The future of law: Has COVID-19 forced the legal industry into the 21st century?

Access to justice is a vital public service and one that must be able to adapt to these unprecedented challenges.

Daniel Thomas | Partner and Head of Litigation

By Daniel Thomas, Partner and Head of Litigation

As the effects of COVID-19 continue to ripple across the country, legal professionals – like many others – are working hard to continue to offer their services, whilst also responding to rapidly emerging legal needs.

Leaving the dark ages behind

It’s no secret that the legal industry has a reputation for being one of the last to join the technical revolution, and with Courts of England and Wales declaring hearings and trials are now to be held through video conferencing facilities, it’s left a lot of the Primas team wondering how the industry, and in particular the Courts, will get to grips with it.

Remote working has taken root across so many sectors and shows no sign of letting up anytime soon. But, with the legal industry already a little behind with some technological advances, there are few systems in place to support this new working style. Unfortunately, many practices will have been caught off guard by this sudden need to work remotely, on top of the need to carry out court proceedings from their own home.

What’s next for the legal industry?

With news that the civil courts’ operations will move to video and phone conferencing as an interim measure and that the Courts and Tribunals Service will be using Skype Business to operate necessary court matters, it’s hard not to think that these measures should already have been in place where appropriate. Whilst I’m pleased to say that the team at Primas are equipped with the necessary tools to work remotely and have adapted quickly to this new way of working, I can’t say the same will happen across the industry.

The Courts and Tribunals Service has three main video conferencing systems to be used in courtrooms; the Justice Video Service, BT Meet Me and Skype for Business, all of which have apparently been in use for some time. While video technology has been used in courtrooms for years, it is rarely wheeled out or positively advocated as an option. Indeed, in order to obtain the use of such technology, applications to the Court with detailed reasoning have to be made.

It could be argued that a minority of legal professionals have become ignorant to the benefits of technological advancements and how these can be applied to everyday legal proceedings.

In a book called The Future of Law published in 1996, Richard Susskind OBE predicted that in ‘the future’ lawyers and clients would communicate by email – a revelation that was shocking at the time, however, it’s now the most common type of communication we use. So, what’s stopping us from taking that next leap into the new decade? Do we need to attend Court? Can interim applications actually be heard by way of video conference rather than in person, in the way case management hearings are commonly over telephone conference?

Will working remotely impact the outcome of cases?

In my opinion, the answer is no. It’s just about adapting and accommodating to our new normal.

It’s clear that this pandemic will impact what we recognise as a ‘functioning society’ for months to come, but we’re now using technology to conduct business in a way that was unthinkable even at the start of the year.

Access to justice is a vital public service and one that must be able to adapt to these unprecedented challenges. It’s incredibly refreshing to see many examples of remote/virtual hearings and trials that have been conducted successfully, but there’s so much more that can, and should, be done.

A helpful reminder

The coronavirus outbreak has given many legal firms and in particular the Court, the reminder that they needed to ensure they can work remotely when needed and ensure that business can continue as normal. We’ve been lucky enough in that we’ve always had the resource for situations like this; with our cloud-based practice management service which allows us to work from any location.

We pride ourselves on taking a modern approach to law – both technologically and in practice – and I believe that the current ‘lock down’ situation could make people realise that technology could actually streamline some of the archaic Court processes.

I have absolutely no doubt that technology can help give more people access to justice – and the next few weeks and months is only set to prove that theory. Has this virus provided the industry with the shake-up that it so desperately needed?

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