The immediate economic impact of the lockdown has been felt across the legal market. But, what does the lockdown mean for how lawyers work, not just now, but after the crisis is over? Julia Salasky (pictured), CEO of Legl, and founder of CrowdJustice, believes it will mean ‘a radical shift toward digitization‘ among lawyers.
Salasky worked at Linklaters and UNCITRAL, before back in 2015 creating CrowdJustice, a web-based platform that allowed people to rally together and fund litigation, often with a David vs Goliath theme. It won her and her team buckets-full of plaudits.
But, since then things have evolved and the funding system has been folded into a broader platform aimed at the wider legal market, called Legl, which offers online solutions for securely onboarding and ID-checking new clients; an improved online payments system for law firms; and a more efficient mechanism for managing group claims.
Salasky told Artificial Lawyer that amid all the success of CrowdJustice, it became very clear that often overlooked areas such as compliance and getting paid were in need of significant innovation. In particular, tackling such issues from a digital first perspective.
‘There’s a lack of products in the legal sector for how lawyers can serve their clients digitally,’ she said.
Her point is that many law firms, especially the thousands and thousands of smaller firms that just quietly get on with their business far away from the clamour of innovation prizes, still live in a world of mailed letters, physical meetings to perform even the most basic lawyer-client functions, and use payment collection methods that would not have looked out of place decades ago.
So, ‘we started to look [at the legal sector] through a different lens’, Salasky explained. What if they can just address the most simple things, such as not needing a client to physically present themselves at your office with their passport for an ID check? Or have an improved online payments system that also speeds up the invoicing process and keeps everything digital?
On one level this may seem very basic. But, again, go back to the reality of many smaller law firms. And this is where the crisis comes in. If everyone is working from home, you have to ID clients digitally, you have to manage your firm accounts online.
And, as law firms that perhaps were reticent in the past to take a breather and think about changing their key operating methods, now have to stop and think differently, then the future will be different – or at least that is the logic of the argument. And it makes sense.
‘With the crisis, law firms are going to move to operating in a more digital way. I think there will be a radical shift toward digitisation,’ she added.
‘The crisis has accelerated it, and it’s easier and better for clients, it’s better for cash flow. It’s all a harbinger of a big shift in the legal market.’
That said, Salasky is not expecting dozens of headlines about High Street law firms making use of such operational tools. ‘It will largely go under the radar,’ she noted, but change will come nevertheless.
We’ll see this more broadly across the market, she added, such as with digital courts. ‘People are saying maybe we should do this now,’ she noted, in reference to how long-term doubts about making courts operate using video conferences now suddenly seem irrelevant when faced with the practical realities of maintaining a justice system when people cannot meet in person.
It doesn’t stop there, she continued, lawyers can witness Wills using WebEx. And of course, wet-signing documents in general….why do people even do that? And so the list of essential, but simple, changes grows.
And as Salasky has seen, the old ways of working ‘are disruptive to clients’. Did the client really need to come to your office in person with their passport? Did every meeting really need to be in person? Did you need all those mailed letters? Did you need to ask for cheques, or as some law firms do, ask for payments over the phone using a credit card machine in their office?
‘All of this is already changing and the crisis will cement it,’ Salasky concluded. ‘It’s been a matter of changing mindsets, and the Coronavirus has done this.’
One last point is an economic one. What all of the above does is not just make the lives of the clients easier and less painful, it should also reduce the amount of wasted time inside the thousands of small law firms that constitute the bulk of most nations’ legal markets. And if you’re reducing wasted time, you’re driving efficiency and making the legal market as a whole more productive.
Is this Earth-shattering tech? No, and it’s not even unique either, given that there are a growing range of companies offering the above applications as well. But, that’s not the point. Who provides the tech may not matter in terms of the big picture. What really matters is that the legal sector makes a radical leap once and for all and leaves the unnecessary analogue behind.