation (if available) is for you. If you can type as quickly as you can think do you really need to dictate?

Cyrus Mansouri (@SolicitorsFirm) says that I am to tell you “to learn how to type – fast!!!”. No dictating at his firm then.


Chris Dale (@chrisdaleoxford) is of the view that if your firms do not know about e-discovery you must make it your business to find out and carve your own niche.

e-Discovery (also known as e-Disclosure) refers to discovery in civil litigation which deals with information in electronic format  also referred to as Electronically Stored Information. This could include e-mail, instant messaging chats, documents accounting databases, CAD/CAM files and websites.

There is not much, if anything, in the way of court rules about such evidence. Some law firms will accordingly take the view that there is no need to disclose electronic documents. However, almost everything is electronic these days. It doesn’t matter what the rules say as that may be where the evidence lies. Be aware of this and the fact that there are companies out there who have the technology and experience for you to outsource the task of locating the relevant evidence that you may need amongst a huge amount of electronic data.

For more on this fascinating and emerging subject read Chris Dale’s blog.

Social Media

Is Social Media a Fad? Or the biggest shift since the Industrial Revolution? Watch the 'Social Media Revolution' video:-

Many law firms will simply not allow you to access social media sites at work at all. Probably such access will be banned under the firm’s social media policy. As @hopecityhannah points out “facebook use is generally frowned upon during office hours”. Now I can understand why firms would not want their employees communicating with friends and family about what they had for lunch or the like but social media is an important business development tool. Few law firms have grasped this fact yet. You are unlikely to be a trainee with one that has. If you are then lucky you.

Hands up who of you here are on Facebook [They all put up their hands]. Same question but this time for Twitter [only 1]. Same question but this time for LinkedIn [only 2].

What I suggest you do, for your own future benefit if not for the benefit of your firm, is use social media in your own time. Of an evening and at the weekend Tweet and/or Facebook and/or LinkedIn. My preference for networking is Twitter followed by LinkedIn. It has been said that Facebook is for connecting with those you went to school with and Twitter is for connecting with those who you wished you had gone to school with.

However, be careful. As @Rgue4U points out everything you put out there is there, even if you correct and delete.

Think before you Tweet. As HighlandLawyer (@HighlandLawyer) says learn what NOT to put on social media as well as what you should put on it.

James Dickson (@James__Dickson) recommends that you should not overtweet. If you do you are unlikely to have James as a follower and therefore possibly not as a future employer.

Follow and connect with other lawyers and UK legal news services. Follow @TWEGALS which maintains a list of people in the legal world who tweet. You could then follow most if not all on that list. Follow @legaleagelettes which is a global project by a Scottish law student, Michelle Hynes-Mcilroy to connect law students, trainees, law firms and universities to create a new world of law using new technology developed by here in Glasgow. Can you afford not to be a part of this?

Your Personal Brand

Jullian Summerhayes (@0neLife) has spent a lot of time with junior lawyers talking about the importance of their personal brand on the web, facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. This, as I pointed out earlier, is something that you can work on in your own time if your law firm is not supporting you doing so in their time.

Some lawyers of the future have started this process early on as students. There is the Scots Law Student blog by an anonymous third year law student at a Glasgow Law School. He also tweets as @scotslawstudent. Then there is Ramblings of a Scottish Student – a blog by Alistair Sloan (@alistair_sloan) of Cumbernauld. I have already mentioned Michelle Hynes-Mcilroy who tweets as @legaleagleMHM as well as @legaleagelettes and also writes LegalEagleMHM’s blog.

Hard Work

However, be aware that Social Media isn’t the cure. Being a good lawyer is hard work as Kevin O’Keefe (@kevinokeefe) tweeted with reference to the blog post by US Defence Attorney Scott Greenfield (@ScottGreenfield) which you can read on Scott’s excellent Simple Justice Blog.

Hot of the presses is a comment on that from Adrian Dayton (@adriandayton) in his guest blog post on 'The All-or-Nothing Social Media Skeptics' for Above The Law. He believes law firms are due for an upgrade using the analogy of his father upgrading from the old VCR to the Digital Video Recorder (“DVR”) to record his football games.

There are good points made by both Scott Greenfield and Adrian Dayton. I believe that hard work for a lawyer remains crucial and cannot be ignored in favour of social media use. However, I also believe that lawyers ignore social media as an information, networking, communication and marketing tool at their peril.

As Lisa (@Sue_Generis) points out however much you try to claim that LinkedIn is work related if there is work to be done then that comes first!

Cyrus Mansouri (@SolicitorsFirm) advises that you need the ability to work outside the box – in this case the pc box.

Charonqc (@Charonqc) tells you to "read some law now... because it would appear that you may not have done so at law school to get the job!" He goes on to say that this is not a bad sentiment... but it does worry him that students play the percentage game to get a degree without studying *Law*. If that is you then you may be about to get found out. But it is not too late to make amends and actually study the Law on the job. Charonqc stresses that it is important for you to read law rather than summaries... therein lies thinking....

Remember, as Elizabeth Miles (@IkenCEO), says IT is not an end in itself. It is just a tool.

Your ideas

Do any of you have any ideas to share or questions to ask me? [The future lawyers at Trainee Summer School did not. Those of you reading this online feel free to use the comment facility below - I hope you do]


Make a point of reading Elizabeth Miles' blog post on ‘9 Things to tell Trainee Lawyers about IT’. She wrote it for you after all.

The text of this talk and the slides will be made available at


I intend to add in here any links, articles, blog posts and the like that are relevant to my talk but have appeared after it:-

27 August 2010: 'End of Lawyers and the Legal Services Act and Impact on Law Practice' by Shireen Smith (@Azrights) at the SOLO Independent IP Practitioners Blog.

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