Law firms in the digital age: embracing change with ease

With digital transformation, increased competition and changing customer demands, the legal sector is evolving.

Moving from paper-based functionality to an increasingly digital environment, law firms are being forced to adjust how they deliver their services in a way that embraces innovation and drives productivity.

Across the industry, firms are faced with the challenge of managing, sifting and sourcing large volumes of documents that are consuming a huge amount of time.

The legal sector is deluged with case-critical paperwork, adding to the amount of time spent on administrative tasks needed to manage it.

Even as firms are moving towards a digital-first model, an overwhelming amount of information is still largely paper-based.

Everything from case archives, pleadings, contracts, client records to patent documentation, is creating hurdles that prevent lawyers, legal practitioners and internal or independent providers of legal services from being able to quickly find and work with their documents.

Facing productivity head on

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) recently reported stagnant productivity growth of 0.5% in the UK.

Businesses simply can’t afford to stand still and allow a productivity slump to carry into 2017.

To challenge this, firms need to step up and embrace a digital environment that will enable them to keep up with the pace of an increasingly agile workplace.

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This change needs to come from the business as a whole.

Clients continue to look for those that can provide legal support more quickly and efficiently than ever before but the challenge is meeting these demands in the face of fresh competition.

Streamlining processes in a way that decreases the amount of time spent on admin is the key to enabling higher levels of productivity going forward. It also allows the acceleration of client care and service, increasing visibility and accountability of hours.

Embracing technology to digitise processes

There are various processes in law firms whereby information access and reuse is crucial, such as eDiscovery, case reviews, matter management, contract management, digital archiving, record retention and due diligence audits.

Technology has the opportunity to reduce the time spent on manual administrative tasks, therefore freeing up resources for more value-add initiatives.

Clients are increasingly asking for greater transparency and budget accountability.

They’re wising up to time spent on administrative tasks and negotiating on paying for hours spent in this area.

What’s more, the larger more established firms are up against smaller, nimble businesses that are innovating.

Increasing efficiency has become – more than ever before – key for business success and survival.

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Last year, Altman Weil revealed that 81% of 320 firms surveyed, agreed that Alternative Fee Arrangements (AFAs) was a ‘permanent trend’ in the legal sector.

With this in mind, it’s not surprising that businesses in the legal sector are retrofitting their existing IT infrastructure with applications that make working with documents more productive, automate processes, and apply machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI).

Overcoming hurdles of digitisation

When looking at digitising, the business needs to be aware of what challenges lie ahead.

Even when paper documents have been digitised, the data still remains ‘locked’ in an image format. These can be in scanned letters, faxed memos, PDF contracts, or photos of case notes, taken on mobile devices.

The challenge with these ‘locked’ documents is that once businesses have archived all their documents; they won’t be able to search for them.

This makes searching for a particular file, key word or reference, a completely new hurdle to overcome.

Contracts are a good example of this, as they are often formatted received in paper-format, then scanned as PDF files.

During the agreement process, contracts can be changed multiple times, by many different people.

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However, for comparing a scanned version with the original, or working on it, textual content in the PDF scan has to be accessible.

Even relatively small amends may take weeks or months of manual work. Thankfully, these ‘traditional’ ways of working are starting to phase out.

Using legal IT solutions with integrated technologies for document conversion, text recognition (OCR), intelligent data capture or text analysis gives legal firms the opportunity to convert documents into usable, searchable information that is easy to retrieve, compare, reuse and analyse.

Embracing technology that can ‘read’ and then edit these documents, means that huge amounts of time can be saved and processes can be sped up. In order to convert documents accurately, optical character recognition (OCR) software is used.

OCR ‘unlocks’ the text or information in image-based documents, transforming paper scans and PDFs into usable, searchable data that is easy for lawyers to retrieve.

Automation can then be rolled out to speed up the processes in both back-dating digitisation and processing new documents as they come in.

Working with documents (with ease) helps legal practitioners save valuable time in preparing documents for court and can reduce the amount of non-billable hours of retyping and reformatting.

Bettering processes for the long-term

Law firms need to better embrace technology in order to streamline business processes, and increase transparency and efficiency.

In the process of automating document and data capture processes, UK law firm, Moore Blatch, digitised and streamlined document handling and routing of previously slow, manual processing.

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The firm rolled out a digital mailroom to provide a single entry point to automatically capture streams of information (in different formats) and transform that content into business-ready data.

This resulted in eliminating manual post distribution, reducing administrative overheads, and an acceleration of the process of document delivery.

OCR and conversion as added values for developers of software solutions

As law firms move towards a truly digital environment, they need to ensure that processes become an enabler of productivity rather than an added complexity.

It is therefore not surprising that application providers and software vendors for the legal industry are looking to integrate OCR, document conversion and intelligent data extraction technologies into their products.

By expanding their software applications for legal with smart, automation functionality for the work with high volumes of paper-based information, they can achieve a competitive advantage on the market.


Sourced by Dr. Rainer Pausch, product management at ABBYY

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...