In the press: Digitising courtrooms & law firms

December 23rd, 2015

digital courtrooms and law firms

Digital was a key focus of the Autumn Statement this year, with a total of £1.8 billion in planned investments listed by the Chancellor at the end of November. Part of this embrace of digital included an allocation of £700 million to fully digitise the courtrooms, moving from the current paper-based system to an online one, which looks to revolutionise the processes within the justice system once rolled out.

According to the Statement, not only will over 500,000 pre-trial hearings in the criminal courts no longer be necessary, but this digitisation will also significantly reduce the amount of time spent conducting court hearings, ultimately generating taxpayer savings of approximately £200 million per year from 2020.

A digitised justice system has been in the pipeline for several years but is only being implemented now. For law firms who have yet to embrace digital, there could be knock-on effects that will need to be addressed. However, there are certainly many positives to this tech-focused change as well.

What if law firms have yet to go digital?

At the moment, there is definitely a question of whether law firms are ready for this digital change. Unless all lawyers within a firm are fully competent with digital technology, digitisation will almost certainly become a security risk. Private data could be, for example, sent to the wrong person due to confusion about the correct processes to follow. It is, therefore, critical that all individuals are thoroughly trained on the new system from the outset.

Are the courts themselves ready?

The courts will also need to prepare for this large-scale digitisation. Full system integration, continuous network (private or public) access throughout the courtrooms and a means of displaying evidence digitally will lay the foundations for a digitised court system. The level of data required within the courtrooms for each active case also means that the government will need to invest in robust IT platforms to ensure resilience, availability and performance on scale. This is simple enough in many ways, but the size of the deployment will require top-tier architecture and expertise.

Is security an issue?

Law firms will continue to be responsible for their data security in the new digitised system. What remains to be seen, however, is what happens after files are sent outside of a particular law firm. Whether this to the courtroom or to any third parties also working on a particular case.

It is vital that the government and the justice system as a whole can guarantee that the security of any data will be maintained outside the confines of each individual law firm. However, as it stands, law firms cannot yet be certain as to how data will remain secure once released for third-party viewing. At the end of a case, the courts will need to guarantee that the data provided is secure. Also that they will securely destroy the data once no longer required for evidence.

Once risks like these have been addressed, digitisation could arguably offer greater protection from a security standpoint. Due to the highly confidential nature of client information, digital courtrooms would need to have strong security systems. Even if firms are no longer transporting physical files between locations.

It is therefore crucial that the appropriate access rights are determined for all individuals involved with these documents. Solutions such as 2-factor authentication will be essential to ensure that data is only accessed by the right people. The days of passwords are over.

Law firms are increasingly becoming a target for cyber-attacks due to the high levels of sensitive data and access to monetary funds on-site. This is a real concern if the legal sector is being asked to become more digitally savvy, as this makes them an even greater target.

Looking ahead

At the moment, it’s still unclear which processes will be introduced to digitise the courts. This makes it difficult for law firms to prepare for these upcoming changes. However, the move to digital in the legal sector will ultimately be a positive one. It will offer more control, a systemised process and better security, in addition to increasing the economic efficiency of the justice system. Law firms must, therefore, take steps to embrace technology. It’s important to seek expert guidance now, so you can compete and thrive during this digital roll-out in the future.

Originally published on Legal Compliance Today