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Technology has experienced tremendous growth in recent years. The normalisation of smartphones, social media and other communication platforms effectively triggered a paperless revolution.
For the legal industry, COVID-19 has forced legal professionals to re-think and re-strategize, as global business shifted “virtually” overnight. As a result, new ways of practicing have incorporated blended working, greater employee communication through WhatsApp and Microsoft Teams, virtual courtrooms and client meetings plagued by the phrase “I think you’re on mute.”
However, how has the pandemic influenced client needs?
Simply put, in our already digitally-saturated world, the pandemic has heightened the pressure of clients’ existing demands for cheaper and quicker solutions to increasingly complex legal issues, with the same high standard of advice they have always received.
With a rise in tech-focused alternate legal service platforms offering such promises, the buoyancy of law firms depends on providing a drive for greater productivity and cost-effectiveness to maintain a competitive edge and attract new business.
The natural next step is investing in specialised legal technology to assist solicitors in workload management, which is facilitated by specialists in legal technology.
eDiscovery is the end-to-end process where parties in legal proceedings utilise software to identify, preserve, harvest, review, analyse and disclose relevant information from electronic documents with the other side as evidence in response to a request by the courts.
Defined in Practice Direction 31b of the Civil Procedure Rules for England and Wales, an “Electronic document” covers any digitised data; from emails, spreadsheets and data on USBs, to deleted information stored on back up servers.
Crucially, the potential volume of documents to search through during a disclosure request can be staggering. However, by using intelligent eDiscovery software, legal professionals can cut through the “noise” by eliminating, for example, duplicate documents and conducting keyword searches to narrow down the relevance and produce a manageable set of information for later review.
Set against traditional discovery involving large teams manually reviewing stacks of paper bundles to identify specific information, eDiscovery comparatively invites a host of meaningful benefits, including:
Legal technologists are taking their rightful place as central to the legal industry, developing and delivering tech-based solutions to support legal professionals. In short, acting as the bridge between traditional legal advice and our technologically sophisticated clients.
Northern Ireland has been slower to develop eDiscovery than has been the case in England and Wales. Legal tech innovation is being driven by a number of factors: our clients, the Law Society of Northern Ireland and our Court Service. The Law Society’s establishment of the Law Tech Working Group in Spring 2022 indicates increased appreciation that legal tech and eDiscovery are essential aspects of professional legal training. The group seeks to ‘Ensure that the solicitor profession possesses the skills necessary to adapt to and embrace new and emerging technology’ and ‘stimulate innovation resulting from the increased use of technology to deliver practical benefits for solicitors, clients and the wider justice system’.
While many law firms in Northern Ireland haven’t yet embraced this digitised means of legal practice, Cleaver Fulton Rankin is proud to be at the forefront of the legal sector in Northern Ireland by investing in a digitisation leap and establishing a Legal Technology Group in August 2021, led by Director Kerry McCloy.
In February this year, the Lady Chief Justice and Mr Justice Horner called for wider use of technology in our Courts, with Mr Justice Horner commenting “we need to grasp today’s technology tools to provide better, cheaper and faster justice for the people of Northern Ireland.” This was in the context of the Commercial Hub Practice Direction.
Despite being consistently debunked, the classic misconception that future technological advancements that automate tasks will reduce the need for lawyers lives on.
However, while AI is revolutionary in the sense that it can “mimic” the way legal professionals think, technology is only as effective as its users allow for.
In the context of eDiscovery, human intelligence and skill is vital to input the relevant data to use electronic systems designed to enhance productivity in legal practice.
Ultimately, AI is best framed as another tool for legal professionals, not a substitute. Fear not, lawyers will remain part of the furniture and indeed will be the drivers of the legal technology revolution that will ultimately lead to better service delivery, enhanced productivity and much greater time efficiency.
If you have any questions about eDiscovery or the other services offered by Cleaver Fulton Rankin’s Legal Technology Group, feel free to reach out to our team for further information.
This article has been produced for general information purposes and further advice should be sought from a professional advisor.
Article by Paralegal, Laura Gooding.