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26 States Take a Step Towards the Future of Competency

As a student at Michigan State University College of Law, it is required to write a scholarly article as a graduation requirement. Not surprising to many, I chose to write my paper on the intersection of new emerging legal providers and the American Bar Association's Model Rules of Professional Conduct. This paper topic just so happens to fit nicely into what I chose to address in my first-ever blog post.

26 states in the United States have taken a leap towards ensuring their lawyers are competent in the 21st century. These states have adopted Comment 8 to American Bar Association's Model Rule 1.1. This comment was proposed and adopted through the ABA's Commission on Ethics 20/20 in August 2012. The most recent state to do this is Colorado, which enacted the amendment in April, 2016.

Although these 26 states have adopted the new amendment, they have all done it in their own style and fashion. States are afforded the ability to adopt and modify the Model Rules of Professional Conduct however they see fit for their particular state.

Robert Ambrogi has monitored each state's adoption of the new amendment in his blog where he takes a more in-depth approach to delving into the differing modifications by each state. Two states that stand out in particular are Florida, which has now made it a CLE requirement to gain technology credit, and Washington, which has incorporated Limited Legal License Technicians into their modification of the amendment.

This amendment does not require lawyers to understand all of the intricacies of technology, but to have "some awareness of the basic features of technology." For some lawyers, they already understand the basic features of technology, but for others this is more of an obstacle.

But why is this even important? Clients are the reason. If lawyers do not take a proactive approach to understanding technology, they are only putting their clients at a disadvantage. Firms are competing against service providers and other firms that have taken the step to understand technology and their clients will only suffer if they do not at least understand the basics.

Lawyers have a choice. They can embrace the change of technology and offer what is now considered, in many states, to be competent legal services. Or in the alternative, they can choose to continue to fall into the background while other firms and companies fall into the forefront through offering competent, thorough, and technologically advanced options.

The word for word amendment proposed by the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 may not be the right fit for every state, but 26 states have applied their own state specific modifications. We will see what state decides to be number 27.