Despite massive technological advances in virtually every sphere of life in the last few decades, very little has changed in how legal services are delivered. I have no doubt that there are reasons why lawyers have been slow in adopting technology to improve client service, but I don’t know what those reasons are.
The use of (pretty basic) technology can serve not only to deliver a better client service, it can also deliver enormous benefits to the practising lawyer in the form of time and cost savings. I can’t speak for any other lawyer, but here’s how I’ve been using technology to improve client service (and to make my own practice more efficient and cost-effective).
Lawyers are typically pictured carrying a brief, wheeling a trolley loaded with boxes, or sitting in an office surrounded by paper. Lawyers (anecdotally) love paper.
Digital transformation that has arrived in virtually every other business and industry has been slow to touch lawyers.
Four years ago I started getting paper out of my practice. Now I am entirely paperless, which creates the following benefits:
For Clients: Faster delivery, turnaround, and response times; reduced costs (no staff time or outlay on printing, binding, boxing, packaging, and posting); increased data security.
For Me: Instant receipt of instructions; location independence; weightless paperwork; searchable documents; easy handovers.
In addition, several of the items I list below simply would not be possible without a paperless practice. Virtual assistance, document automation, calendar management, task management – all these are made possible only by virtue of being paperless.
To my mind, paperless is an essential part of any strategy to use technology to improve client service.
[Incidentally, I have created an online school that teaches digital transformation – including teaching lawyers and legal executives how to work without paper. See Paperless Academy for more information.]
Administrative assistance is ordinarily in the form of a salaried employee who needs to be provided with a work space and the equipment needed for the job. This can be financially prohibitive for solo and small practices, with the result that the lawyer ends up working all hours of the day and night trying to stay on top of legal work together with administrative work.
A remote (or virtual) assistant, on the other hand, usually comes in the form of a self-employed (and self-motivated) individual with his/her own computer equipment and technological know-how. Provided the necessary Data Processing Agreement (GDPR) is executed and secure communication and sharing tools are used, the virtual assistant can do everything that a traditional secretary would do, on a ‘pay-as-you-go’ basis.
Utilising a secure cloud-based file sharing system, together with digital briefs and digital notebooks, my virtual assistant is able to access all of my office information and remotely manage the following when needed:
Calendar: Court dates, meetings, and other appointments.
E-Mail: New briefs, updated instructions, payment notifications, court dates, meeting requests, etc.
Fees & Expenses: Fee records, fee note generation and transmission, payment records, expense records, tax returns.
In addition, the tools we use and the systems we implement allow for a high degree of collaboration which I do not believe would be possible in a traditional paper environment:
Task Management: Tracking requests for draft documents, advices, opinions, and other work output; maintaining a shared task list to ensure I get the work done within the requested time frame; transmission of work output to clients/solicitors.
Brief Management: Receipt and management of new digital briefs; manipulation and internal bookmarking of digital briefs in my prescribed format; requests for further information where necessary; creation and preparation of digital case notebooks in my prescribed format.
Legal Research: Basic digital legal research (case reports, textbook extracts, company information, etc.).
Digital Case Notebooks: Shared case notebooks allow for high-level collaboration – for example, after I’ve spent a day in court my VA can access each case notebook to find out what happened in the case (and prepare a letter to client/solicitor), find out when the next case event is happening (and update my calendar), and find out whether there are associated fees (and update my fee records accordingly). I can leave additional instructions in the case notebook to be actioned by the VA.
While every case is different and will require tailored advice and strategy, a significant amount of the documentation produced by lawyers is nonetheless regurgitated/reproduced from a precedent bank that the lawyer has built up over years of practice.
For example, an affidavit will contain a certain amount of ‘unique’ or ‘bespoke’ content (based on the dispute it is being used for), but it will also contain a large amount of ‘boilerplate’ content that is to be found in every affidavit that has ever been prepared.
I use document automation to populate the ‘boilerplate’ elements of draft documents – be they affidavits, motions, contract disputes, negligence claims, or opinions. By simply telling my system a little bit about the case (jurisdiction, venue, subject-matter, parties, instructing solicitor) I can automatically generate the ‘boilerplate’ drafts and give myself more time to focus on the bespoke elements.
This results in a faster process of document creation, and a reduced incidence of the mistakes so often seen when lawyers use ‘copy and paste’ (the most common example being the use of the incorrect gender pronoun – when Paddy suddenly becomes a ‘she’ later in the document).
Prior to Covid-19 there was little (if any) use of video-conferencing software for client and witness consultations. One had the option of convening a meeting at the Four Courts, to which clients and witnesses would have to travel, or of travelling to the instructing solicitors office (to which clients and witnesses would also have to travel), or of simply meeting clients and witnesses in the courthouse on the morning of a hearing.
Due to Covid-19 I think everyone (lawyers included) has become more familiar and competent with video-conferencing technology. Thankfully it does not now seem strange or outrageous for one to suggest that a pre-trial consultation happen in a virtual meeting room.
Having said that, my experience to date is that the preference for most lawyers is to meet physically rather than remotely, so it remains to be seen whether video-conferencing will ever play a central role in litigation practices.
I for one would welcome greater use of remote consultation, and I very much hope that the profession continues to make use of video-conferencing technology long after Covid-19 has passed.
If you have any questions about the contents of this article, or would like to discuss any aspect in more detail, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.