Columns: Digitization of the Indian Legal Sector

Bar & Bench July 22 2018
Digitization

Shireesh Sahai

The word “digitization” has become a driving force for every industry across the world. Globally, the focus is on improving the customer experience and leveraging data for better decision making. This revolution is underway in India as well, where creating a “Digital India” has become a national priority.

Here, while some industries have made progress in digitization, there are many that are just getting started. The legal services industry stands to gain immensely by going digital.

Digitizing the legal services industry is crucial for it to be able to attract and retain talent, improve profitability and benchmark itself with global counterparts. Today, more than ever, younger professionals are becoming partners at legal firms. This new generation of professionals requires a more efficient and modern way of working.

The answer lies in implementing global best practices by automating processes, which would inevitably enhance case management and improve efficiency. This can be expected to drive benefits for all stakeholders involved – firms, lawyers and clients – thereby enabling better governance and secure sharing of information.

Digitizing legal work is also being encouraged by the government, with several efforts being made to embed technology in our courts. The intent was evident in last year’s efforts when the Supreme Court digitized one crore five lakh pages and records of civil appeals back from the pre-independence era till 2002. The same year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi also launched the Integrated Case Management System (ICMS) to digitize the delivery of government services to Indian courts.

While efforts like these lead to digitizing the sector, the biggest impact will be made once private law firms, which handle maximum legal work in the country, join the effort to manage their practices digitally.

Kickstarting digital legal

A digitized, future-oriented law firm optimizes billable time in and out of the office, drives efficiency in administration and non-legal tasks, and provides high-quality service to clients. The way to do this is by implementing practice management solutions which automate workflows and enhance collaboration inside an organization and with third parties.

These solutions allow remote access to documents, allowing users to edit them on the go, thereby removing the necessity of a physical presence at a designated work-space. File sharing becomes very easy and historical data is available via a simple search.

Automating processes in the legal sector is crucial as companies are in a constant need of flexibility while scaling up operations. By adopting international best practices, it will become a bit easier for Indian law firms to align the hourly rates of Indian lawyers with their international counterparts.

The Indian legal sector has been struggling to tackle competition-led pricing. Estimates suggest that despite the implementation of regulations like the Goods and Services Tax -- which increased the industry’s scope of work -- the sector’s growth has not been up to the mark. Practice management solutions can help address this issue by improving efficiencies and embedding international best practices in regular processes.

Despite the considerable advantages including transparency and increased efficiency, the fact remains that the adoption rate of practice management solutions in the country stands at just 0.1%. The need of the hour is to accelerate their implementation and create an ecosystem that embraces digital solutions for better output.

The Global League

In times of increased competition in the legal world and the emphasis on data protection, global legal firms have taken cognizance of the many benefits of adopting legal technology.

The American Bar Association’s 2017 Legal Technology Survey states that in a span of one year, the number of lawyers using cloud computing jumped to 52 percent from 38 percent in 2016. Moreover, it’s not just the large firms, but the smaller ones are also using cloud to hone their functions and services.

Adopting a cloud-based practice management solution helps eliminate large upfront server and licensing costs, along with keeping the data safe from external attacks, environmental damage and loss. Compared to complicated folder systems in solutions such as Dropbox or SharePoint, case management systems are helping global law firms overcome challenges pertaining to retrieving and referring documents, linking to client information, emails, billing, task calendars, and more.

Lawyers can thus stay on top of cases and deadlines, store and locate documents more effectively, and streamline processes in general. In addition, firms are also investing in server maintenance to avoid any mechanical failure.

It’s about time legal firms in India, irrespective of their size, follow suit and reap the several benefits of digitization, like their global counterparts.

The author is the CEO - India, Wolters Kluwer.