Every industry has been adapting their business operations and staffing arrangements to respond to COVID-19, and for most industries, the transition to remote working has been logical and legal. Ironically, for the legal profession, this new remote business world poses more challenges than it does to industries that are resistant to or otherwise incapable of change.
The American Bar Association has long required lawyers to practice law within the jurisdiction in which they have bar licensing. But as the country responded to shelter in place mandates and social distancing, many professionals chose to relocate, to be closer to family, or to move from crowded cities to less densely populated areas. Given the pandemic’s seismic shift on everyday life, it is becoming clear that law can be practiced ethically and effectively across state lines, so many states are working to loosen up restrictions on where lawyers can practice.
The fear of digital security threats to confidentiality and an established tradition of certain legal proceedings being “in-person” events are among the key reasons why law firms have shunned many technology tools and platforms. However, spurred on by COVID-19 restrictions, law firms are finding operational success in practicing remotely and even enjoying time-saving benefits of digital technologies that allow them to spend more time on top-level tasks and decision-making within the firm.
Here are some of the most important technology tools helping lawyers practice in 2020:
Thanks to advanced tools like Microsoft Teams voice and video conferencing, partner and client meetings no longer need to be face-to-face. Several U.S. states have even used online video-conference software to swear in new graduating classes of lawyers. Earlier this year, Japan adopted Microsoft Teams for digital proceedings of the Japanese Supreme Court. Because Microsoft maintains the highest levels of security for the flow of data into and out of your accounts, you never have to worry about malicious Zoombombing.
Many law firms are choosing the cloud over previous strategies, such as VPN or remote access keys, to log into a physical server on premise. Interestingly, a 2019 survey by the American Bar Association revealed that solo practices or small firms lead the industry cloud adoption rate, with 60% using the cloud instead of physical servers. Practices with 50 to 99 lawyers have the lowest adoption rate, at 44%. A crucial reason cited for using cloud services is that reputable services, like Microsoft 365 and the Azure cloud, provide much higher security than what individual lawyers or firms could implement on their own.
Being able to collaborate and knowledge-share while working on remote teams is vital to a successful practice. Without a coordinated IT strategy in place, employees can find themselves creating accounts for different tools that do the same thing, based on the preference of a client or external partner. By using a platform like Microsoft Teams, all the collaboration and project management can happen within the same secure platform, for everyone involved, all the time. This creates a consistency and professionalism for clients and a standard of teamwork within the practice. When a team of legal professionals is able to read a law code by code and annotate the shared document together in real time, it can make the difference between deciding on a strategy for a case in one afternoon vs. one week.
Court Forms Go Paperless
Another new way technology is serving the legal industry is through creation of more digital court forms available on municipal and state websites. Those forms may vary in usability and are far from standardized, so staff and students at Suffolk University Law School in Boston are working on an open-source mobile-friendly platform for creating and submitting court forms, which they hope will increase access to legal services. The project utilizes an open-source system called Docassemble, which on the backend is configured to store data on an Azure Blob Storage data lake. While the mobile forms application would help underserved citizens, such as tenants filing against landlords for renting housing units in untenable conditions, the program still has a way to go before it is ready and vetted for mass adoption.
These are just some of the emerging ways law firms and legal groups are adapting to technology advancements during the coronavirus pandemic. Next week, we will cover specific ways your legal practice can do more with the power of Microsoft Teams.
As a Microsoft Certified Partner with gold competency in data center, device, and cloud deployment, Windows Management Experts is your resource for all things related to cloud and secure remote workforce management. To explore a truly secure digital strategy or managed remote IT services for your law firm now, contact us today for a free consultation.