What the best High St Law Firms do: Part 1 - Going paperless in court

Articles
15.02.2021

Written by:

Grant Yuill
Head of Marketing & Customer Engagement

“Using case management software on our iPads has revolutionised our business”. A bold statement from a lawyer leading the pack when it comes to disrupting the way court lawyers operate and run their firms.

One reason lawyers love their mobile devices is because they’re convenient, help them work/communicate on the go and for the most part increase productivity. I don’t think anyone could really argue with that.

When you can work from numerous locations, you must be able to make the most of the very little time you have in your day. Many lawyers we partner with see using devices as the “smart” way to work. They maintain that working from a mobile device like a smart phone or iPad makes it easy to be a more mobile, productive lawyer. By using the likes of an iPad to manage your tasks, you can easily track your productivity and ensure that work gets done, whether you’re at home, in the office, visiting a client or in court. At least, that’s the goal. However, if your law firm doesn’t use iPads, you’re not alone. In fact, you’re in the majority when it comes to court lawyers in this country.

Selling the dream

If you don't use a tablet in court, you've probably contemplated getting one. But can you really use one to practice more effectively? Tech experts, like us, say "yes" and tell you how to use mobile devices to increase productivity and gain an edge in the courtroom. However, is that just ‘techy’ BS – a way of providers selling the dream of a paperless existence? What about the reality of being in a court environment? That’s one area that most legal tech companies are not experts in.

So, when it comes to using your case management system, accessing/bundling court documents, taking notes and communicating with your clients, can it really be done in such a way that works in real life? And perhaps more importantly, means you don’t feel lost without that glorious piece of tangible, fibrous material you have clung on to for all these years?

Going paperless in court for real

Carrying bundles of case files to court can be disorganised, time consuming and unsecure. Lawyers are taking files between offices, courts, prisons, and home. What if somebody told you that all of your file notes, witness statements, productions, correspondence and everything else you need could be available electronically on an iPad, would you do it?

The team at McGovern Reid did it. That’s right, they bit the bullet and one day just stopped producing paper files. Was it easy? No. Was there some apprehension and trepidation about walking into the Sherriff Court with a bit of tech instead of the ever reliable mountain of tangible paper files? Absolutely yes! But the proof is in the pudding. When a lawyer tells you that something is “revolutionising” the way they run their business that’s normally when ears prick up. So, in this case, it’s not the fancy tech company spouting a line to get you to buy their product, it’s coming from the guys at the coalface, the ones in the trenches. But now they’re armed with a powerful weapon – technology!

We reached out to Matthew McGovern and asked him about how him and his partner, Bobby Reid, are changing the game in court…

When did you start introducing new tech into your practice?

“We had seen the Crown going paperless and operating iPads in court and we thought that we should be doing the same. We also felt that the administrative burden placed upon us by both our client base and the court was becoming increasingly unmanageable and that technology could be offer us significant time savings as well as reducing costs in the medium term. In April of last year we started using Denovo’s CaseLoad and during the summer, we invested in iPads with keyboards and pencils. We now use our iPads at court on a daily basis and are carrying fewer and fewer paper files. It’s revolutionised the way we work”

What are some of the key challenges you faced when introducing new technology?

“The first challenge that we had to consider was whether the transition to technology would be affordable for us. The majority of our work is funded through legal aid and the fee rates are ultimately a significant barrier to investing in and developing our firm. Whilst the technology and software required an upfront capital investment, that has been offset against a reduction in expenditure in other areas of the business and our initial analysis is that, notwithstanding the initial expense, the technology that we’ve introduced will represent a significant saving to the firm over the course of the next couple of years.

The other challenge that we faced was choosing a technology partner. We shopped around but we weren’t sold on anyone until we met with Denovo. We liked their product but, more importantly, we liked them. Other providers had provided a virtual tutorial whereas Denovo came out and met with us and then invited us to their office to view CaseLoad. Their customer service is very good and what is striking is that they clearly operate very much as a team so when you meet someone for the first time, whilst you don’t know them, they know you, your firm and your vision for your firm which makes a big difference. Good service is difficult to achieve but easy to recognise and Denovo’s service not only stood out at the outset but continues to stand out for us.”

Question 4: How has technology improved your working practices?

“The biggest improvement is the service that we are able to offer our clients. This is most noticeable when an accused is appearing from custody. An accused is never more vulnerable or volatile when being told that their bail is opposed. It can be difficult to obtain full instructions from them. We can now access multiple files for the client, including recently prepared Criminal Justice Social Work Reports which allow us to address the court fully about the client’s circumstances. Whilst this might seem like an anodyne example, the easiest way to lose a criminal client is to get them remanded and there have been a number of occasions this year when the difference between the sheriff granting or refusing bail has been the information we have been able to access through CaseLoad on our iPads.

The other improvement that we have noticed is our ability to adapt to the various changes that have occurred in criminal procedure. Our local court is Hamilton Sheriff Court and there were 3 significant reform to summary procedure in 2020 alone. Each reform placed an increased burden upon us without offering any increase in funding to compensate for the extra work involved. The most recent reform introduced a Pre-Intermediate Diet Meeting between prosecution and defence. Before the changes to our practice, this would have involved our secretary finding the paper file, checking to make sure that disclosure had been matched up with the file, hoping that there was a phone number written on the front of the file, the client answering the call rather than returning your call when you didn’t have the paper file with you, obtaining instructions before speaking to the prosecutor. Now we have everything saved on CaseLoad and we can immediately access the entire file and phone the client using their number which is saved on the system. Even if the client doesn’t answer and phones back later, discussing their case is easy as it is on our iPad which we always have within arm’s reach. The result of this is that we can have an informed discussion with the prosecutor which can either resolve the case or prevent the case having to call in court. A process which previously would have been extremely time consuming has been distilled to one phone call to the client and another to the prosecutor.”

Are you planning on introducing more tech in 2021?

“I would like to see greater use of technology within the criminal justice system. We have been able to save witness statements and productions that are disclosed to us on to CaseLoad but operating CCTV evidence disclosed to the Crown has proved a challenge. CCTV evidence if often decisive in cases and the earlier that we would be able to access CCTV footage, the sooner the case could resolve.

We are also planning to start using Bundledocs. As court lawyers we need to keep track of lots of different documents. Bundle production is real drag on our resources. We know digital tools can save us up to 80% of our own and our support staff’s time. The real benefit to us of using e-bundling software is to manage the high volume document cases we have efficiently. Every bundle is automatically numbered, indexed, hyperlinked and bookmarked for quick and easy access. Documents can be uploaded directly from CaseLoad. This is going to be a real game changer for us.”

Taking steps to go paperless

The tools now exist for lawyers to make the digital switch. Get a free demo and see why some of the most successful small to medium sized law firms in the UK use Denovo as their whole practice management software solution.

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