This article is written by Vivek Maurya from ICFAI Law University, Dehradun. The author has described the impact of digitalization on the legal world during the pandemic.
Technology has infiltrated every business today. Technology has substantially transformed the way we operate and offer services, from AI-based HR solutions to blockchains in the banking sector, from fin-tech to underwriting in insurance. These technological changes have not spared the legal profession. The manner legal services are offered has evolved dramatically during the last two decades. No one could have predicted that one day, courts would be held online or that one would be able to draft a contract using technology back in the year 2000 but one cannot dispute that legal tech is here to stay, given the rising adoption and usage of disruptive technology by legal professionals. The legal services sector must digitize to recruit and retain talent, increase profitability, and measure itself against global competitors. Young professionals are becoming partners in law firms in greater numbers than ever before. A more efficient and contemporary style of working is required for this new generation of professionals.
Beginning of the millennium
The development of websites that offered a digitized searchable library of case laws and legislations brought legal technology into the spotlight around the year 2000. Legal technology expanded throughout time, expanding into increasingly sophisticated legal fields such as contract administration and automation, document automation, e-billing software, and legal analytics, among others. Technology has also been utilized to revolutionize the way legal education is delivered to students in recent years.
The Supreme Court digitized one crore and five lakh pages of civil appeals in 2017 and the government created an Integrated Case Management System (ICMS) to help the Indian court digitize its services.
We have witnessed how technology has come to the aid of every area and business, including the legal sector, since the start of COVID-19. E-signature, online contracts, virtual courts, online meetings, and e-billing software solutions have guaranteed that legal services are provided without interruption even during pandemics.
Kickstarting the digitalization of the legal sector
A digital, future-oriented law practice maximizes billable time in and out of the office, improves administrative and non-legal job efficiency, and delivers high-quality service to customers. Implementing practice management systems that automate procedures and improve cooperation inside an organization and with third parties is one approach to do this.
These solutions provide users with remote access to documents, allowing them to modify them while on the road, eliminating the need for a physical presence at a designated work location. File sharing becomes a breeze, and past data can be found with a quick search.
In the legal industry, automating procedures is critical since businesses require continual flexibility as they expand their operations. It will be simpler for Indian law firms to align the hourly fees of Indian lawyers with their foreign counterparts by adopting international best practises.
The Indian legal industry has struggled to deal with competition-driven prices. According to estimates, despite the adoption of legislation such as the Goods and Services Tax, which expanded the area of work for the business. The sector has not grown at a rate that is commensurate with its potential. By increasing efficiency and incorporating international best practises in routine operations, practise management systems can assist in solving this issue.
Despite the numerous benefits, such as greater transparency and efficiency, the country’s adoption rate of practice management systems is only 0.1 percent. The necessity of the hour is to hasten their adoption and to build an ecosystem that accepts digital solutions to achieve better results.
Evolution of digitalisation in the legal industry
The legal industry has restructured its practice patterns and operations. Technology has become a centre of development in such a changing ecosystem, assuring the redesign of processes, client delivery, efficiency, and profitability, as well as company economics. The following developments are arising from the evolution of digitalization in the legal sector in the current environment.
Document automation is a type of technology that helps with the drafting process. It assists attorneys and legal specialists in consolidating all legal papers into a single system, allowing them to manage numerous versions and rapidly produce customised documents. You can automate the processing of complex contracts and agreements with document automation by creating sophisticated document templates that can be quickly changed with deal specifics. Furthermore, Non-Disclosure Agreements may be easily created and executed (NDAs).
It will cut down on the amount of paperwork needed to construct lengthy contracts, agreements, and wills. You will also save time by not having to read legal paperwork from beginning to end. You’ll be able to keep organised while increasing your team’s productivity.
The e-invoicing method improves cash flow by making billing easier and faster while also decreasing billing mistakes. It increases productivity by tracking progress in real time, reduces billing complexity, and creates a dependable and efficient automated billing procedure.
Legal businesses will no longer need to retain a stack of paper invoices or type information into spreadsheets to produce bills if they use advanced e-billing systems. Instead, automated e-billing systems allow law firms to produce bills automatically and exchange them with other law offices without the need for human interaction.
We don’t know when life will return to its previous state. Until then, we’ll have to hold off on going outside as much as possible. As a result, demand for e-filing is increasing as people want to submit their cases online since they are unable to attend court due to the epidemic.
Undertrials and prisoners can now communicate directly with the court by filing petitions and papers online, thanks to the introduction of e-filing apps. It may be able to pay court costs, penalties, fines, and other forms of fees online using the digital solution. Due to the availability of summons on mobile apps with e-filing software, delayed cases can be expedited by submitting summons fast.
Both the parties concerned, legal professionals and clients, save money by filing documents electronically. Parties will not be needed to physically submit papers nor will they be required to send hard copies to chambers for a judge’s perusal. When someone submits a document with the court, it is promptly reviewed and authorised. If a document is refused, there is no need to wait for it to be returned. Furthermore, consumers would not need to go to the courts, giving law firms more time to work on legal paperwork.
The major concern is how can the court system continue to function efficiently and secure the timely delivery of justice under the circumstances of limiting physical interactions and ensuring social distance. As a result of these circumstances, the idea of e-Hearings has emerged, which refers to hearings conducted through digital networks, such as video conferencing. All of the parties engaged can communicate via audio-video web conferencing.
