Positive technological change for the legal professional
Technology has enhanced every sector and it is important that the legal sector does not get left behind. The dynamics and needs of clients have changed significantly over time and it is therefore crucial that newer and more innovative methods are utilized by the legal sector to solve problems more efficiently.
In part one of this blog, I will briefly discuss some of the positive changes that technology has brought to the South African legal sector.
Part 2 of my blog will further elaborate on other technologies that can be used by legal professionals to solve problems more effectively.
1 – Positive contributions by technology
1.1 The online filing of pleadings
The onset of the COVID pandemic has brought about the implementation of a cloud-based platform for the filing of cases.
Whilst this platform is currently only available for the North and South Gauteng High Courts, it is a welcome change for practitioners and clients alike.
It reduces the frequency of trips to courts, alleviates the frustration of prolonged waiting time that every candidate attorney and practitioner experienced when pleadings had to be filed manually, and also serves as a compliance measure as the online filing and ancillary actions can be tracked by all the parties.
In addition, it has brought about a more effective review and approval process and reduces the risk of files getting lost or misplaced due to human error. It has the added bonus of reducing the carbon footprint from an environmental perspective.
1.2 Accessibility to the public
It is frequently said that the law is created for legal professionals by legal professionals. Members of the public have often expressed the opinion that the legal sector feels like a closed system where they are made to feel that they cannot navigate this system without approaching a legal professional for assistance.
It is, however, my opinion that technology makes the legal process more accessible.
As an example, due to the nature of the online platform implemented by the Gauteng High Courts, matters can now be heard via forums such as Microsoft Teams. This is beneficial to all parties: The appointed counsel can remain in his or her advocate chambers, attend to the matter once called, and thereafter shift the focus back to the existing pile of cases on his or her desk. Similarly, the public can rejoice in proportionally lower legal costs.
In some instances, the attendance of members of the public is no longer required at the Gauteng High Courts. To illustrate: The presence of a Plaintiff is no longer a mandatory requirement in most unopposed divorce cases as the Counsel will be able to address the standard inquiries on the papers alone, akin to application procedures. This goes a long way in alleviating the emotional toll and anxiety so often experienced by members of the public when initiating divorce proceedings.
1.3 Electronic legal research
In addition to drafting legal pleadings and documents, the legal professional has to remain updated with the legal precedents. The basis of every strong argument starts with efficient legal research. Legal professionals can nowadays electronically research and verify developments in case law and amendments to acts.
There is no longer the need to comb through hard copies whilst a simple keyword search on an electronic database can deliver the same result in a much faster time.
These days, the legal professional prefers to access the online version of law books and journals, whilst the law books so often found in the consultation rooms of most law firms, now tend to be primarily for decorative purposes.
Time is money after all!
1.4 Legal software products
Nowadays legal professionals have a wide variety of software to choose from to attend to aspects such as diary management, billing, and time tracking, debt collection, legal accounting, case, and productivity management.
Thanks to technology, this wide variety of functions is now available in one product and has proven very effective in reducing human error.
In line with technological developments, many of these software products are now cloud-based and allow legal professionals to store data on a secure platform.
1.5 Greater efficiency in managing resources
Traditionally, a substantial part of a candidate attorney’s daily activity consisted of tasks such as keeping track of the various attorneys’ diaries and traveling to court and other firms to serve and file pleadings.
This minimizes the time available to get more hands-on experience in drafting legal pleadings and can result in potential practitioners becoming disengaged in the legal process.
It is my submission that in light of technological developments, activities such as keeping track of diaries’ can now easily be performed as part of the functions of legal software. This function can be performed in conjunction with assigning reminders to complete tasks and a short description of what it entails.
This allows both candidate attorneys and attorneys alike to utilize their respective potential and time much more efficiently. This will not only result in more active collaboration and increased skills but also enhanced productivity for the firm and more seasoned legal professionals.
Technology has already proven its worth in making the legal professional’s life easier.
It is welcome news that the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development plans to digitize and modernize the South African Judiciary system with the proposed implementation of four additional online justice service projects.
As was indicated during the Minister’s address in May 2022, these projects include proposed Maintenance Online Services, Trusts Online Services, Deceased Estates Online Services, and the State Attorneys Management System.
In addition, there are proposed initiatives to improve the efficiency of the South African criminal justice system by way of implementing mechanisms such as an Integrated Bail Payment Processing and Release Management solution which could enable the family members or friends of an accused to attend to pay the bail from any location.
Since technology is here to stay and it is clear that steps are being taken to digitize the judicial system, it is vital that legal professionals equip themselves with the knowledge to invest in technology offerings that will fit their firms’ current and future needs.
Stay tuned and read part 2 of my blog for more information on technology offerings that can improve the efficiency of the legal professional in solving problems in the legal sector.