Getting your head around IT

Getting to grips with the latest legal technology is by no means easy when you are preparing for a trial, meeting with clients and other lawyers, and keeping on top of routine administrative tasks. But getting to grips legal tech is vital to your practice efficiency and career growth.

The Bar has undergone substantial changes over recent years, particularly with the introduction of ABS, and the opportunity for direct access to barristers without the need for a solicitor. These factors have helped open up a huge market for legal technology to facilitate increasingly efficient ways of work processes and marketing.

Modern technology is often described as ‘disruptive technology’ as it forces businesses to rethink how they traditionally operate, and adapt accordingly – otherwise they may lose out. This applies to barristers – you should be utilising the latest legal tech available to enable you to run the most efficient practice possible, or run the risk of lagging behind.

What are the latest trends?
Legal technology is constantly being refined. What was hot a year ago, might have been replaced by something more cutting edge. New apps are being introduced, and the very latest software is streamlining lawyers’ work to a greater degree than ever before. So what are the latest trends in legal technology that barristers should be getting their heads around?

Dispute resolution: the move towards online courts continues and, meanwhile, the UK’s first online dispute resolution service is underway: Ajuve says its service, for both businesses and individuals, will resolve issues up to 200 times faster than small claims court, with simple, transparent pricing, and will be enforceable in more than 140 countries.

Outsourcing: outsourcing legal business processes is a key tool to aid the business efficiency. Barristers will find particularly useful billing management tools, voice recognition software, workflow tools (such as Atrium LTS) and tax services, such as BarTax (which provides accountancy and tax services particularly tailored to barristers and chambers).

There are now legal tech companies providing all-in-one services. TotalCounselNow, for instance, provides an array of services for barristers including transcription and document services, copy-typing, reception and call handling services, and diary and fee management services.

Cloud services: working ‘in the cloud’ has grown exponentially in the past couple of years, and can substantially reduce both administration costs and office staff. Leading chambers, St John’s Buildings, for instance, has recently been widely reported for its move towards a ‘paperless’ office. It has invested in a cloud-based document sharing and collaboration tool (the chambers partnered with software and services provider Advanced to develop MLC Case Collaboration), and says it expects up to £350,000 a year in savings as a result. Its barristers can now access documents securely 24 hours a day wherever they are, even if they do not have an internet connection.

File hosting: chambers are increasingly using file hosting services which offer cloud solutions, file synchronisation and file storage in secure online files.

E-discovery: there is increasing demand – and need – for efficient and effective e-discovery solutions. The vast majority of information is stored digitally. The risk of human reviewers means documents get missed and errors are made. Today’s cutting-edge e-discovery software performs e-discovery tasks much more efficiently, and in a fraction of the time, substantially reducing the costs to the client – and improving the client’s whole litigation experience.

And it appears the humble clerk is not escaping being neutralised by legal technology: Clerksroom is building a robot junior clerk called Billy.Bot, who will do the work of a traditional barristers’ clerk and provide basic legal information to online users. It’s still under development, and when he is live and kicking – he could herald a new trend in legal tech for barristers.

Are there any minefields to be alert to?
The main risks surround the fact that software needs updating and, sometimes, replacing. Linked to this issue are the critical issues of data protection and cyber security. Barristers have their underlying professional duties to keep client information confidential and to comply with data protection legislation.

Software periodically needs updating. When software patches and upgrades are available make sure they are installed as early as possible (unless updating is automatic). Pop ups can be most annoying, but when they inform you that software needs updating, they must be acted on to guard against security holes. Be aware that software glitches can potentially cost businesses a huge amount of money and reputational damage. Security updates are particularly critical to protect from viruses.

All software needs replacing when it becomes completely out of date, so it is crucial that you keep your software updates a priority - and can recognise when software is out of date and needs replacing. The reality is that a failure to update your software potentially exposes you to cyber criminals.

The tale of a senior barrister fined by the ICO for a serious data breach is a salutary tale of the risks associated with software. When the barrister’s husband updated some software on their home computer, confidential and sensitive unencrypted documents were uploaded to the internet and could be easily accessed online. The information belonged to up to 250 individuals and related to vulnerable adults and children.

Information technology facilitates flexibility - but responsibilities come with it. What’s clear is that legal tech has a huge amount to offer barristers, but it comes with risks. Being aware of the issues, taking expert tech advice, and undergoing at least basic training in your use of IT, are important first steps in making the most of technology whilst discharging your professional obligations.

Embracing technology need not be a high-risk move.



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