Posted by Andrea Kilby, business development director at Legal Futures Associate Thomson Reuters
As things return to ‘normal’ and Covid-19 related restrictions are removed, law firms need to take control in shaping their ‘new normal’ working practices.
Now is an optimum time to reflect on the lessons of remote and hybrid working over the last 18 months, and spend time assessing how best to do things properly. I think it’s now inconceivable, and widely agreed by judges, advocates and law firms that we can’t go back to how things were prior to the pandemic.
Instead, it’s incumbent on law firms to think about new more productive and cost-effective ways of working throughout the lifecycle of a case, while also keeping an eye on how things will change in the future and how technology can help.
Lord Justice Haddon-Cave observed in a recent Gray’s Inn reading: “The future of the courts and tribunals is digital. The reform programme is creating new digital platforms… Reform of procedure should be aligned with this.”
With arbitration and commercial litigation cases expected to grow significantly – particularly as the business world adjusts to the fallout of the pandemic, furlough schemes end, and insolvencies increase – I believe there are three things every law firm should bear in mind, when considering best practice for the future:
PDFs are not the answer to replacing paper
Legal professionals deserve to be equipped with technology tools that are built for their needs. PDFs are not a long-term solution to replacing paper bundles and legal teams need to move away from just about coping with PDFs to a new more productive way of working.
Searching for information in PDFs can be like looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack.
PDFs don’t offer optimal character recognition (OCR) by default – if you do want a PDF that’s OCR enabled, it can be a very time-consuming process to create that document and a bundle of 500 pages might occupy 30MB, making it difficult to share such files via email.
In contrast, purpose-built digital platforms can automatically paginate and OCR every page as it’s uploaded, ensuring everyone always has access to the latest version, and making it easy to search for and redact information as required.
Page numbering in PDFs is also hugely challenging. Digital solutions remove the issue of unintegrated collections of individual electronic documents by including index pages with hyperlinks to supporting documents and sub-bundles.
In-document tools, such as annotation, highlighting, cut-and-paste and export enable users to work on documents as they would have done on paper without losing notes. The ability to incrementally add in documents without losing any notes or preparation can lead to eye-watering time savings.
Cloud is the most effective way to collaborate securely
Legal teams need digital tools that allow them to collaborate securely and maximise efficiencies in building bundles, collaborating and reviewing evidence, preparing cases and presenting hearings. A cloud-based platform is essential in meeting these requirements in a sustainable, scalable and secure way.
Building a case inevitably means creating numerous versions of a bundle. A digital, cloud-based platform ensures that everyone only ever has access to a single source of evidence. It also makes it easy to manage access controls in a granular way and ensure proper audit trails of all documentation, making life more efficient, simpler and faster for all.
Expect the use of multi-media files to grow exponentially
The volume of multi-media files being used as evidence in all types of cases is set to grow massively. Legal teams must be prepared to handle and present multi-media evidence, either in person or virtually in the most effective way.
Again, a purpose-built digital platform that allows all types of evidence to be stored securely inside the bundle, and played back with ease, is now a must-have. Having all evidence stored in the same system removes any need to request separate media players and risk delays when it comes to the hearing.
Similarly, spreadsheets – commonplace when discussing financial remedies – are notoriously difficult to present on paper or in PDF format but can be easily accommodated within a digital platform.
To sum up, it’s clear that as case volumes increase law firms need purpose-built tools, created with productivity gains in mind.
When planning a long-term solution, optimised for the new normal, do also consider the comments of Supreme Court justice Lord Briggs: “Let’s not design new online methods of communication just as slavish copies of the old paper forms and procedures they are intended to replace.
“Let us, as far as possible, start from scratch, asking every time what the reformed procedure is actually seeking to achieve, and then getting to the objective as efficiently, and cost effectively, as possible.”