“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” – John F. Kennedy
The world is in the midst of change. These days, change is present at all levels of society: from growing crops, to the way we move around, to controlling inflation. Moreover, change is swift: who would have thought 5 years ago that we would all now be racing through cities on electric scooters, that we would be ordering the most diverse things online and getting them delivered the next day, or even still, who would have thought even just last year that we would all be working remotely?
I am not declaring anything new when I say that technology is playing a paramount role in these changes. However, the open question does arise: does technology initiate the change, or do we address the change with technology?
I vote for the second. It is important to observe, analyze and embrace the changing society. This is true as an individual person, but equally - or even more so - as a company. Technological developments are the key enablers to think along with certain changes and to keep a company successful, future-proof and evolving along with society's demands.
"Many colleagues still communicate by fax"
This equally applies to the legal sector. This sector is also undergoing changes: new types of clients, more complex issues and needs, higher time pressure and more importance placed on the legal solution. In this sector, too, there is a consistent need to bring services up to a (higher) technological level in order to be able to serve clients optimally and to cope with continuous change. Paradoxically, the legal sector is generally a slow evolving sector and adopting an adverse attitude towards any form of change. Many colleagues still communicate by fax, judgments are delivered by post, deliverables are stored locally on a hard drive and the entire administration mill is still largely done manually.
This way of working can and must be revised to optimize services and to keep our profession future-proof. Moreover, there are already countless legal tech applications available – there is no need to reinvent the wheel.
I do not mean that every lawyer or firm should now change their entire infrastructure and adopt a different way of working. It is clear that a small change can already make a world of difference. For example, applications for online meetings such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom facilitate communications with clients, or an application that accurately keeps track of time sheets simplifies the invoicing process.
I also see value in other applications that facilitate communication between clients and lawyers, such as automatically scheduling meetings or automatically communicating hearing dates or submission calendars to clients. This can be done through an interface between the lawyer’s systems and of its clients’, or equally well through an automatic email message (with the possibility of saving the date in the calendar) or through a text message.
"A technological (r)evolution in service delivery within the legal profession should take place sooner rather than later"
Applications that ease a lawyer's repetitive administrative intake obligations are also recommended. Think of anti-money laundering obligations, data protection obligations or tax obligations that can be fulfilled in an automated way because the client can already enter the necessary information online.
At a more sophisticated level, lawyers can also fall back on tools that do substantive work, e.g. generate writ of summons, contracts or privacy policies by allowing the client to already provide the necessary information online, or screen documents during due diligence work. In my opinion, a part of legal services that should not be underestimated is also aftercare and client satisfaction. A tool that collects feedback on the "customer experience" after a case or consultation can be very enlightening for future services.
Finally, in my view, the importance of tools will increase that allow for the creation of a shared database between the client and its lawyer in which all documents are stored and can be accessed by the lawyer and its client or even by third parties (submissions, opinions, formal notices, essential documents, etc.). Here, professional secrecy and deontological rules should be guarded and there should also be a possibility for the lawyer to disable sharing of certain documents (e.g. preparations, emails with counterparties, etc.).
I argue that a technological (r)evolution in service delivery within the legal profession should take place sooner rather than later. The solutions mentioned above are already offered on the market and are ready for tailor-made implementation, taking into account the legal and deontological challenges inherent to our profession. Presumably, other legal tech solutions will be added in the coming years. I believe the national and local professional associations can play an important role in testing and promoting several legal tech applications to see which legal tech features can ease (not replace) a lawyer’s work so that he or she can focus on other matters. "Other matters" I leave open to free interpretation: substantive legal work, other business activities or more time for private life – in short, matters that also deserve our full attention.