How Legal Firms Can Break Remote Working Barriers
Though businesses have spent a year adjusting to a new way of working, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to place particular strain on the legal sector.
Doug Hargrove, Managing Director for Legal and Education, at Advanced, offers his advice on law firms trying to adapt to a permanent state of remote working and how the process can be aided by document production specialists.
Several months after the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown, the unprecedented operational disruption this has brought to UK legal practitioners continues. With recent restrictions now extended, avoiding unnecessary travel and working from home is the new normal.
The changes this situation have brought about are so far-reaching that some firms are now speculating whether they will ever return to working from a centralised office. Among other considerations, this raises several compliance and data security issues, specifically with regard to the transportation and storage of hard copy communications and legal documents.
Meeting digital court requirements
As a result of the pandemic, there has been a distinct change in the requirement for court bundles. Prior to 2020, requests were evenly split between paper and digital files. Over the past few months, however, all enquiries are for digital format. This is a reflection of the amended demands of The Supreme Court, the Crown Courts and any courts below them.
Even those who have a printed copy lodged at court still need digital files for the additional people who require access to the documents. This is placing extra pressure on lawyers and barristers who no longer have access to previous levels of administrative support. Although case management software can allow users to create PDF documents and assemble them into court bundles, the person using the software often doesn’t have the time, or specific experience, required to compile bundles that meet stringent court requirements.
Even those who have a printed copy lodged at court still need digital files for the additional people who require access to the documents.
That’s why many firms regularly depend on document production specialists to provide their court bundles. They can assist at every stage of the proceedings, for both appellants and respondents, providing bundles that are guaranteed to meet the required standards in both paper and digital format. Documents can also be filed directly with the relevant court.
Here are a few barriers that need breaking through:
The evolving print room
Larger firms have normally had the support of print room staff who ensured a wide variety of documents were prepared, copied, printed and/or scanned and delivered as requested. Closed offices, or those with limited access, can no longer offer this service. What’s more, legal firms have been forced to make a number of job cuts to save money, with administrative staff being hit hardest, affecting in-house print room services as a result.
Consequently, there has been a significant increase in the number of firms looking to outsource print room services to a specialist who understands the complexities of legal documents and who can act as a ready resource whenever required as well as make further savings. In fact, according to EY, 72% of in-house legal departments are now outsourcing services to cut costs and deal with rising volumes of work. A third spend nearly one out of every three hours on ‘low‑value’ tasks.
The efficiency barriers that physical document storage present have also been highlighted in the last few months. With limited access to offices, retrieving paper documents quickly has become problematic, in addition using expensive office space for the storage of historic documents is a poor return on investment. A survey by the Legal Practice Management Association and the Institute of Barristers’ Clerks suggests that chambers are not planning to return to work now, having adapted to paperless working and a virtual working environment. With this comes an increased demand for virtual storage in which legal firms can access documents remotely.
Document production specialists can offer support to firms in this position. They can efficiently scan documents and prepare digital versions, ready to be loaded onto a firm’s servers. This allows all authorised users to easily access the documents they need, when they need them. It’s a much safer and more effective option for the management of hard copy document archives.
There is a silver lining to all of this, though. The use of digital technology, triggered by the challenges of 2020, is changing the way every UK law firm, chambers and court produces documents.
What began as a business continuity necessity has delivered the unexpected advantages of greater efficiency, productivity, collaboration, cost savings and security. The decreasing requirement for paper has also meant environmental footprints have reduced. The progression from paper to digital has delivered many benefits, and this trend looks set to continue as we face an uncertain business landscape. Top law firms Clifford Chance and DWF, for example, have banned their lawyers from working from printed documents during the coronavirus pandemic.
The bottom line? Legal professionals continue to experience barriers in compiling and managing hard copy documents while remote working. However, with the right document production partner, firms can break through these barriers and get back to doing business.