Embracing Technology: Insights from the CAI’s Law Seminar

By Merle Hass

It’s hard to beat Palm Springs in the winter.  And it was especially sweet as I joined my GSL colleagues and fellow attorneys at the Ranchos Las Palmas Resort, from January 26-28th, for the Community Association Institute’s annual Law Seminar.  Indeed, I learned something important from every lecture and session I attended—and I thought it would be helpful to share key insights and caveats with you.

I was somewhat skeptical about what I’d glean from the keynote speaker, Jim Carroll, a corporate consultant who describes himself as a “futurist.”  Turns out he is recognized worldwide as a “thought leader” on global trends and has helped many companies, including NASA and the PGA, transform their businesses through creativity and innovation.  Among the intriguing facts he imparted was a study citing that 65% of today’s preschoolers will work in jobs and careers that do not even exist yet.  He piqued our interest with other obvious-yet-provocative statements… our kids have never known TV without a remote and have never heard the phrase, “Please get up and change the channel.”

It bears emphasizing that he was talking to a roomful of lawyers – people who, by definition, practice in a conservative profession averse to change or novelty. Indeed, much of the law is based on precedent and the notion that if it hasn’t been done before, it probably can’t be done now.

Yet our challenge, at this particular moment in history, is to get ahead of the curve, to dare to be groundbreaking.  This may seem threatening, but it’s a message that should resonate within our industry as we think about what this means in concrete terms. On the horizon, I see more green buildings; eco-design; solar panels; and electric cars, among other innovations.  There will certainly be legal implications for all this, and we need to be ready.  In short, we need to think creatively and to embrace change.

At GSL, we have always tried to think out of the box, dating back to the time when the notion of a condominium was novel and confusing. We helped to guide and clarify the law back then.  Today, we are becoming more nimble with digital technology, such as this e-bulletin, and social media.  We and our colleagues in the profession need to understand that the new generation of leaders is younger and much more tech-savvy than the baby boomers.

A Question of Balance

And now for the “caveat” part of my musings. I went to a session called “Electronically Stored Information: The Shocking Truth,” which dealt, primarily, with the obligation to retain and produce certain computer records. You know the drill. You get sued, and the plaintiff sends a discovery request asking for everything he can think of, including all electronic records, files, and correspondence. If you are on the board, your instinct is to circle the wagons and try to protect your intra-board email conversations. Except that legally, you generally can’t take that position. The material is not privileged. It’s discoverable.

However, there are some steps you can take to try to minimize the damage before you are sued. The best – and most difficult – thing you can do is to resist the temptation to fire off an email every time a thought occurs to you.  The fact is, email has a way of never actually disappearing, and it can come back to bite you.  “Delete” does not necessarily mean delete, so your email may continue to exist indefinitely, in a cyber space half-life.

Therefore, try to email less, and do it more judiciously.  While this seems counter-intuitive to the digital revolution, in matters such as these, you should sometimes not email at all.  Instead, pick up the phone or write a letter.  If you must email, set up a separate account for association business, which is simple to do. And be sure to use this account only for board business. This could avoid unpleasantness later on, if you are challenged and you have failed to separate personal and board business.

Final musing: Yes, I recognize that there may be a disconnect between part one of this bulletin (innovate! look ahead!) and part two (pick up the phone! write a letter!).  Actually, it’s a question of balance.  Change is inevitable and inexorable.  So, bring it on!  But the key point is that we use technology wisely and well…and never use it to replace what has always been a trademark of GSL:  personal, one-on-one attention to those who need legal assistance.