The global pandemic has tested organisations’ abilities to adapt. After Prime Minister Rutte implored people to work from home in March, the majority of the Dutch population has done so, including the legal sector. We spoke with a number of legal professionals to better understand how they’re coping. How quickly did they get used to working from home, did it accelerate the implementation of software solutions and how do you get the cat to stop walking on the keyboard?
Beyond Covid - legal professionals working from home
The essence of efficiency
Caroline Cabezas, the legal counsel, has seen the team’s workload increase over the past few months, which makes it even more important to be able to switch to digital tools. Caroline explains, “Previously, the use of e-signatures was met with a lot of resistance. Customers that hesitated to sign contracts or legal documents electronically have realized that e-signatures are just as legally binding as wet ink.”
Ellen Hermans, who works at Scrive, an e-signature provider, says, “We have seen an increase in the use of e-signatures in certain sectors where people aren’t seeing each other face-to-face anymore. For example, the automotive industry, mortgage lenders, the notarial profession and law firms. E-signature solutions might not be a primary business process, but digitalising your contract approval process can save you an enormous amount of time and money. E-signatures help to make the experience more user-friendly for your customers.”
These stories sound all too familiar to Mark Jansen, Knowledge Manager in the private law sector. “The pandemic, which resulted in many people working from home, have ensured that ‘necessary’ solutions like the use of e-signatures have been accepted faster by law firms. I think it’s remarkable that research has shown that investments in software for document automation and collaboration are lagging behind when law firms can really benefit from them.”
Increased interest in data privacy
While the in-house sector has been trying to get others to recognize the importance of privacy and consent, stakeholders have been slow to acknowledge it. Now that organisations are carrying out more activities online, data privacy is now at the forefront.
Caroline has noticed that her colleagues in other departments showed a sudden interest in privacy. Previously, consent forms were signed by hand, but the Beyond Covid development of electronic data capture (used in medical research) was sped up for MyConsent, an online platform that has digitalised the consent process. According to Caroline, “the best part of it all is that colleagues outside of the legal department realize just how important privacy and consent are. My colleagues in the development team came to me and asked what features were needed to make the product GDPR-compliant.” Caroline admits that this is an enormous shift compared to the situation a few months ago.
Cathy Brocklebank, Privacy & IP Lawyer at Okkerse & Schop Advocaten agrees with Caroline’s statement on the increased importance of privacy. “In our branch more small business owners have reached out to us about how they can work from home and still be privacy-proof. It starts with equipping employees with the right knowledge. In the end, you need to have a plan for responding to data breaches or make changes to the existing protocol so employees know what they need to watch out for.”
She adds, “not much has changed at our firm. In private practice as a whole, there’s a shift to working more digitally, especially how we communicate. In the business world, it’s pretty normal for colleagues to communicate with each other via Microsoft Teams but in private practice, it was not as common.”
Litigation versus working from home
Court cases with litigants appearing in court have been allowed on a limited basis since May 11th, provided the physical presence of the parties is deemed necessary. After receiving the request, it is up to the judge in preliminary relief proceedings to determine whether this is the case. Despite the changes in policy, the backlog has continued to rise. Rein Eilers, from Hupkes Advocatoren says, “we work in the office part of the time and the rest at home. The primary reason being that we are regularly involved in litigation. All of these documents need to be printed out, which involves more paper than your typical printer at home can handle.”
“We contact our current clients by phone or email anyway, so that hasn’t changed much. We used to have walk-in hours, which now take place online. It’s actually more efficient in terms of travel time and clients don’t seem to mind. Will we keep doing this when the pandemic is over? We’ll see. I would imagine that new clients want to see their lawyer in-person.”
Wolters Kluwer distributed a survey in June 2020 to gauge the impact of COVID-19 in the legal sector, the outlook for legal professionals and what the consequences will be for law firms in the coming year. The report is based on submissions from 1866 legal professionals and lawyers from ten countries throughout Europe and examines the impact on workload, spend, way of working and technology and investments. For more information on the Wolters Kluwer survey, and the impact of the pandemic on the legal sector, you can download the report here.