The legal system has struggled to shed its archaic, outdated traditions. According to The Times, just 0.5-0.9% of fee incomes are spent by law firms and the courts on digital upgrades, a nod at the slow pace of transformation that the legal industry is willing to engage in. Slowly, but surely, however, the legal industry is changing, and a lot of that is being driven by new graduates coming into the system, many of which are digitally native – having used computer skills from a very young age.
One key area that needs to be rapidly improved concerns communications. The exchange of documents in courts, and the provisions dictating communications, are outdated. Indeed, the courts have identified faster document exchange as one of the ways to help tackle the huge backlog of cases currently held at all levels of the British court system – innovation is key. Bringing in a cloud-based document management system will go a long way to managing that, and law graduates will have the benefit of experience in using them. Many of the platforms used privately and in education, from OneDrive to SharePoint to Blackboard, already operate on a cloud basis.
Overhauling video link
Innovation has come a long way thanks to the pandemic. The need for remote hearings to keep any form of justice moving along is clear, and has been outlined in the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act being promoted by the courts themselves. One big part of this is accessibility. Some of the people who have the most difficulty accessing the legal system, and therefore made more vulnerable to being victimised by crime, are people living with disability or who have general accessibility requirements. Upgrading the legal system to be accessible promotes their needs. Websites that are adapted to the full range of accessibility needs will promote this, and, once again, tech-savvy graduates in the courts and legal firms will help to push this forward through natural attrition.
Embracing digital change
The actual matter of how life in the UK is managed also needs a rapid digital transformation. As the Law Commission highlights, a lot of public life is close, but not entirely, led by digital methods; contracts are often digitally signed, assets are starting to exist purely in the digital space, and natural languages are being phased out for the digital medium. While services such as Companies House have helped to ease this over, and the courts are getting to grips with the digital world, there is a lot more progress to be made. Only when the law changes to embrace and encompass digital change will there be a wide-scale change in the legal landscape.
These changes will help to speed up justice without impacting its accuracy. Graduates entering the legal field now, or in the next few years, have a key role to play. Matching classic legal education with modern digital skills will help to drive forward change.