30 Aug 2016

Technology for the Legal Services Sector

The legal industry is now at the forefront of adoption of technologies that will not only help them grow but also better manage their reputations in an increasingly connected world.

Technologies that are helping legal firms perform better on a number of fronts includes Safescribe, a warning system that helps protect companies and employees by alerting them if they write things that might come back to haunt them.

Protecting firms from negative consequences associated with using email and social media is just one of the areas where tech is helping the legal sector.

Slack, a synchronous messaging app that’s replacing email in many sectors, also has much to offer law firms.

Organisations are finding uses for technology that enables collaboration, either internally with their own in-house legal team or with their external legal advisors. Collaborative technologies are particularly useful for global organisations operating across different timezones.

Communication is enabled via videoconferencing, group document editing tools, and also via workflow technologies that enable teams to co-operate on tasks even when they are separated by both time and distance. Even technology now considered fairly established, such as conference calling, can help improve collaboration on complex projects.

Moving towards a more collaborative working environment enabled by technology can be a challenge for many law firms.

Being accustomed to a competitive business environment, with other firms often acting as competitors one minute and then partners another, it can be hard to accept closer integration with another firm. Firms that have implemented collaboration systems are discovering benefits to the way they work, such as communicating simultaneously with all their panel firms. But all participants need to accept the new ways of working in order for it to be successful.

Firms are also using collaborative practices to get better value from their external providers. Billing can be tracked in real time, for instance, and information obtained in the right format. Activities such as requesting payment can be triggered automatically, in some cases by a real-time update from a supplier’s case management system. It’s a way of smoothing out the essential admin that surrounds legal practice, reducing costs and speeding progress.

Firms are also using technological innovation to serve their clients better and give themselves a competitive edge. Stephens Scown LLP has commissioned its own app to enable client access to information, documentation and billing information for their commercial and residential properties.

Systems such as this can help clients by keeping them updated, and also smooth day-to-day business by reducing human keying errors and help track the progress of workstreams and cases. The app also gives them an easy route to get in touch with their own lawyer at the firm, improving relations with clients.

Technology and scale

Not all firms can offer the resources to commission their own purpose-built apps. Technology is available to law firms at any end of the scale but it tends to be only the larger ones that can afford to get their systems customised to their precise needs.

Larger firms aren’t always at an advantage though. Their size often means they are struggling with cumbersome legacy systems, rules and procedures that don’t always help them innovate. Smaller firms often have the advantage of flexibility on their side, making it easier to implement new tech into their existing systems and processes.

The benefits of e-discovery

One of the biggest and most effective changes that any law firm can implement is to improve their document storage and retrieval using a document management system.

All law firms generate a huge volume of documents in both soft and hard copy, which may not be sorted and can be hard to retrieve when required.

Document management systems can introduce new levels of efficiency to document retrieval, and ensure that documents are stored where every relevant person can be given access to them. This solves the perennial problem of documents being stored on an employee’s private computer which may be lost forever if they misplace their device or leave the firm.

Other document management tools make it easier to prepare evidence for trials. This includes systems that enable legal researchers to tag documents with the relevant legal points. This gives legal teams more control over their arguments, making them a stronger legal force. The ability to access documents when needed, and organise them efficiently, is one of technology’s biggest gifts to the legal profession.

The fact remains though – most law firms are not early adopters of technology and often don’t make the best use of technology already available to them.

This gives an obvious competitive advantage to those rare firms that can embrace technology and put it to their advantage.

In any industry, technology shouldn’t be implemented for the sake of it. Technology should only be employed when it serves to correct a problem; enabling lawyers to work faster and more effectively, save money and make more of it. Those law firms that can take advantage of new developments are often finding it puts them at a significant competitive advantage compared to those firms lagging behind.


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