The future of software for law firms: from mandate acquisition to digital case processing
COVID-19 has had an impact on every aspect of our work and our lives. And in recent months, we have also seen a digital transformation in the legal market – a change that was not likely not occur for years to come. Time and again, up until now, comprehensive digital mandate processing has been interrupted by analogue and paper-bound work steps, but in recent months a digital transformation of the workplace has become mandatory, almost overnight.
Working from home has been instrumental to the quick introduction of collaboration tools such as video conferencing, use of the electronic signature to conclude contracts, as well as collaboration on documents (collaboratively creating, coordinating and finalizing documents). At least in some courts, such as the District Court [Landgericht] in Frankfurt, even the representation of client interests pursuant to Section 128a of the German Code of Civil Procedure [ZPO] is now possible, working remotely from home, thanks to video conferencing. eSignature tools have also made the digital conclusion of mandates a reality.
We expect the ongoing impact of the pandemic to increase the need for the legal market to implement digital working methods with much greater urgency and speed.
- Companies will increasingly focus on business continuity planning, with an emphasis on agility and efficiency in contract management. The electronic signature will play a central, mandatory role in the execution phase of contract lifecycle management in the effort to accelerate processes within companies.
- In the case of private individuals, today it is a matter, of course, to go online to manage their contractual relationships with insurance companies, banks or even power utilities.
The market for legal services is thus increasingly determined by these changing requirements on the part of clients, who expect legal services that are high-quality and offer reliable forecasting – services that are performance-oriented and ever faster, service-driven and inexpensive – essential factors that present law firms with special challenges.
These changed conditions call for the development of new business models. Law firms are called upon, wherever possible, to boost their productivity, cut costs, automate processes, improve client services, and meet complex compliance and security requirements by seamlessly integrating their technologies.
High-speed exchange of data and information, exclusive and sustainable client services, as well as process-optimised solutions are key factors in the successful positioning of the law firm in today’s competitive environment.
The organisational changes that these factors will bring about within the law firm are likely the most sweeping changes that have occurred ever since the introduction of the computer to the day-to-day practice of law in the early 1990s. At the same time, they present law firms with significant cultural challenges.
The solutions for law-firm organisation that are already established today and are often used exclusively for administrative and management activities within the firm will play a new role as the central data source within every law firm. Through open interfaces, these systems will form the backbone of a high-performance, agile and networked organisation.
The document-management systems usually integrated into these systems will be upgraded from the electronic file to digital case processing in the effort to create an across-the-board digital mapping of the paper-based mandate processing that is still taking place. This is a process that already began when the eCourt interface was introduced, but it is now set to accelerate even further.
The coming generation of software for law firms is revolutionising the range of use. In future, it will comprise all stages of attorney value creation in an interface-free environment:
- Client acquisition through the law firm website, with direct connection to the law firm software
- Digital onboarding of clients
- Continuous exchange of relevant information with all stakeholders from a central data source, via the eCourt interface or a workflow-based client portal
- Task and deadline management, and innovative project management
- Substantive analysis, structuring and processing of all case-related documents
- Reference files on the tablet, always up to date and designed for offline use where necessary
- Automatic document creation on the basis of the law firm’s knowledge pool
- Collaborative document creation, coordination and finalisation
- Digital signatures for documents
One need not be a clairvoyant to realise that the sustainability of law firms will be defined through use of digital solutions and enthusiasm for tailoring these solutions to law firms’ processes. Even though in the past it has often been external factors, such as the introduction of the beA mailbox and the coronavirus pandemic, that have driven digitalisation in law firms, clients are now increasingly calling for technological solutions – and these solutions will be decisive to a law firm’s conclusion of mandate agreements.
Law firms that unilaterally define and actively tackle the transition to digitalisation, with seamless linkage between law firm and mandate management, will be at a decisive advantage. Fresh business models can be developed based on this, creating optimised client services and positioning the law firm attractively as an employer. Incidentally, it would also make law firms better prepared in future for situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic.