There aren’t too many positives that arise from the current pandemic. The legal practice and legal services sectors like all others have been exposed to high levels of risk and were left grasping for new working practices that would allow high quality service levels to be maintained, whilst mitigating the exposure of clients, legal practitioners and Court staff to infection.
Ironically, though the expression ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ applies here. Cloud technology has leapt forwards in providing a valuable solution to a number of admin and secure communication problems of the legal sector. This is the world of document bundling software platforms that can easily compile, paginate and maintain groups of diverse documents relating to a particular issue or case.
Typically, these platforms should contain everything the user needs to create the most professional document bundles in just minutes.
Theoretically, these should be able to concatenate all kinds of content from office type products like Word through to audio files or video links. Once created, the bundles should be accessible through a single-view dashboard-like screen, which makes it clear, concise and easy to use when creating even the largest most detailed bundles. The arrangement and pagination of documents is then greatly simplified ad processes are streamlined, saving a considerable amount of time and removing any complexity involved. It usually saves 80 percent less time to create and online bundle over collating a physical one.
Completed files can then be sent or accessed securely online, protected by smart algorithmic security technology. This secure online communication eliminates many other costs too including: stationery, photocopying, physical file-storage, maintenance and courier charges.
Early demand for this technology came from time-paid solicitors collating Court bundles, local government lawyers producing case files and national government organisations looking to act in a joined up way. The potential for usage though was always a far broader user remit.
Slow progress in UK court system
However, this technology, while successful, was primarily held back by UK court processes that demanded that document bundles ultimately be printed out and delivered in paper form from the legal offices where they were compiled and updated. The number of courts that accepted electronic files could be counted on one hand and progress seemed mighty slow.
So, while the benefits of electronic bundling are clear in their own right, it’s surprising perhaps that the biggest driver for the technology has been the current pandemic and the success is primarily a result of the technology’s innate security.
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With many legal practices sending their staff to work form home, remotely using their case management systems such as LexisNexis Visualfles, Peppermint or LEAP, practice staff are now able access case bundle files securely online when out of the office. The courts too have played their part as they started to accept electronic files as a rule. Indeed, it was from the courts that new compliance terms suddenly appeared in short order:
- Justice Mann established key guidelines
- The Civil Procedure Rules PD32 were laid down
- There was also the Financial Remedies Courts protocol
- And The Family Proceeding for Court bundles (PD27a)
- Even the Supreme Court electronic bundle guidelines
- And lastly, video tutorials guidelines.
Significant remote benefits of this technology have emerged in other areas too. Documents forwarded for e-signatures are a significant example. It’s not that COVID-safe to have physical documents dispatched via the post or a courier for signature and then return them. It also takes a fair amount of time and delay to do this too. By sending a document or bundle of documents for signature online, one can process signatures securely in just a matter of minutes. The same is true of digital ID verification where one can now check photo ID through biometrics.
Real time identity checking
Another area where the technology is making headway is that of ‘digital on-boarding’. This enables HR managers to send through briefing documents and obtain important staff signatures to employment contracts online. One can also now use the technology in tandem with real time identity checking systems – using biometric facial recognition technology to ensure optimal compliance. With this technology on hand, major contract completion and acceptance is also now well within the grasp of remote executives too.
Much of the future evolution of this technology will depend on integrations with other technologies. These range from case management systems such as Visualfiles or LEAP through to ever more sophisticated eSign and ID systems such as Adobe and Virtual Signature and in this respect one might have thought the market was still limited to the broad based expansion of the success of these collaborative technologies.
However, one key development has recently changed the status quo significantly – the introduction of a pay as you go model. The recent introduction of the ‘Pay A You Bundle’ technology has transformed working practices. With bundle prices now as low as £45 per bundle, even the smallest high street practise can now afford to build as complex and professional a bundle as the largest can. As some only use a few bundles at a time, this has transformed the use and spread of the technology greatly.
Overall, it has proved to be a serendipitous but incredibly timely development at a time of mass working from home directives and the volte face by courts on accepting digital files. The changes are now widespread and have made a huge difference to legal working practices. They are extremely likely to stay in place after the virus is beaten. It’s another application area to be conquered by the cloud with the effects of a terrible virus hopefully mitigated.
Tim Long is CEO, Zylpha