Heidi Frostestad Kuehl (‘02) Publishes Article on Intersections of Lawyering, Law Librarianship, and Technology Competency

Heidi Frostestad Kuehl (‘02), Director of the Law Library and Associate Professor of Law at the Northern Illinois University (NIU) College of Law, has published the article, “Ethical Practice for 21st Century Lawyering" in the Case Western Journal of Law, Technology, and Internet. The article, published this year, is the culmination of several years of research Heidi gathered while she was teaching the Law and Technology in Practice course at the NIU College of Law. The course teaches students about the various technological innovations for the profession of law and how these technologies will impact their future practice of law.

Heidi has taught the course the past five years and has been especially struck by the ethical impacts of the use of technology. Recently, the American Bar Association (ABA) has mandated a general rule of “technological competence” in its Model Rule 1.1. The rule is drafted in a vague way with little instruction for attorneys currently practicing law. This became a call to action for Heidi to examine the impact of this rule and what skills the rule requires for competent legal practice. “I set out on an expedition to research all of the State ethics decisions and see the evolution of those ethical violations or formation of rules through the ethical decisions.”

Heidi’s article identifies the obligation of technological competence embodied in Model Rule 1.1 and examines the current cases and ethical decisions that reveal the evolving national and state-specific technological competence standards. In the article, Heidi advocates for more detailed ethical standards or interpretive guidance for the technological competence required by ABA Rule 1.1 for ethical practice. Attorneys have been grappling with the changing nature of the legal practice for decades and now have a duty to be generally aware of various technologies that will surely impact their practice of law. The critical importance of her work has been noted by her peers, “I have had several professors and attorneys reach out to me and already ask me to disseminate the article for their courses or CLE programs to guide training for current lawyers.” The article specifically covers the topics of e-discovery, social media, electronic communications, certification and assessment, big data and the law, artificial intelligence, and how law librarians might lead the changes in legal technology proficiency within law schools.

The ABA has invested resources in a Task Force on the Future of Legal Education, and the 2014 report mentions technology as a key variable in the future delivery of legal services. Legal educators now have a heightened duty to infuse teaching of legal technologies into the curriculum. Heidi finds opportunities for technology instruction both in and out of the classroom.

“As librarians, we can also informally instruct our patrons in technological aspects of the legal practice when assisting with research, writing, and mentoring our students at the reference desk or during office consultations. We can provide powerful examples for law students as highly-trained professionals with efficient technological habits and demonstrate zeal for continuing changes in the legal profession in this digital age.”