Lawyers, by and large, have been reluctant to adopt technology and have often criticised the adoption of new mechanisms. Many have even been apprehensive about whether the use of technology in future would end their dominion.
Although the law itself has remained progressive towards the use of technology, its progress was slowed down by the ambivalent attitude of the lawyers towards it. Interestingly, all lawyers were using the technology for their personal use but were diffident to use it professionally.
Covid19 has posed a new challenge in front of legal professionals and has compelled them to adopt technology. In the future, the use of technology-based on the available means can transform the legal profession, including day to day activities of the lawyers and the court.
I believe that the post-covid19 era will see a technology-transformed legal profession and will give rise to a ‘new normal’.
The first order of business
The first change we need to see is the change in the mindset of legal professionals: the mindset of how we look at technology and what a technology-aided legal system would look like.
According to a survey conducted in North America in 2019, less than 20% of law firms and legal professionals who were surveyed said they use some form of an electronic billing system for managing their cases/practices. These are astounding numbers considering e-billing is now quite a common practice and is a readily and cheaply available technology.
Worse, 2% of the law firms who were surveyed said they were completely cloud-based, while 37% said that adoption of cloud-based methods did not form a part of their plan in the near future.
If this was an outcome of a survey of U.S. law firms, we can imagine what will be the approach of Indian legal professionals towards the adoption of technology.
Therefore, the first step towards the adoption of technology is changing our own mindset towards using technology in legal practice.
In 2012, the American Bar Association had amended its code of conduct for lawyers, adding that it is a duty of lawyers to keep abreast changes in law and in practice. I do not see any reason why our Bar Council Rules should not be amended to the same effect, or for that matter go a step further mandating lawyers to be au fait with the technological changes in the practice.
How do you change the mindset?
It is very difficult to adopt a completely new technology immediately which is not a part of our current work culture. So, what can we do?
It is worth remembering that most legal professionals are already using the same means of technology in their personal lives. If the same technology was expanded to their professional sphere, then the transformation would not be too difficult.
To start with, software and mobile applications which the lawyers currently use (during the pandemic) for appearing before e-courts or for attending webinars can be used as a regular method for streamlining client meetings. Conducting client meetings through audio-visual means will save a tremendous amount of time and money.
This will also allow the lawyers to communicate with their clients whenever and wherever they need. Real-time messaging tools, emails, web conferencing will not only economize advocate-client communications but will also help both of them keep a record of previous communications.
Drafting of case memos will become easy and lawyers will be able to dictate drafts to artificially intelligent applications, rather than dictating them to juniors who in turn have to type it on a word processor. This will save time, and will, in addition, make case papers immediately available to the lawyer’s staff as well as the client.
One step further, the use of scanned and typed case papers will not only help us to go paperless but will help lawyers search and access them at any time and from any location. One additional benefit will be an online repository of all case papers, which will increase speed, access, and transparency.
One might complain about the inaccessibility of technology for all, but we have to bear in mind that today nearly all sections of society have access to mobile phones and social media. Rather than compelling them to come to lawyer’s chambers which is rather harsh, it is better to allow them easy access through their mobile devices. Access to the internet is already declared as a fundamental right by our Apex Court recently.
Others might complain of the potential misuse of the technology. My answer to those is: just the way potential misuse of law is not a ground to discard it, similarly potential misuse cannot ipso facto become a ground to discard the use of technology.
Technology in the pre-litigation stage
The next step will be to use technology for resolving disputes in the pre-litigation stage. Technology-aided dispute resolution mechanisms can be helpful and more efficient for negotiation and for promoting amicable settlements. Remote communication through audio-visual means for negotiation will reduce the chances of quarrels which are likely to happen during a physical meeting.
Through web-conferencing, the parties can reach a zone of a possible agreement by deciding potential terms on the spot, which can then be reduced into an agreement by sharing a common screen.
Agreements negotiated by parties this way will definitely add transparency and will reinstate faith of the litigants in quick redressal of disputes. Additionally, agreements can be even signed by the parties and their respective advocates using their electronic signatures. For example, a party in Delhi can settle his terms with a party in Mumbai using online tools without having to actually travel from one place to another.
Other than this, there are several Indian software applications and services available today which facilitate Online Dispute Resolution (ODR). Some Indian companies in this space are Presolv360, CODR, and Resolve Dispute Online. These platforms are user-friendly and can help the parties mediate or arbitrate their disputes online by saving substantial resources of parties.
Use of Case Management Software (CMS)
It is very unfortunate to note that today most Indian lawyers are unaware of software applications that can make everyday case management a breeze for lawyers, and that readily exist in the market. Most of these case management software can easily automate the scheduling of case dates, provide easy document management features, internal communication, and e-billing facilities.
More importantly, these applications allow centralisation of the lawyers’ database and all his files.
By analysing a few case tracking and management software available in India such as Uberall, Casewatch, Legalkart, and LexisNexis’s Casemap, I have found the following features to add the most value to a lawyer’s needs:
These software allow Advocates to pull all the data related to the case to a single place. This gives them a complete overview of the entire case. All their documents, whether in PDF or DOC formats can be uploaded.
