Covid-19 has brought the world to a halt but with all the challenges it brings, it has also given the legal industry a rare opportunity to change the way we have been practicing and conducting the business of law. Over the past few weeks, we have seen the stage being set for making the change, the change that we all have been assessing and contemplating and have yet always resisted and to some extent ignored. The magnitude of the change requires all stakeholders to contribute and participate towards making this a reality. It is now time for us to come together to convert Covid – 19 into a positive opportunity for the legal fraternity. The change we need to make is based on the framework of People, Process and Technology. For driving organisational efficiencies, it is the people who work with processes and technology to deliver greatest results. Going forward it will be essential for all three elements to work in sync for a smooth transition.
People were and will always continue to be our most critical asset. Without people, nothing can happen. This is the time for us to upskill and adopt new ways of working. Collaboration and communication will now be the key to success. Some of the widespread challenges with people are limited digital access, weak digital literacy, aversion to the use of technology, diverse background and experiences etc. As lawyers, we believe we are self – sufficient and have not always welcomed or accepted multi-disciplinary professionals that enable us to deliver the best-in-class legal services to our clients. It is now time to broaden our perspective and accept that the business of law requires the assistance of diverse professionals who are not necessarily lawyers. While HR, IT and Finance have succeeded in co-existing, it is time for us to make space for Innovators, Legal Technology specialists, Knowledge Management, Marketing, Business Development and Pricing experts, STEM professionals and Legal Design thinkers.
Use of Technology has long been on the rise in law. The main drivers include globalisation and an exponential increase in electronically stored information (ESI). Volumes can be huge and often what matters most is how fast and how efficiently can we draw meaningful information from the ESI. Smart and exciting technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, data analytics and predictive analytics have already begun to disrupt the legal market. In recent weeks, technology has been forced upon us by the pandemic and is rapidly pushing lawyers towards high-tech solutions. Let this not be an interim acceptance and a short-term thing – we must now embrace technology (beyond Zoom and Webex and video conferencing). Use of collaborative technology has never been as high and popular as it is today. Remote working, online courts, eLibraries, digitized workspaces, digital signatures, case management, document management and knowledge management solutions are suddenly non-negotiable. It is, therefore, critical to have a solid IT infrastructure as a base to digitisation and ensure the best technology is available and applied to optimise success.
Process is a structured approach to success. Due to the vast nature of the work involved, age-old practice legacy systems and individual working styles, there is a basic lack of process in the legal system. There is now an urgent need to plug this gap and thoughtful process-design is the only way forward. Creating SOPs, process manuals and standardised templates, building systems to shift from people dependency to process dependency is a must-have for a sustainable future. We have to remember that with people and ever-evolving new and disruptive technologies, comes risk – this is one area our profession cannot compromise on. It is the best-practice process that help us retain our customers by delivering consistently high-quality legal services. This core capability is not static in our rapidly evolving, digital world. Processes also promote growth by reducing unnecessary inefficiencies and improving productivity.
The way forward is the coming together of these three elements and driving the change in culture and mindset. We will need to reimagine and reinvent our existing systems and always remember that People, Process and Technology do not work in isolation. They are interdependent and each a necessary component for business innovation and success.
Example 1 – The immediate impact of the pandemic has been seen on the operation of the courts. The Judiciary has come under immense pressure to innovate to draw a balance between access to justice and public health concerns. While many courts have laid down guidelines for video conferencing during the lockdown, that is not the only solution to keep the essential services of the courts running. We will require a complete digitisation of the judiciary – eFiling, eHearing, eTrials, uniform structure of judgments that enable easy search and analytics to spot similar cases – perhaps a unique case number that remains the same from lower through to the apex court and an app to inform clients about their next hearing including absenteeism of the judge or opposite party a day prior to the hearing to prevent unnecessary travel and crowding of courts by clients and lawyers. In order for this to happen, judges, clerks, lawyers and clients will need to be trained on the procedure and technology. People will help in identifying, evaluating and implementing the best technologies. Processes will need to be designed by experienced people to get the best out of the selected technologies.
Example 2 – Law firms can and are shaping the way they operate, both in the business of law and the practice of law. We’ve been using technology on the business side for billing, attendance, timekeeping, resource utilisation and work allocation. By implementing artificial intelligence and machine learning tools for eg. in due diligence and eDiscovery, the practice of law becomes faster and smarter. This is just one example but regardless of the practice area, it is important for people to define the technological requirements followed by an evaluation of the high number of technologies available in the market and selection of the best fit. It is then important to train the technology well to get the desired output – this requires time, expert resources and carefully designed processes. Defining the end goal within a timeframe is critical and only the right processes can ensure the goal is achieved.
The world is changing at a pace faster than any of us could have expected. To emerge successful, we will have to match the pace. It is now essential to mandate the change and look at ways of transforming our own systems in preparation for the new normal.