Committee on Technology begins posting instructional articles, videos, and podcasts on LegalFuel.com
Thrust into the spotlight by the COVID-19 pandemic, the standing Committee on Technology has raced to compile a mountain of “how-to” instructional material for video conferencing.
“We’ve been going at it with gusto with some quick-hit projects to help attorneys who find themselves suddenly having to work remotely and digitally,” said Chair Christine Senne. “I’m excited that we’re getting a chance to shine.”
Working in coordination with board Technology Committee Chair Jay Kim, the standing committee doubled down on a mission to help Bar members adapt to a court system that now conducts a lot of work on Zoom, WebEx, and Microsoft Teams.
In the 11th Circuit alone, Chief Judge Bertila Soto recently estimated that between March 15 and the first week of September, judges in her jurisdiction alone convened nearly 90,000 remote proceedings.
Driven by precision, the legal profession has always reacted cautiously to change, Senne said. But the pandemic has left practitioners with little choice but to adapt or fall behind.
“Fax machines and emails were a huge consternation not that long ago, and now we are expecting all attorneys, regardless of their years of practice, to fire up their computers on their own, manage their clients remotely, and introduce evidence through Zoom or other platforms,” she said. “It’s a lot.”
Senne says in just six weeks her committee has produced, or has begun producing, a trove of 19 instructional articles, videos, and podcasts — many of them authored and presented by committee members themselves.
“They include everything from the mundane, from how to change your Zoom background so people don’t see your pile of dirty laundry behind you when you’re appearing in court, to much more sophisticated fare, such as how to authenticate evidence,” Senne said.
The material is being posted to LegalFuel, the Practice Resource Center of The Florida Bar, but not all at once, said committee Vice Chair Beau Blumberg, who is spearheading the project.
“I’m trying to do it as a rolling production,” Blumberg said. “There’s no need to hold them all back until we have everything done because the quicker they go up, the quicker they can help Florida Bar members.”
Blumberg said it was important to keep the articles platform [neutral] whenever possible because of the different technologies being used throughout the state.
He started with the premise, which has been validated by President Dori Foster-Morales’s 20-circuit listening tour, that many lawyers continue to struggle with the basics.
“I started by assuming they had no knowledge, that they had just heard the word ‘Zoom,’” he said. “I would like to say that most people have a good understanding of the basics of Zoom, but I think the higher-level functioning, such as exhibits, control sharing features, are still areas where a lot of attorneys need help.”
A partner in the Miami trial law firm Deutsch Blumberg & Caballero, Blumberg said he believes the material will be relevant for all attorneys.
“We put together a comprehensive virtual video guide, if you will, to help lawyers from the most basic of topics to some of the most advanced topics, that I think will be incredibly helpful.”
Jamming the material into one or two presentations wouldn’t have been user friendly, Blumberg said. Mixed formats offer the easiest access, he said.
“Some attorneys really love a good article that they can scan and go quickly to the section they need,” he said. “Some attorneys are more audio-visual learners and it’s helpful to have a video or pictures or some combination thereof.”
Blumberg said the material addresses multiple platforms.
“There’s a lot of overlap on functionality, but how you do things varies slightly from one platform to the other,” he said.
Meanwhile, Chair Senne said, the committee is keeping its eye on the digital horizon by studying the revolutionary potential of blockchain technology and cryptocurrency.
The committee is studying ways attorneys could accept fees in cryptocurrency, as well as the potential blockchain holds for everything from authenticating evidence to the design and execution of contracts.
“Essentially what blockchain can do is, you can code a contract so that when certain events happen, it automatically triggers payments, or it automatically triggers certain activities to happen, like a signal to release supplies of inventory, and so on, and so forth,” she said. “It’s a way of automating contracts. It is really amazing.”
The technology is starting to make inroads in the business world, so the legal implications are clear, Senne said.
“Lawyers are going to be involved in both creating these blockchain-based agreements and in litigating over them,” she said. “So that’s the next piece that we’re looking at, which is how to authenticate blockchain evidence in litigation, how can you satisfy the rules of evidence around that.”
Committee member Anessa Allen Santos, who provides concierge general counsel services to technology companies and serves as a business law mentor at Orlando’s technology accelerator, is one of the committee’s resident experts, Senne said.
The committee has another secret weapon. Because of a diverse makeup, all LegalFuel material should appeal to the widest audience of legal professionals, Senne said.
“I’ve been really excited to get full participation from my committee, which is a diverse group of people in every sense of the word, experiences, ages, gender, racial makeup,” she said.
Like Senne, many of the committee members are graduates of The Florida Bar’s Leadership Academy, giving them an even better appreciation of the value of service to the profession, Senne said.
The committee will need it more than ever this year. Its stated mission is to “interact regularly with LegalFuel. . . to assure that technology tools for lawyers and educational assistance concerning technology and the law is available to Florida lawyers.”
To accomplish that, the committee conducts annual surveys of Bar members to determine their technology needs. Unfortunately, Senne said, the committee’s most recent survey was conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re using some of [the latest survey] as a basis for developing our programming, but honestly, we’re going to have to resurvey because everything has changed so much this year, and we want to make sure that we are addressing the concerns of the Bar as much as possible,” she said.
A single mother who lives in Lake Placid and works as in-house counsel for a medical marijuana firm, Senne doesn’t consider herself a technical expert. But with seven people reporting to her from all corners of the state, Senne said she owes her professional existence to remote technology.
“I wanted to be more involved so that I could help other lawyers have more opportunities to have fulfilling careers like mine,” she said.