By Mevludin Dzihic at Legal Futures Associate Advantage Consulting
Imagine this. You are driving down the motorway at the actual speed limit of 70MPH in your lovely shiny new car. As you come up to your junction, you signal left. As you come off your junction you slam on your breaks sending your phone flying off the passenger seat into the foot well and leaving you in a breath daze. What on earth happened? What suddenly forced you to break?
You are sitting in your car, having just gone from 70MPH to 0MPH. Only to realise you have been forced to stop by me sitting atop my horse and carriage, going a speed of 2MPH.
The above analogy, although extreme, is to me the equivalent of legal practices asking clients to either:
- Come into the office to verify themselves.
- Send images of their documentation for the lawyers to then send it to a third-party system which verifies the individual.
In both, the horse and cart story and the client coming into the practice’s office to verify themselves. Both methods are old, legacy ways of performing tasks which can be made quicker, safer, and in the case of legal practices, more compliant through new technology. So, this begs the question. With systems like Verify 365 available to lawyers and legal practices alike, why do so many stick to the old way of verifying client when faced with the fact that emerging verification technology can do a quicker and a more secure job.
One of the key reasons as to why lawyers stick with the traditional method of asking clients to come in to verify their ID is because they are comfortable with it. Practices have had this method of client ID verification for decades, so it is something they are comfortable with. For legal practices with limited personnel and time, they do not want to learn a new system which they have to get to grips with. They have a method that works and for them that is fine.
For those legal practices that do have personnel available and have some form of structure, AML software and client ID verification software would be perfect for them. It would speed up their process, ensure security and compliance and would add an extra layer of protection to the practice and mitigate some of the risks associated with fraud. But these firms use the old adage “we have other priorities” which is just another way of saying “we’re comfortable with our existing way of working”.
The comfort zone, in terms of client ID & AML verification, is the death knell for progressive security in the legal sector and is something we as a profession must get out of. We do not grow as people or as a business if we are stuck in the comfort zone.
Another reason as to why the old way prevails over the new, at least in ID and AML verification, is because lawyers (not all!) are slightly technophobic, although a valid argument in justifying why not to use a technology-based solution over asking your clients to send you a picture of themselves.
The uncomfortable truth is that as a society and a planet, technology is no further than an arm’s length away. In a world where most legal practitioners use a case management solution hosted on the cloud, or a court bundling software that will create a court bundle for you in minutes, legal practitioners must get to grips with technology, because if they do not, they risk being left behind, and more importantly, leave themselves vulnerable to fraudsters using technology to slip through the net.
This justification builds on the above point but focuses on the innate mistrust some lawyers, like people, have for technology. This is one reason why many legal practices still use paper files rather than a case management system or do not use an electronic signature and prefer a wet signature for documents which can be validated through the former option.
Mistrust in technology is not easy to overcome, especially since many businesses globally have developed their business model around selling personal data. But with nefarious individuals using technology to circumvent existing checks and balances for ID verifications and AML processes, the need to trust technological ID and AML solutions becomes increasingly important.
Never become completely complacent with technology because ultimately regardless of the tech, some human input or output will be needed, but understand that not all technology is “evil” and in fact a lot of technology providers in the security sector place a high importance on client and consumer data, not wanting to compromise the trust placed on them.
A justification that goes back hundreds of years, “If I can do it for free now, why would I pay?”. Yes, no one likes spending money if they do not have to, but if you could spend it on a system which could reduce the risks of a fraudulent individual bypassing your checks, would you not want to invest in that?
The above question is phrased in a way to make the answer obvious, however we know that the decision to move is not that simple. For many small legal practices, any expenditure needs to be scrutinised. But there is a difference between wasteful expenditure and investing in a system which will align your practice with the best working practices in the industry and safeguard you again malicious individuals looking to skirt around your existing system.
The above four points are just some of the ways I believe lawyers justify the need to hold onto the old way of verifying a client’s ID and ensuring they do what is required regarding their AML due diligence checks. However, are these justifications justified themselves? Should legal practices accept the inevitable encroachment of technology into the client verification process and make the jump to a technological system like Verify 365? We cannot say “yes” or “no” on behalf of anyone, but it is something that law firms need to start discussing internally, and start making decisions based on experience, market evidence and general trends in fraud to ensure they protect themselves as best as possible.