In many jurisdictions, commentary to Rule of Professional Conduct 1.1 Competency states that lawyers are to keep abreast of the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology. With that language in mind, do you actually do so? I ask because in my world I often find that lawyers are pretty good at evaluating the benefits of any technology they are considering using. It’s evaluating the risks that seems to get the short shrift in the decision-making process for any number of reasons, not the least of which is that doing so can be such a killjoy.
Consider voice assistants like Google Assistant, Siri, or Alexa. All have a serious coolness and convenience factor, and it certainly appears that the adoption rate and degree of integration of these and other voice user interface technologies into every facet of our lives will only continue to increase. Next, factor in the movement toward smart homes and smart offices, which also seems to have advanced beyond the early adoption stage. So again, if you are already using or are thinking about using voice assistants and/or smart office devices in your practice (think internet-connected light bulbs, security cameras, access locks, coffee pots, and the list goes on), have you looked into the associated risks? For example, confidentiality concerns and the introduction of another phishing attack vector are risks that come immediately to my mind with the use of voice assistants; and if you can control a smart office device remotely via the Internet, so can a hacker.
Now hang with me here, because the purpose of this post isn’t what you might be thinking. I’m not trying to raise a siren call out of a personal fear that embracing digital tech might be your downfall. That said, before I share my main point, I do have one more example I’d encourage you to think about.
Have you ever had a client or other guest enter your office and while sitting down take out their smartphone and say something along the lines of “let me put this on silent mode” or “let me turn this off” and then place the phone down in front of them or perhaps put it back in their pocket? If so, have you ever considered that once in a while someone might actually be enabling the record function instead of powering down or placing the phone in silent mode? This can and sometimes does happen. Please understand I’m not trying to suggest that lawyers should never allow anyone to bring a smartphone into their offices. I’m simply trying to remind you that smartphones are sophisticated pocket-sized computers that come with all kinds of capabilities and I suspect few of us ever really take the time to think about what others might be doing with these computers while in our presence.
The point I’m trying to make is this. Voice assistants, smartphones, and every other digital tech tool out there come with certain inherent benefits and risks that we are charged with having to understand and consider prior to using any such tool in the day-to-day practice of law. While the benefits of these tools are at times almost self-evident, the risks often aren’t. Killjoy or not, the potential risks of every tech tool do need to be investigated and understood prior to making any purchases. Doing so is the only way to make an informed decision about how to deploy these tools in an ethically responsible way. This will also help you establish some parameters around what employees and guests can and can’t do with any digital tech tools they bring into your professional space. If you haven’t given much thought to the risk side of the equation, all I can say is it’s time to start.