When the pandemic hit Canada, litigators were faced with a huge challenge: how to continue delivering a service that depends on in-person interaction? It didn’t take long for the entire profession to respond. From client communications to service delivery to mobilizing an entire staff to work remotely, firms adapted.
Legal technology played a large role in the shift. Firms that had been reluctant to adopt new software were now driving real-time proofs-of-concept. And the technology delivered. Virtual client meetings, online hearings and trials, and e-filing of court documents all kept the Canadian legal system humming.
The pandemic placed these new work practices and technologies under a microscope and forced them to prove their worth. So, once the pandemic is behind us, will the legal landscape return to pre-pandemic norms? We asked legal professionals across Canada to tell us what they think. What follows is a summary of their responses.
Who Answered the Survey?
Our mini-survey included ten simple questions about law office work arrangements and technologies. In all, we received 88 responses, with just under three quarters coming from Ontario and the remainder from Alberta and BC. Firm sizes ranged from sole proprietor to 500 or more, and the majority of responses included one of three roles: partner, legal assistant, and law clerk.
Findings Indicate a New Openness to Change
The survey results demonstrate how dramatically attitudes toward legal technology have changed and, in some cases, how far we still have to go. The following are key findings:
- Technology’s role. 92% of respondents said technology is very important or extremely important to their firms.
- The most popular applications. Calendar, word processing, time tracking and billing, and accounting software were all used by over 90% of responding firms
- Software support. Resources relied on for software support are spread evenly across several options, with external IT consultants and self-service used most frequently
- Document exchange. Email attachments are still the leading means of exchanging documents with clients, opposing parties, and others (92% of respondents). Consumer file sharing, thumb drives, and couriers are also each used by over 50% of respondents. File sharing software designed specifically for law firms is catching on quickly. Although relatively new, it’s used by 52% of respondents.
- Remote work arrangements. After COVID restrictions are lifted, work-from-home will be part of the “new normal”. 81% of respondents expect their firm to adopt a hybrid work arrangement, with at least part of the week spent working from home. Only 16% expect an office-only policy.
- COVID-inspired technology adoption. Several technologies were adopted as a direct result of COVID-19. Electronic filing of court documents led the way (86% of respondents). Close behind: online commissioning/signature (76%)
- The future of document technologies. The intent to use legal document technologies after pandemic restrictions are lifted is high across the board, from document management at the low end (64%) to electronic filing of court documents at the high end (96%).
What Does It All Mean?
If legal technologies weren’t fully embraced before the pandemic, clearly they are now. And several are here to stay. For example, 90% of respondents that began filing court documents electronically in response to the pandemic will continue to do so once the pandemic recedes.
On the other hand, some old habits may be harder to break despite newer (and better) alternatives. Email, for example, is still the most common way firms exchange documents with external parties, even though its security issues have been widely exposed.
The pandemic went a long way to demonstrate the value of legal technologies. And the “new normal” will only accentuate the need for more rapid adoption. Work-from-home arrangements will require a closer look at secure communications, while the shift to electronic court filings and the more frequent form updates that have come with it, will require access to a managed library of court documents. If you haven’t yet investigated these technologies, there’s still time.
About Michael Sauber
Michael Sauber leads the marketing program for Korbitec, producer of Automated Civil Litigation Software (ACL). He has worked with document production technologies and professional services for over 30 years and is a frequent blogger on these topics.