E-hearings are advantageous because they reduce expensive court expenses associated with infrastructure, security, transportation and the transfer of convicts from jail to courts. Courts may successfully proceed with digital hearings until everything returns to normal and they can even utilise it post-COVID-19 for small legal matters to save even more time and money. Many of the courts have resorted to e-hearing like Gujarat High Court, which not only proceeds e-hearing but also streams it.
For many years, businesses have been urged to adopt regular work-from-home practises and rules. Though the legal profession is notorious for being reluctant to adapt, when compelled to do so because of the COVID-19 outbreak, it became evident that legal activities may be managed effectively from a distance.
To establish successful and dependable work-from-home policies, legal companies require technological tools. You don’t have to start from scratch to create a new solution. Instead, you may manage your remote workers by integrating web conferencing and payroll systems with your existing app or website.
You must consider the security of the information sent while remote working, when integrating or utilising any tool. Legal data may be more sensitive as a result, you should seek advice from a technology partner who is familiar with security issues and can assist you in providing the finest and most secure solution.
Due diligence using AI
To uncover information about their cases, legal experts must do extensive background investigations and analyse papers thoroughly. Legal professionals can utilise the information they collect to help them make better decisions and provide solid advice to their customers. AI can assist in speeding up the laborious job of doing due diligence in a more precise and effective manner.
Communication and collaboration
Video conferencing tools
One of these options is video conferencing for legal firms, which allows business owners and workers to interact with each other and their clients quickly and easily because attorneys rely on face-to-face consultations and meetings to settle transactions, interact with clients and develop their practises, the legal sector stands to profit the most from video conferencing. With video conferencing, legal practitioners may complete all of these responsibilities at their leisure, increasing productivity and efficiency.
Video conferencing is a cost-effective and time-saving method of lowering travel expenditures and time since it allows users to simulate the setting and ambiance of a professional conference room. If legal professionals have cases involving witnesses scattered across the country or overseas, courthouses in other cities, or clients in different parts of the world, video conferencing allows these connections to be maintained successfully and all thanks to technology that is dependable and allows for crisp, clear sound.
Example – Cisco Webex, Zoom etc
Rise of remote working
Whether in a legal firm or in-house, technology has drastically changed how lawyers practise law and what it means to be a lawyer and this transition can be seen in the enhanced capacity to access information at any time and from any location as well as the ability to stay connected to the office at all times. Long days in the workplace are becoming more flexible as a result of this connectivity. Because of developing technology, remote employment in the corporate legal field is now a possibility. In addition, the COVID-19 epidemic has forced the legal sector, like many others to work from home.
Working from home has led to the conclusion that working remotely is both cost-effective and technologically viable for attorneys. People are afraid to resume their working habits until they obtain a COVID-19 vaccination, thus the trend of working from home is expected to persist even when governments allow mobility. Legal professionals may interact with their clients and coworkers in real time using real-time communication tools. It will aid in the facilitation of rapid and effective communication and cooperation.
Due to the temporary closure of law schools, colleges and law firms as a result of the COVID-19 epidemic, law practise and study has migrated online. Law students, for example, can communicate with their professors via video/audio conferencing or real-time messaging apps. Additionally, law firms and universities might provide webinars for law interns to guarantee that their practise and education are not hampered by poor weather or limited travel.
Virtual legal assistants/AI-enabled chatbots
Chatbots are changing nearly in every sector and AI technology may be used to deliver legal services to individuals. People can start an online discussion with a virtual legal assistant or a chatbot to obtain the immediate assistance they need. Lawyers can save time by using automated legal chatbots to answer clients’ minor questions. They will be able to concentrate on abilities that are important to them, allowing them to provide greater service to clients.
For example, a legal chatbot powered by AI can assist customers in scheduling appointments with lawyers depending on their needs. Chatbots can also assist legal firms in generating more leads by conversing intelligently with clients and encouraging them to share contact information.
Example – Netomi, atSpoke, WordPress Chat CSML etc.
As a part of an investigation or litigation, eDiscovery software allows legal professionals to analyse, evaluate, and create electronic records. It may assist attorneys in uncovering important information about any case while minimising risk, speeding up resolutions and lowering expenses.
eDiscovery is a legal technique that allows parties to electronically share information and evidence. eDiscovery software is utilised for more than simply document review, it’s also used for internal investigations and tax audits. The program functions based on several criteria including the data you wish to examine, the time of the review and the volume and complexity of the data. It lowers the expense of doing a lot of paperwork.
Example – Logikcull, DISCO Ediscovery.
Legal case management software
Case management software allows lawyers to handle many areas of practise from a single platform. Case management software allows you to access client information, matter information, and all of your files at any time, whether you’re at home or in the courthouse. Client management, email management, issue management, reporting, document management and document automation are among the functions that case management software allows legal practitioners to accomplish.
Example – App4Legal, Noble Justice, Wrike, TimeSolv Legal Billing etc.
With the rapid outbreak of the epidemic, we were able to normalise several working arrangements that would have been inconceivable in the pre-COVID era. Many law offices have gone completely remote with hearings performed via Virtual Conferencing, client meetings handled via Zoom and Webex, and files made available online. Many attorneys believe that technology has completely changed the way they operate in the last year. The question that arises is how technology will influence work in a post-COVID future. A world that has already experienced the benefits of working from home due to technological advancements will not be hesitant to do so. The acceptance of technology as a supplement rather than a substitute is apparent, and now that people are willing to embrace tech solutions, legal tech is on its way to being the rule rather than the exception.
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