By: Arash Vakili
The legal economy has changed considerably in the past decade. Until recent years, the practice of law has been slow to adjust to its changing demands. The urgency of the changes has placed higher demands on the availability and delivery of affordable and quality legal services. This has amplified calls for law firms and practitioners to adapt to the growing needs of users of the legal system and to ensure its efficient and effective operation.
The content below considers some of the different ways that solo practitioners and law firms are using technology to create an optimally effective legal practice model. It will then consider some of the ethical implications and obligations that may be fulfilled in the process.
Firm Website and Client Portal
Starting with the basics, creating a state of the art, interactive firm website is vital as the first point of contact with prospective clients. A website which informs and educates users of the legal system with the evolving legal landscape not only attracts potential clients but also contributes to the education of the public about the law.
Along with a website, a designated client portal is also offered by some firms. Using the features provided in the portal, clients are able to understand their cases better, see frequent updates to their files and review the status of the law in relation to their matter so as to create for more productive future lawyer-client meetings. The portal can also be designed so as to give clients full knowledge of their current billing matters and offer greater autonomy over their legal matters.
Client Accessibility: Video Conferencing Software
Using video conferencing software allows clients to set up appointments at the convenience of both the client and the lawyer. It provides flexibility not only in terms of the hours of the day in which lawyer and client may be able to get in touch but also with regard to the physical location in which lawyer or client may be in when conducting meetings. Whether a client needs to balance the demands of work hours with meeting with their lawyer or traveling to the lawyer’s office from a different geographical location, video conferencing software also reduces collateral costs of missing work hours or travel expenses in order for the client to receive the legal advice and information they may need at any given time in their file.
Accordingly, client expectations will be better informed, firm operations will be run more efficiently and time will be opened up for more crucial elements in relation to the firm and to client matters to be explored by the firm’s staff. In this way, the client and lawyer are able to have a more collaborative relationship that allows for more effective service of client interests, better implementation of client instructions and the sufficient fulfillment of the lawyer in their role as fiduciary and trusted advisor of the client in their legal matter. Firm staff will also engage in a collaborative effort to upkeep the collective intelligence and know-how of all members of the firm.
Practice Management and Legal Education
Legal accounting software for the upkeep of financial recording, reporting and billing is vital to the business aspect of law practice. Trust accounting software such as PracticePanther Legal, Clio and Amicus Online provide for comprehensive Law Practice Management software that allow for automatic calculations, posts to sub-ledgers and production of financial reports. Such LPM applications also provide for management of documents, emails, tasks, calendars and conflicts while shrinking the time spent on billing and invoicing clients. The relatively higher expenses and training required for the operation and maintenance of such systems will be justified once the firm is able to use the efficiency provided by these systems to increase its client base and provide for an easier transition into the future of law practice where the use of such software will no longer provide a competitive edge, but will potentially be a necessity.
A central Firm Wiki allows Lawyers and non-lawyer employees of the firm to be kept abreast of legal and regulatory changes, case law and will allow members to work from and contribute to a constantly evolving central knowledge base which all firm members will have access to. The Firm Wiki can provide:
- updated information on case law and legislation,
- tutorials and instructional material on using legal accounting software, and
- step-by-step overviews of client processes.
A centralized Firm Wiki coupled with a cloud-based software library accessible to firm staff with automatically updated precedents and templates offers a resource base that provides constantly updated instructions and methods by which tasks may be done. It also allows lawyers to stay updated on the substantive aspects of the law and produce legal documents with relative convenience and expediency.
Advancement of the Legal Profession
With the changing legal economy and proliferation of technological resources, the availability and delivery of legal services will likely go through continuous changes in the coming years. Rule 2.2-2 of the Rules of Professional Conduct encourages lawyers to share knowledge and experience with colleagues and students in day-to-day practice and contributing to publications. Access to legal information is more prevalent than ever before with the developments of the internet. However, there is still a need for the interpretation and contextualization of such information for lay persons. The above mentioned firm wiki and practice management technologies implemented provide an outlet for lawyers of the firm to fulfill this obligation to the legal profession, prospective, current and future clients, and the public at large while contributing to the access to justice mandate of the Law Society of Ontario.
The use of a data protection agreements will likely become increasingly pertinent considering the different ways that personal data is now collected with the use of technology. Data protection agreements lay out such things as the purpose for which personal information is being collected, used and disclosed, the requisite confidentiality conditions, safeguards such as technological protections to protect the personal information and restrictions on the transfer or access to the personal information.
The Law Society of Ontario’s “Technology Practice Management Guideline” (“TPMG”) provides the applicable framework for maintaining legal responsibilities with regard to the digital protection of personal data. In accordance with the TPMG, the law firm must ensure, firstly, that the capacity in which it delivers legal information is made clear to users. Second, to use firewalls and security software protection to minimize risks of disclosure or interception of communications to protect confidentiality. Third, control the misuse of electronic communications by setting firm policies with regard to acceptable use. And fourth, ensure that updates to the software and online resources and systems are applied in a timely fashion and that stored information will be accessible in the future should parties wish to delete or correct such information.
A client-centered model to legal services is imperative to striving in the evolving legal economy. Now more than ever, an approach is needed which aims to allow for more personalized client services, to improve operational efficiency and to make time spent more profitable. It is already becoming evident that in a thriving future law practice, it will likely be necessary to target efforts toward taking advantage of traditional resources while also utilizing new technologies to achieve these objectives. In the modern technological age options are endless in creating a legal business model which takes the best from different mediums and amalgamates them in order to exact an optimally effective service model.