California, home to roughly 13% of all U.S. lawyers, has become the 39th state to adopt the ethical duty of technology competence.

Effective this week (March 22), the state’s Rules of Professional Conduct provide that a lawyer’s duty of competence encompasses “the duty to keep abreast of the changes in the law and law practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.”

The California Supreme Court approved the new rule on Feb. 18, 2021, which appears as Comment 1 to Rule 1.1 of California’s professional conduct rules.

This makes California the 39th state to have adopted the duty of technology competence for lawyers.

[See my Tech Competence page where I track the states that have adopted this duty.]

The duty stems from the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct. In 2012, the ABA’s House of Delegates voted to amend Comment 8 to Model Rule 1.1, which pertains to competence, to read as follows:

Maintaining Competence

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. (Emphasis added.)

California’s new rule came about as a recommendation of the Task Force on Access Through Innovation of Legal Services, which submitted recommendations last year to the State Bar of California’s Board of Trustees to amend rules 1.1 (and also rule 5.4).

After soliciting public comment on the proposed change, the state bar’s Standing Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct recommended approval. The trustees approved the rule change on Dec. 11, 2020, and filed it with the Supreme Court.

Photo of Bob Ambrogi Bob Ambrogi

Bob is a lawyer, veteran legal journalist, and award-winning blogger and podcaster. In 2011, he was named to the inaugural Fastcase 50, honoring “the law’s smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries and leaders.” Earlier in his career, he was editor-in-chief of several legal publications, including The National Law Journal, and editorial director of ALM’s Litigation Services Division.