[NOTE: This is another in the series of repostings of my previously-published articles. This article was written in 2004 in connection with a presentation I did on technology use policies for law firms. Although it focuses on the issues that face law firms, the same principles apply in many different contexts. Forms can be quite helpful as long as you know how to use them]
Seven Dangers in Using “Standard” Forms for Law Firm Technology Use Policies
“We need a technology use policy. Why don’t you hop on the Internet and grab one that we can use?”
This conversation is all too common. The question asked is meant to be a rhetorical one. You will be better off if you treat it as a real question and think carefully about the answers to that question.
There is almost no limit to the dangers you can run into when you “grab a form” off the Internet. This article talks about seven of the most worrisome dangers.
Danger #1. Forms May Be Used As Something Other than Checklists of Issues. When I was co-teaching a law school course on drafting technology agreements, we started the course with a discussion of the use of forms. Our key point was that you have to consider forms as checklists for issues to consider, provisions to include and points to clarify. They should not be seen a complete in any sense or as covering all possible issues. They definitely should not be seen as something to grab and use. Take a form and think through the application of each section to your situation. Does it apply? Does it reflect the approach you would take? Does it raise other issues? Use a form as a checklist, first and foremost.
Danger #2. Forms May Be Outdated and Wrong. How comfortable would you be using a technology use policy from 1995? If you grab a form on the Internet, how do you know that you are not doing exactly that? Be aware that policies you find might be outdated and not cover issues that now affect you. Even worse, they may reflect an approach based on a misunderstanding of applicable law, a failure to consider applicable law or a misguided approach to relevant issues. Be very careful about assumptions that you are making.
Danger #3. Forms May Not Even Address Your Issues. Law firms have some unique issues because of confidentiality obligations to clients, ethical rules and other issues that affect the legal profession. A standard form that you find on the Internet or in a form book might not even address these issues, let alone address them correctly. The form you find might not cover home computers, blogging, instant messaging or other issues that are important to you. It is too easy to treat a form as being “complete” and, as a result, fail to cover key issues.
Danger #4. Forms May Make Decisions For You without Appropriate Consideration. There is not a single, perfect approach to technology use policies. Each policy reflects a consideration of unique issues and a large number of decisions. Similarly, any form will embody a large number of decisions on issues. Some forms take a middle of the road approach. Some forms, unknown to those who use them, take more radical approaches. Your only guarantee is that it is all but impossible to expect that any form you find will reflect all of the decisions that you would make on each of the underlying issues. Every sentence in any form could be written differently depending on the underlying policy. When an issue later arises, it will not be comforting to keep saying, “But, it was in the form.”
Danger #5. Forms May Let You File and Forget. The use of a standard form makes it very easy to file and forget your technology use policy. The whole approach trivializes the importance of the policy. Rather than posting it, publicizing it and training people to follow it, you will likely file it and forget about it. That will come back and haunt you.
Danger #6. Forms May Relate to a Different Regulatory Scheme.b Surprise! The legal profession has its own ethical rules and regulatory issues. Other industries have their own rules and regulations. If you grab a form, you may inadvertently use a form from a company with different requirements while missing rules and regulations that apply to you. Neither result is a good one.
Danger #7. Forms May Allow You to Avoid the Real Work You Must Do. When you grab a form off the Internet, change a few words and announce your new policy, you neglect very important aspects of creating a technology use policy. You do not do the research necessary to understand how people use technology in your firm and what unique issues your firm may have. You ignore the value of putting together a team to put a policy together. You also treat the policy as fundamentally unimportant. You guarantee an unhappy experience in the future.
The best approach to creating a technology use policy is to do the hard work, make the hard decisions and move to drafting the policy at the point that you are ready to document and memorialize your decisions. A form that you find can serve as a model or as a checklist, but should not be anything more than that. Your policy should be your policy – your policy should not be dictated by someone else’s forms.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]
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