Tuesday, 9 June 2020
By Roman Barbera

COVID-19 has drastically changed the way many of us are currently working. Law firms have not been immune to this, however as an industry that already has a sector dedicated to providing electronic solutions, they are natural beneficiaries as we move towards adopting more flexible and efficient working solutions now and in the post-pandemic environment.

Some developments will be founded on health grounds, such as a shift towards handling less physical paper and portable electronic media. Others will leverage the observed benefits of ‘working from home’ to provide employees with added flexibility. In both cases, many of these positive changes will be reliant on, and facilitated by, legal technology.

Initially, an increase in the understanding and adoption of existing service offerings is all that is needed for these changes to start being realised. Transferring documents electronically instead of via USB and briefing Counsel using a hyperlinked index instead of binders are both examples of this. Looking further to the future, this initial increase in collaboration between law firms and legal technology providers will encourage the design and implementation of innovative solutions that assist lawyers in capitalising on the opportunities that present themselves in post-COVID-19 practice.

Remote and flexible working

Enabling lawyers to work from home and improving the ability for inter-office resourcing and collaboration, the first-hand experience firms have been provided by the shutdown will likely result in increased adoption of remote work arrangements. The utilisation of web-accessible document review platforms to centralise not only documents, but also notes, comments, coding and key files for further consideration are strongly encouraged for teams that are geographically separated.

Resource and cost efficiency

Balancing utilisation, value for clients and efficiency are core considerations for any legal team. Case studies illustrating the benefits of adopting legal technology solutions are abundant, and as more lawyers have their first experience with leading review platforms and experienced consulting teams, we could expect the utilisation of legal technology to increase further. Platforms like RelativityOne and Nuix are scalable and are cost effective for the smallest and largest matters. Whilst the scope and scale of work that will arise out of COVID-19 itself is unclear, being literate in eDiscovery and having a strong understanding of how technology can assist you can be a significant competitive advantage.

Broader use cases for legal technology

Whilst the diversity of legal engagements to stem from COVID-19 is also unclear, the breadth of cases on which legal technology can be implemented is continuously growing. To date, the vast majority of ‘legal technology’ utilisation stems from the electronic discovery (or eDiscovery) process. Whilst likely to continue, there are a growing number of use cases for technology to be used in other types of legal and non-legal engagements. Contract construction and management, tracking real estate interests during compulsory acquisition projects, corporate board paper administration, managing ongoing regulatory requirements for corporations and creating a centralised location to record interests held by claimants or parties in a class action or liquidation are all examples of legal processes that existing platforms can support.

Benefits of the ‘cloud’

As corporations outside of the legal sector become more acquainted with ‘the cloud’ and the benefits it can offer, adoption will increase at potentially a faster rate than would have otherwise occurred. Beyond the more advertised benefits of this transition, Cloud platforms provide the ability to collaborate with a corporate IT team to remotely extract data (whether emails, internal chat logs or standard business documents) in a secure and auditable way, directly into our review platform. The improvements in efficiency, accuracy and comprehensiveness are likely to be significant when compared with more traditional methods of data collection. Alleviating data security concerns likely to be held by clients during this transition will also be crucial to maintaining relationships of trust.

RelativityOne is one application that addresses these legitimate concerns in multiple ways, including maintaining industry leading security standards and certifications through partnership with Microsoft Azure, ensuring the Relativity environment is monitored 24/7 for security issues, encrypting all data in the platform and when in transit from cloud environments such as Office365 so that data does not ever need to leave a secure environment, and by ensuring that all client data is hosted in Australia to address data sovereignty risks.

Efficiency of eTrials

Whilst some Courts have looked to implement temporary measures to keep hearings running remotely, a successful eTrial requires extensive planning and a strong commitment to the use of technology by all parties ahead of the hearing commencing, preferably at the commencement of the proceedings. Most jurisdictions have a Practice Note detailing key considerations associated with proceeding with an eTrial, however current experiences will highlight the added efficiency of a well-managed, fully electronic litigation process including electronic trials. Courts will increasingly mandate, and lawyers will increasingly encourage the use of these platforms as a means of reducing the logistical effort, time and costs associated with matters that do run to trial.

The last decade has shown us that even reluctant members of the legal industry will gradually become passive adopters of legal technology given its growing role in practice. Given this, the challenge or opportunity that presents itself is not whether law firms will change, but to what extent they can capitalise on the transition. Consulting with experienced legal technology experts who have awaited this advent is key and provides your firm with the opportunity to formulate additional offerings, improve efficiency, mitigate risk, and improve overall execution and delivery of legal services.