The digital transformation of courts will mean that all cases will be started online; document and case management systems will replace highly inefficient paper filing; and an increasing number of cases will be handled entirely online in “virtual hearings”. In this blog, we review some of the implications for barristers and barristers’ chambers.
For progressive sets, digital courts should be seen as an opportunity to adapt, modernise, simplify, innovate and become more client centric. To these ends, chambers need to review all their processes and systems in the light of how digitised courts create opportunities for improvement. Ask what can be made lighter, quicker and more efficient – from opening cases to preparing bundles. And what new ways are there of delivering services.
For example, one immediate effect of the transition to online is that everyone has access to all documents as soon as they’re filed. All parties can arrive at court (or begin online hearings) fully prepared. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is hoping this contributes to a culture change in court proceedings that speeds up a sometimes-sclerotic system and helps accelerate the throughput of courts.
In response, chambers will be well advised to increase their agility. This could mean introducing robust, cloud-based case management systems that use automated workflows to ensure cases are progressed more efficiently and cost effectively. Barristers and clerks can access information where and whenever they need to so collaboration and document sharing can happen easily. Such systems expedite faster completion and payment turnaround, and can incorporate opportunity reporting so no potential work is missed as turnaround speeds up. They also increase client service levels by enabling client solicitors to upload documents and view case status 24/7.
Another characteristic of the digital transition is that barristers and clients will increasingly take part in virtual hearings. These, and physical hearings, will be subject to online scheduling so time isn’t wasted and everyone will know of changes as soon as they happen. Arguably, barristers will need to be more adaptable and flexible. Integrated chambers calendar management and scheduling tools will be important for optimising barristers’ time, and for ensuring efficient coordination with clients and judges.
Another thought is that as more communications and processes are digitised, chambers may need to step up their vigilance around data security, especially in an era of rampant cybercrime. Among the usual data security measures, chambers need to ensure their people are trained and aware of the threats – because they’re often the weakest link. In the last year, 83 per cent of reported cyber breaches in the UK were the result of phishing attacks that relied on individuals clicking on links they shouldn’t have and handing over important details. Another safeguard are case privacy tools that ensure sensitive information is only available to authorised parties.
Paper no more
A final point is that chambers must adapt to the demise of paper. For instance they need a process for digitising any paper as it comes in the door and electronically filing it in the right case file. And they must learn to prepare (or outsource the preparation of) e-bundles, bearing in mind this is a complicated task that moreover varies between courts.
There’s no question that digital courts will upend many established ways of working, with a new emphasis on convenience, flexibility and affordable justice; and an overarching ambition to make the justice system more proportionate, just and accessible to all.
It may seem like a revolution to some, but as the MoJ noted in 2015: “Every generation has updated or reformed the justice system to adapt to changing times.” It’s now our turn. Chambers have a big opportunity to reorganise, modernise, streamline and futureproof their systems and processes. They should seize it.
To find out more on our MLC product click here