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Doubling down on Digital: New age law firms

Once upon a time, the legal profession’s idea of embracing new technology was upgrading to a pen that carried its own ink supply, and laypeople probably still buy into that stereotype. Piles of paper, wax seals and musty offices presided over by equally musty old men.

In the brave new world of COVID, nothing could be further from the truth, and – despite what one might gather from viral videos featuring legally qualified cats – the legal profession is embracing cutting-edge technology at a rapid rate.

Indeed, in Queensland, solicitors began adopting new technology almost as soon as it was available; with law firms dotted across Queensland’s 1.5 million square kilometres and more troubled by the tyranny of distance than most, new technology isn’t just a luxury, it is a lifeline.

That forward-thinking attitude in the ranks of Queensland’s solicitors is one major reason the justice system was able to move seamlessly on-line when Queensland locked down to combat the coronavirus.

Virtual hearings and callovers were no real challenge to firms that had long-embraced videoconferencing, and the fact that the courts caught up during the pandemic saved regional solicitors a lot of travel time and money. Although face-to-face hearings are resuming, there is no putting the JavaScript genie back in the bottle.

If new technology simply meant a shiny version of old processes, however, there wouldn’t be much to get excited about. Real innovation is finding ways to utilise technology to deliver new services to clients, in a streamlined and efficient way; some firms are dedicating full-time resources to this new challenge.

“I work closely with many parts of our fantastic legal operations teams (including our Continuous Improvement, AI, Process Automation and Project Management teams) to deliver solutions to the legal teams and clients,” says Erin De Monte, Legal Process Manager for MinterEllison and one of the lawyers at the forefront of this new business model.

“Client expectations are changing at an accelerated rate so law firms and other legal service providers must also adapt to meet these demands.”

Erin flags an increase in the use of existing options, such as remote working capabilities, legal process improvement and legal project management, and she foresees that data analytics will be ever-more important. She expects that analysis to provide business insights for clients and firms, improving profitability and efficiency and informing pricing decisions.

“Technology on its own is not usually ‘the solution’.  What is critical before the implementation of new technology is to work with the legal teams to review, analyse and optimise their existing processes so we aren’t simply transitioning a potentially flawed process onto a new technology platform,” she says.

Queensland Law Society members have already begun embracing on-line offerings to optimise their CPD programmes, with practitioners taking advantage of the Society’s free CPD programmes during COVID. QLS’s Practice Management Course and Modern Advocate Lectures are also now offered on-line and have been popular with the profession.

No doubt law firms will still have a pile of paper or two about the place, but the idea of lawyers as technology Luddites is fast becoming as outdated as the bodkin.   

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