IT: Today’s Trends and Risks in Legal Technology for Barristers

On publication of its Strategic Plan 2016/2019, the Bar Standards Board said in Spring 2016 that over the next ten years, barristers in England and Wales will face “major challenges” that include technological advances. So as 2018 begins, are barristers on the ground approaching and embracing the challenges and opportunities that the latest advances in technology and software brings?

Technology means innovation, and innovation in turn means greater efficiency and productivity in legal practice. The evidence is that barristers and clerks are increasingly recognising both the importance and the value of the latest technologies to streamline their practice. Take artificial intelligence (AI) – increasingly a gamechanger across the legal profession. Billy Bot, the robotic junior clerk from Clerksroom, was introduced last year following the growth of pubic access work by barristers. Billy is connected to cloud-based chambers management software, MLC Case Collaboration (via a bespoke API) - enabling full access to chambers’ systems and processes, so that it can book diary entries for individual barristers, take instructions, give quotes for fees, create new cases, and so on.

Without cutting edge software allowing what is a complicated integration (even by today’s technology standards), Billy could not work properly. For chambers, it means the administrative and clerking side of securing new clients is streamlined making the job for barristers of attracting the right clients with the right budget ever more efficient.

Barristers and barristers’ chambers are increasingly working in the cloud, the modern way of working and a trend that continues to reduce overheads while increasing profits and enabling a better service. Cloud offerings specifically for barristers are continuing to launch on the market, tailored to automate barristers’ businesses processes and save money.

Advanced, for instance, is reportedly expecting to save St John’s Chambers up to £350,000 following its implementation of its MLC Case Collaboration which enables the secure production, sharing and storage of legal documents. This means barristers can access legal documents anywhere, at any time, any day of the week, and access case documents securely and work on them collaboratively, even without an internet connection. We understand St John’s Chambers is the first UK barristers’ chambers to do so, and it won’t be the last if there are such significant savings to be had.

While Advanced has made big advances, there are other equally compelling innovative tech solutions for chambers, such as LEX chambers management software (from BarSquared) - a favoured solution for many chambers including Arden Chambers, Brick Court Chambers and many other sets. There is also Briefed (an online case and practice management platform created by a barrister for barristers); and cloud-based Hyperlaw (which enables barristers to easily upload their instructions to counsel); and others.

What are the challenges?
Opportunities always present challenges and potential risks. As barristers and chambers increasingly rely on innovative technology to enable them to work more efficiently, there are serious challenges that cannot be ignored, particularly data protection and cyber security. In May 2017, for instance, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) fined a barrister for breaching her data protection obligations following a software upgrade of her home computer. Around 725 encrypted documents she had created and stored on her computer were uploaded to an internet directory as back up when her husband updated the computer software.

The issue of data protection should be very high up on any barrister’s radar – if it isn’t, the implications of a data breach will be more serious in view of the forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Every barrister is a data controller for the purposes of data protection legislation. When the GDPR comes into effect on 25th May, there will be new, more stringent requirements on data controllers which will require barristers to review their processes and procedures. Note that individual barristers will be personally responsible for compliance.

In the Bar Council’s invaluable and detailed Guide on the GDPR (from the Information Technology Panel), a number of the new requirements are set out, notably:

"Where a type of processing in particular using new technologies, and taking into account the nature, scope, context and purposes of the processing, is likely to result in a high risk to the rights and freedoms of natural persons, the controller shall, prior to the processing, carry out an 63 assessment of the impact of the envisaged processing operations on the protection of personal data. … A data protection impact assessment referred to in paragraph 1 shall in particular be required in the case of:
(a) a systematic and extensive evaluation of personal aspects relating to natural persons which is based on automated processing, including profiling, and on which decisions are based that produce legal effects concerning the natural person or similarly significantly affect the natural person;
(b) processing on a large scale of special categories of data referred to in Art. 9(1), or of personal data relating to criminal convictions etc. referred to in Art. 10; or
(c) a systematic monitoring of a publicly accessible area on a large scale."

This means barristers must review the new technology they utilise (and plan to utilise in future) to ensure they are and will be compliant under the GDPR. If they are not, fines could be more severe than under the previous regime.

Working in the cloud brings particular security and data challenges. Cloud technology is increasingly a driving force in the legal profession, however, its risks are due in part to the existence of a third party – the cloud service provider. When researching potential cloud service providers, or reviewing your existing provider due diligence is imperative. You must ensure your data is protected and that you are compliant with your regulatory and professional obligations to protect client data.

Due diligence includes ensuring the cloud service provider utilises advanced data encryption and storage of encryption keys; who is responsible for which area of the cloud (network, servers, etc); and ensuring client data is isolated on the server so that other organisations cannot access it. In addition, what protection from cyber attack is there? This means selecting a cloud service provider who can produce proof of cloud security certification including recent evidence of penetration testing. We recommend reading the Bar Council’s guidance, Cloud computing – security issues to consider.

In the BSB’s strategic plan document, the BSB made clear that barristers “will also have to adjust to accelerating technological change as court systems go online and paperless and digital entrepreneurs find new ways to deliver legal services to consumers”. There is no doubt that technology will revolutionise the way barristers work over the coming years.

The evidence is that barristers are not just adjusting - they are actively embracing the opportunities that the latest software, cloud technology and other tech integrations are available – but they must remain alert to the inherent risks. Those that fail to take advantage of these technological advances will eventually be left behind.



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