Numerous factors are driving change in barristers’ chambers, including growing pressures on revenue and profit; new work models; and digital courts. The obvious response is a coherent digitalisation strategy that delivers greater efficiencies, enhanced competitiveness and growth.
Convergence of drivers
There are several drivers of digitalisation in chambers. One could be said to be the continuing improvement in the quality, reliability and choice of technologies and solutions. Concurrently, there’s a convergence of stakeholder drivers. Solicitors are moving away from paper for reasons of cost, and will expect digital fluency from chambers, and with it, enhanced transparency, convenience, collaboration and communication. Courts are headed in the same direction, as the government drives Digital by Default through the judiciary.
In parallel, slick digital capabilities suggest a modern, efficient set. Digitalisation can thus play a role in attracting and retaining high-quality work, as price-sensitive clients continue to look for more value from their barristers. They’ll also enjoy the slicker customer service it delivers.
Meanwhile, the deployment of modern technology is a signifier of a forward-thinking and progressive set, which can attract talent. Young barristers, in particular, as well as clerks will appreciate state-of-the-art applications that support productivity, enable remote working and automate repetitive manual tasks. All told a digitalisation strategy could be very good for your pocket, your reputation and can help support a chambers’ brand-building efforts.
As to what such a strategy will look like for chambers, the idea is not to replace barristers and clerks, who excel at things machines can’t do. Machines should instead be assigned the tasks that they can do more quickly and with more accuracy. Digitalisation shouldn’t be feared. It will elevate humans to do the more involving and satisfying parts of the work.
And triggered by the pandemic, the digital transformation is already well underway in most chambers. Many started with VPN connections and videoconferencing taking the place of physical meetings. The next step in any strategy is likely the adoption of a cloud-based document management systems (DMS) that enables documents to be accessed from any location, and shared for collaborative working. Modern DMS also provide automated filing (even of emails) and sophisticated searches, both of which are real time-savers.
Already around 1 in 6 barristers are using cloud-based collaboration tools, such as DMS, to liberate them from paper. And importantly, DMS also confer related benefits such as stronger business continuity and disaster recovery management, world-class information security provision to thwart cybercrime, and support with robust data protection compliance.
Next, a wide range of software products are available to streamline routine processes, tame costs and enhance efficiency, variously using natural language processing, machine learning and AI.
Among them are automated case management workflow products that manage, monitor and report on work in real time to enable analytics, as well as integrate with billing to streamline revenue collection. There are also ancillary tools that boost efficiency, such as integrated diaries and slick time recording solutions, customer relationship management applications and legal dictation software.
On the horizon
The next frontier in digitalisation will be e-disclosure and paperless hearings. And chambers will likely increasingly train pupils on digital skills using e-modules. On the horizon we find that Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are already looking for roles in the law, perhaps in barrister training, in creating virtual courtrooms; or to place juries immersively at a crime scene. The potential of these technologies has yet to be realised but they offer the prospect of an exciting future for those who embrace them.
Of course the digital transformation of chambers is already well underway. A considered digitalisation strategy should come next because in a highly competitive environment it offers proven time and cost savings alongside the 24/7 remote access and flexibility that clients and barriers increasingly expect. The question becomes, not: “Should barristers’ chambers adopt a full digitalisation strategy?”, but rather, “How quickly can they start enjoying the benefits?”
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 Digitalisation is automating business processes, not to be mistaken for digitisation, which is digitizing information.