Remember the “cat lawyer” Rod Ponton? How could we forget his Zoom appearance in a court in Presidio County, Texas when he was unable to figure out how to turn off the cat filter on his Zoom call during a hearing on Tuesday in Texas’ 394th Judicial District Court as he declared to Judge Roy Ferguson, who presided over the case: “I’m here live. I’m not a cat.” Perhaps a bit of technology curiosity beforehand would have killed the cat (lawyer) in Mr. Ponton!
This article in Attorney At Work (What Does It Take to Be a Great Lawyer? The Competency of Curiosity, written by Meyling “Mey” Ly Ortiz), discusses how most new lawyers tend to lean hard into exuding only confidence and capability. As a result, they feel that asking questions is somehow out of bounds because it is presumed to be seen as stupidity.
This faulty presumption makes it hard for young lawyers to ask clarifying questions or “why” questions when given an assignment because they are afraid to look like they don’t know what they’re doing. Rather, when given a new assignment, baby lawyers tend to furiously write copious notes, receiving the assignment as “marching orders,” only to take them to their office, close their door, and expend a lot of energy and stress trying to figure out, first, what their actual assignment is, and then second, how to execute in the time allotted.
As the author notes young lawyers (when turning their work product in) “simply submit their work and don’t ask questions or for feedback. Or when they are given feedback, they sit quietly and nod profusely, eager to show that they ‘get’ it, even if they don’t. This pattern tends to repeat itself over the first year or two and can be quite stunting to a young lawyer’s growth.”
Continuing, the author states: “What’s missing in this common pattern is the competency of intellectual curiosity — which is hallmarked by asking questions, including the all-important “why?” As emulated by young children, perhaps to the chagrin of exhausted parents, asking questions is how we learn and a way of showing interest and higher thinking. Sure, a young lawyer can be a legal robot, deeply immersed in the cycle of input of discrete assignment and output of work product. But to really set yourself apart and grow, you have to understand why things are done the way they are (or at least why that particular lawyer does it that way). You also must understand how the pieces you work on fit into the bigger picture or strategy. You can’t get that if you’re too afraid to ask questions, whether for clarification, your own edification or for feedback so you can improve in the future.”
The author goes on to provide very “lawyerly”, tangible examples of how a young lawyer can flex the skill of intellectual curiosity. And they’re great examples, but it seems that this premise fits the adoption of technology by lawyers as well. The “competency” of curiosity includes technical competence as well, as noted by Comment 8 of Rule 1.1: Competence from the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct which says:
 To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology, engage in continuing study and education and comply with all continuing legal education requirements to which the lawyer is subject.
What’s the best way to keep abreast of the benefits and risks associated with technology? Stay curious. Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to show your lack of knowledge about a particular technology concept. Because that’s how you learn!
Curiosity killed the cat (lawyer). And it just might help you avoid an embarrassing situation, sanctions in a case or worse. At least Rod Ponton had a sense of humor about it.
So, what do you think? How curious are you about new technology? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.
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