In-House Counsel Technology and 'Situational Awareness'

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on June 17, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Situational awareness — a term typically used by military, emergency services and air traffic control — refers to “being aware of one’s surroundings and identifying potential threats and dangerous situations.” Fred Krebs, an In-House Coach in Canada, believes the situational awareness concept should be adopted by every in-house counsel when it comes to technology.

Applying his ideas to the ol’ US of A, here are five areas of technology in which in-house counsel should practice situational awareness:

  1. Cyber security. Jeff Brandt, the editor of Pinhawk, a daily law technology digest, identifies hacking as a "potential threat and dangerous situation" directly applicable to in-house counsel. He stresses the importance of cyber security and hacking for both corporations and law firms. To identify potential threats, consider auditing the security practices of your cybersecurity firm, legal department and outside counsel.
  2. E-discovery and records retention. E-discovery and records retention are two major headaches for in-house counsel. Legal technology has changed the way in-house counsel manages litigation. Before you engage outside counsel to represent the company in a legal matter, you should ideally have a record management system in place to make E-discovery flow more smoothly and avoid a disaster from papers getting lost in the shuffle.
  3. Tech proficiency. If you receive large bills for routine commodity matters, you might want to look into a potential inefficiency in tech skills. If your staff or outside counsel lack several basic skills when it comes to programs like Word and Excel, the inefficiency can cost a pretty penny. Casey Flaherty, corporate counsel for Kia North America, suggests auditing your staff and outside firms for their basic tech skills. There are ways to strengthen tech skills. If they can't pass a simple test, you might want to require some training or take your business elsewhere.
  4. Tech awareness. With the glut of products available, it's hard to stay on top of all the tools available that can make your life as in-house counsel more simple and effective. Still, it's important to keep abreast of technology tools available and use them to full capacity.
  5. Consistency. Krebs' concludes by stressing that situational awareness is more of a mindset than a hard skill. You don't have to be an expert, but you do need to be vigilant. Know what's going on around you and its effect on your company's goals. Communication is key to understanding your company's expectations.

Last August, the American Bar Association stated that minimal professional competency includes keeping up with "the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology" in a comment to Rule 1.1 of its Model Rules of Professional Conduct.

If you apply situational awareness to your practice, you'll be a better lawyer for it -- even in the eyes of the ABA.

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