Based on the case-specific information uploaded on these applications, the stages of the cases, as well as the corresponding documents, can be sifted through accordingly. Facts can be arranged in a chronological way, and a short summary can be prepared. In light of the e-filing procedures being proposed by the Courts, the use of case management software which will allow sifting of the case memos and the annexures can be of great aid.
Software can help advocates analyse case data and facts, and organize their arguments, for and against, at a single place.
Tasks and calendar entries
A few software even allow advocates to organize their case data based on the upcoming date of the case. Additionally, before the date of the court case, they remind the advocates of the same, permitting them to look into the stage of the proceeding.
Synchronization with court data
These features which are available with the case management software will be of great use, when the courts will synchronize their data, which will allow the advocates to update their software automatically, based on the update made by the court authorities. Additionally, this will make available all the orders passed by the court, including the roznama in the lower court available to the lawyers immediately. I am also of the opinion; this will permit the trial courts to update the evidence which can be directly shared with the parties to which they are entitled free of cost under our laws.
Case management software can be of great help also as they become a permanent repository of archives of old cases, which can be accessed by the advocates at any time in the future. This will ensure, among other things, easy search of a particular judgment relied upon in an old case handled by that lawyer.
Case management software can generate invoices automatically by pulling the relevant tasks done, milestones achieved, timesheets recorded, and / or meetings and case hearings conducted by lawyers. This can either be done automatically or can be manually shared with the clients.
The data fed into the software can be accessed by anyone in the lawyer’s office having lawful access to the software and can update the respective case assigned to him in the data. This further enables the advocate to easily communicate and share the data of a case with his client as well.
We all have heard anecdotes of the stalwarts in law like Lord Halsbury of England, who had tremendous memory skills to remember page numbers of the cases. Unfortunately, not everyone is gifted with the same memory skills, and for those people who are willing to accept the limitations of the human mind, technology can be a great friend. Lawyers should use technology to find the material they need from their case papers within seconds by searching the relevant keywords using a case-management application. All they need really is their mobile phone!
We need to make legal research more accessible
Many lawyers are today using various legal databases available to them – either open source or paid for the purpose of their legal research. A step further will be access to the law library and law commentaries online. Just like how law schools like Harvard University have made their libraries accessible to students by giving them online access, we should see more Indian law schools and bar associations put up e-libraries and thereby making access to their data available to their registered students/members. The ability to research through journals, commentaries, and case laws at a single place can allow lawyers more access, more mobility, more efficiency, and more economization. This will further reduce adjournments in the courts which are often sought for the purpose of searching and submitting judgments.
Secondly, all the research databases and the notes prepared by a legal professional or a law firm can be accessed from anywhere, if it is linked with the cloud databases. What’s the point of the entire research on a point of law, if we cannot access it at the relevant time when it will be required? Cloud-based backups available with various software or operating systems can help access to research painlessly.
A day in the life of a techy lawyer!
Have you ever noticed that the courts and lawyers today sometimes spend more time on deciding the suitable next date in a case than actually resolving the case? Even after that, they later realise that a date they finally agreed upon is clashing with another important matter they have pre-scheduled on that day? It often happens that two junior lawyers from the same chamber end up taking the same future dates in their allotted cases for their senior, and only get to know when they share the dates with their seniors in the evening.
The use of basic available technology and collaborative use of cloud-based calendar applications can show, in real-time, what matters are scheduled on what dates and immediately highlight any conflicts or overlaps. In today’s day and age, no lawyer should have to search in his diary for a next available date, when his mobile application can tell him an available future date in a second.
Lawyers can also use the same apps which will generate an automated cause list for them and will remind them at the start of their daily work. If these applications or software in future can be synchronized with Artificial Intelligence tools like Google Home or Alexa, they can even help the lawyer to get to know his scheduled matters.
Imagine a day, where there will be no clash of schedules for meetings and no clash of dates in the courtrooms. This is not unreasonable and is in fact quite practical thanks to basic technology. If our courts adopt these technologies in the near future, the lawyers who are using it already will definitely find it easier to cope up with the same. Soon this day will be a reality. Let us be proactive to welcome this change!
Online communities of lawyers
Technology can help lawyers start their online communities. The American Bar Association has its online community where the Advocates can be consulted for pro-bono matters. In India, even if the state bar councils are empowered to have their presence online, the electronic legal aid will definitely help the masses, who from their mobile phones can seek legal aid from the lawyer’s community online. The Bar associations on the other hand, for their respective courts, can create their respective online communities which will make access to justice literally available on fingertips!
Today, when we say that post-lockdown and post Covid19, things will get normal, we need to understand that the ‘normal’ which we will/legal profession will enter is going to be a ‘new normal’ and thereafter there will be no coming back. The progress of the legal profession and our Justice dispensation mechanism will completely depend upon how the Advocates approach this ‘new normal’. The author of this article is optimistic about the times when things will go back to normal, the technology will turn out to be a collaborative tool for the entire legal profession. The use of the available technology and the amiable attitude towards growing tools of technology will help the new generation lawyers not only to make their work easy but will also help towards making the larger goal of – ‘easy access to justice’ a reality.
Before concluding, by amending the famous epigram of Abraham Lincoln which he had spoken for ‘discouraging litigation’, I would like to say to our legal fraternity: Encourage technology, persuade your colleagues and clients to use it whenever you can. As a techy, the lawyer will have a superior opportunity to become a good man. There still will be business enough.