It is clear that the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic has caused a seismic shift in how companies of all kinds conduct their day-to-day business. Unfortunately, some of those shifts have been of a negative nature, with many firms suffering unprecedented hardship and struggling to stay afloat.
The use of technology to solve some of the unique problems currently facing businesses is one of a small number of positives that can be taken from the present situation. Almost all businesses will now be much more familiar with technology products which facilitate remote working than they were previously. Software such as Zoom, MS Teams, Skype and many others have become pervasive in our working vocabulary – a first for many NI businesses.
The legal sector is no different, and perhaps a silver-lining can be gleaned from the difficulties experienced in the sector over recent months. There has long been a need for the NI legal sector to embrace available technology in order to drive efficiencies, and in particular the Courts have indicated their intention to move to a more efficient, more technology-enabled model, in order to deliver justice in Northern Ireland Courts. In recent weeks and months, Courts at various levels in Northern Ireland have begun embracing remote solutions to re-start their work, even in circumstances where further local restrictions have been in place. We have seen remote proceedings in some County Court litigation matters, some criminal matters, and in other areas of NI court practice. The same can be said for the Courts of England & Wales and the Republic of Ireland, who have also recently been conducting some proceedings remotely.
Remote meeting software is not the only available solution here. There are a number of specialist legal technology products which can provide invaluable assistance to lawyers in the conduct of their day-to-day activities. Solutions that assist with the efficient and swift review of legal documents for discovery purposes, or the analysis of contracts, leases and other legal documents in non-contentious circumstances, are readily available in Northern Ireland. These solutions lend themselves perfectly to a situation such as this, where remote or off-site working has been forced upon lawyers.
There are also available solutions for the digital presentation of evidence in Courts, and even to facilitate the electronic briefing of Barristers. When used in conjunction with virtual meeting solutions, these can be invaluable in helping lawyers at all levels in NI to continue to deliver not only client services but also access justice in a seamless manner, even in a remote environment.
There is an opportunity for the legal sector here to emerge from the pandemic, whenever that may be, with a new way of working. The use of technology should now not be considered necessary simply in the current situation, but should remain pervasive even when today’s restrictions no longer apply.