Increased revenue, increased workloads add up to less time for legal firms

“Having the right tools and technologies in place is vital to not only staying competitive, but managing to keep on top of our work. In a perfect world everything works seamlessly and we have access to all documents, files and applications when we need them, wherever we happen to be. Keeping up with cutting edge technology is more important than ever for the legal profession.”

Malcolm Campbell, Principal/Director at Coleman Greig Lawyers

According to a recent report published in the Australian Financial Review1, most legal firms in Australia have recorded an increase in workload due to the current pandemic conditions – despite slowdowns in the court system.

This spike in ad hoc business has led to subsequent rises in revenue, meaning that the average lawyer is working harder than ever for their firm – despite in most cases working remotely.

Remote work in turn brings new complications – meetings have become virtual, rather than in-person; testimonies are gathered via Zoom or other digital platforms, and notes are taken on the spot, or recorded ‘live’ and transcribed at a later stage.

In a lot of cases, professionals are dealing with a more complicated work and home environment as a result of the pandemic, also. Children are being home-schooled, partners are also working from home, internet resources are often strained, food and other deliveries turn up at random.

The firm itself will also be impacted by this dispersed workforce. While the majority of evidence suggests that most companies have pivoted very efficiently to a safe, secure and productive hybrid or remote work environment, there are many factors behind the scenes that enable this to happen. Employees have been provisioned to do their jobs from home, with laptops and other peripherals such as headphones, USB hubs, speakers and more.

The firm will have had to address the problem of access to documents, files and other content. Remote security will have been addressed, with files subject to cloud security on the enterprise side, secure credentials will need to be provided to promote safe logical access to files and verify a user’s identity, home networks and routers will need to be secured. The list goes on.

All these factors combine to reduce the amount of time that legal professionals have available during their working day. In such a high-pressure industry, it is essential to free up as much time as possible, and allow lawyers and legal professionals in general to focus on higher-level tasks. ‘Cutting through the noise’ – to use a sporting analogy – is a catchphrase used by high-performance managers seeking to get the absolute most out of a team’s athletic ability. It is equally pertinent for the legal profession, especially at such a time as this, when distraction levels are at an all-time high.

The adage ‘work smarter not harder’ is also relevant. With revenue and workloads on the rise, it makes sense for the organisation to invest in better tools and find ways of increasing efficiency.

Malcolm Campbell, Principal/Director at Coleman Greig Lawyers, said of the situation: “As a profession, we have had to pivot very quickly and find new ways of conducting our essential business practices. Health and safety of employees is critical, so provisioning our workforce to carry out their daily tasks from a remote site was essential. As a company, we are lucky that the transition was well planned and executed, but there are many factors that can impinge on daily productivity, even with the best-laid plans in place.”

Organisations are looking at factors such as smooth and fast delivery of content via document management and more sophisticated Content Services solutions, secure access control via encrypted digital tokens, Enterprise Search for advanced delivery of information and so forth.

The frequent need for interaction with colleagues and clients is another area impacted by remote work, and is also one that can be streamlined with better systems and solutions. Zoom, Teams and Google calls have replaced meetings to a large extent, with discussions often recorded through the platform. Securing testimonies, gathering evidence and collecting statements can be done remotely, or in-person if the individuals involved are practising safe social distancing. However, what is done with that information directly after capturing it is another factor that can be improved upon to save time and make processes more efficient.

Technology now exists that automatically transcribes recorded audio. Rather than record then manually transcribe, or spend time searching through a recording to find information, an automated service can produce a highly accurate digital record in a short space of time, and have it waiting in a lawyer’s inbox ready to action when required.

This results in less downtime between the meeting and the next actionable step, which helps an individual maintain focus and train-of-thought, as well as saving valuable time.

Furthermore, digitising a recorded audio meeting has the added benefit of producing a searchable and actionable file, effectively moving that audio recording from being a static file, to one that is ‘live’ – and therefore eminently more useful.

Once digital search is enabled, a keyword can instantly uncover relevant material – a process which previously required someone to listen to the audio through to the relevant point.

AI-powered technology such as this is capable of achieving much better quality and more accurate transcriptions than were previously possible. Artificial Intelligence is able to very accurately detect who is speaking, alter sound levels to pick up specific voices and cut down on background noise.

Despite this time-and-energy saving, research suggests that as little as fifteen percent of audio and video is currently being digitised.  There appears to be a wealth of benefit for a busy and time-poor legal firm to grasp the initiative on digitisation – and indeed, capitalise on this before competitors.

“Having the right tools and technologies in place is vital to not only staying competitive, but managing to keep on top of our work. In a perfect world everything works seamlessly and we have access to all documents, files and applications when we need them, wherever we happen to be. Keeping up with cutting edge technology is more important than ever for the legal profession,” concludes Campbell.

Footnote

1 M.Pelly, ‘Law firm profit margins hit 37pc’, Australian Financial Review, 2021, www.afr.com/companies/professional-services, (accessed 23 May 2022).

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