Times of great conflict and uncertainty are a fertile breeding ground for innovation, adaptation, and — if you play your cards right —transformation. With a global pandemic, economic volatility, and social unrest, the current climate certainly fits the bill. And the practice of law, long reticent to change, is undergoing what can truly be called a technological renaissance.
In a recent article, Nicole Black likened the increase in tech adoption to practicing law in 2030. While I might more conservatively estimate the shift to 2020, the pivot to tech-enabled solutions is having a dramatic effect. From the use of tech to bridge the work from home gap to innovative methods of automating and virtualizing core aspects of legal practice, I have never in my career seen this level of willingness to experiment and embrace novel solutions.
How has the practice of law shifted to face the unique challenges of 2020, and what can practitioners do to continue future-proofing their practice?
Old tools, new tricks
The practice of law has long been a personal endeavor, often involving high human touch and face-to-face interaction. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, the pandemic made that impractical and, in many cases, risky. Lawyers turned to tools already at their disposal to bridge the social distance gap.
Most firms and lawyers have long had conference calls and video conference capabilities. Today, those old-school tools have a new life keeping lawyers, their case teams, and clients connected despite social distancing. From Zoom to Skype, tools that have been in lawyers’ metaphorical toolboxes are being dusted off and relied on with varying degrees of success. Even chats about civil procedure have been spiced up by Zoom!
Managed Review (Anywhere)
While many organizations have offered remote options for document review, concerns about speed and security were often raised by clients opting for costlier on-premise review teams. Quarantine shuttered review centers and law firms alike, rendering the “bodies in a basement” approach impractical. Cloud-native architecture enables some organizations like DISCO to offer top-tier security regardless of where a reviewer accesses from — and over the last several months, we have actually seen an uptick in throughput. After lockdown, the shift to remote review will likely stick because it will be hard to justify spending more on in-person review that is not safer or more efficient.
Tools like Microsoft Teams and Slack have been making an increasingly large splash in enterprises and firms alike. The real-time interaction and collaboration fostered by these tools is critical in times when your team cannot hop into a room to brainstorm together.
New tools, old tricks
As the courts have reopened or shifted to virtual, the need for depositions, forensic services, document review, and document execution returned with a vengeance. Tasks like these often relied upon in-person discussion and interaction that is no longer tenable. Practitioners have turned to newer tools to enable them to meet these same client demands in novel and socially distant ways.
Virtual Document Notarization
Ms. Black pointed to the DocuSign acquisition of the virtual notarization company Liveoak, as “the perfect pandemic acquisition, making a manual process digital and saving people from having to make face-to-face transactions at a time when it can be dangerous.” Of all the noble tech embraced to mitigate the social distancing headaches, this may be the closest to true innovation and may indicate a deeper level of transformation.
Lawyering from home also poses challenges in obtaining witness testimony and depositions and collaborating with a team that may now span the globe. Attorneys are turning to simple solutions (like leveraging Zoom) or specific remote deposition software combined with AI-powered solutions (like DISCO Case Builder) to collaborate in real time despite social distancing.
Digital evidence poses similar headaches in lockdown. Thankfully, there are tools and organizations to help practitioners meet their commitments without running afoul of quarantine mandates or exposing their employees or peers to undue risk. DISCO’s native high-speed uploader eliminates the annoying lag time and latency of traditional data collection, bypassing physical drives and the trusty delivery guy in favor of enabling users to securely collect data from local machines and network drives, then rapidly upload data for ediscovery review. Employees are safe, data is ingested quicker, and your FedEx bill becomes nonexistent.
It will be hard, if not impossible, to unring the bell of the remote working revolution once the immediate dangers of the pandemic subside, because practitioners have proven to themselves and to detractors that it can be done. The adoption of novel tech or simply novel uses of existing tech to foster virtualization and automation is empowering lawyers to practice from anywhere in the world. And while today that is mainly home offices and kitchen tables, that will not always be the case.
I have no clue what 2030 holds, or what challenges and opportunities we will face then. What I do know is that 2020 is an inflection point. Technology is not just an interesting experiment or something that can be ignored today, it is a fundamental aspect of how lawyers face the new challenges of the practice of law and the lawyers who adopt and adopt technology to face these new challenges will win the day. Savvy practitioners should continue to look for ways to stay connected using technology and continue leveraging the efficiency tech provides long past the end of quarantine.