By Robin Gerhold on behalf of LexisNexis South Africa
The legal profession is known to be notoriously slow to adopt technology. Even the most useful innovations are often only adopted in reaction to client demands for more efficient and cost-effective services.
In response to lockdowns globally, practitioners have scrambled to source solutions to allow them to work from home in a manner that is both efficient and cost-effective. Legal practitioners have been forced to reconsider how to market their firm, perform work and run their practices. The need for change has forced many firms to change their models, relying heavily on technology.
As a result of the change in their models, an online presence has become increasingly important. A greater reliance is placed on social media and online advertising to attract clients. Producing topical content and online networking have becoming crucial to the marketing strategy of firms.
Due to a limitation on travel and to ensure the safety of clients and staff, the manner in which services are provided has changed. Consultations now take place online. A number of free-to-use and premium platforms have been used to consult with clients, counsel and opponents. Even the courts have adopted video conferencing technology to ensure that the legal system does not grind to a complete halt.
Unavailability of staff has resulted in urgent measures being adopted to ensure that services are effectively provided. Many attorneys are utilising dictation software and collaborative documents, which allow for efficient production of work with real-time ability to supervise work.
Large libraries have been replaced with online databases, providing access to limitless information, at a fraction of the cost.
Voluminous paper-based files have been replaced with electronic files, improving safety and accessibility of the files. Document sharing has become far easier. Clients, attorneys and counsel share documents at the click of a button. Counsel who have previously insisted on a hardcopy of a brief are now pleased to receive a brief via their inbox.
By adopting technology, practitioners are able to offer services nationally and internationally. As consultations are predominantly conducted by means of video conferencing, clients no longer search for firms in their immediate vicinity, but search far and wide for firms that are better suited to the clients’ needs. Location has become less relevant, whilst the quality and cost of services is becoming increasingly important.
Practitioners must be mindful of the fact than many alternative providers of legal services are making use of technology to provide their clients legal services at a fraction of the cost. Whilst such services are not of the same standard of those offered by experienced and qualified legal practitioners, the advantages of briefing a legal practitioner are often overlooked by the public when a substantial cost-saving is present.
Legal practitioners must therefore ensure that they are able to remain competitive in light of the changing demands of the public. Practitioners should not see the adoption of technology as a temporary means of overcoming the current crisis but should actively adopt technology to ensure that the profession does not become irrelevant. The opportunity to develop the profession has been thrust upon our generation of practitioners and it would be most unfortunate to squander it, by regressing to the traditional state of affairs.
To access further insightful guidance around running a successful virtual working environment, visit the LexisNexis Virtual Working Resource page: https://www.lexisnexis.co.za/news-and-insights/virtual-working?utm_source=Digital%20PR&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=Future%20of%20Law%20Firm
About the Author
Robin Gerhold is a founding partner of Gerhold and van Wyk Attorneys and Conveyancers, based in Bryanston, Johannesburg. The firm is a general practice, offering clients assistance with all legal matters.
Robin is currently pursuing his LL.M. in Intellectual Property Law and has received an award for top achievements.
Robin has extensive experience in various areas of practice, including commercial law, labour law and litigation, having litigated in various forums, including the Constitutional Court. Robin’s client base consists of local and international companies, across various industries including: financial services; agriculture; industrial resources; logistics; construction; liquor; retail and technology.
Robin serves on various boards, across a number of industries, including financial services and technology.