The past year has been full of trials and tribulations for work practices across every industry in the UK. The legal profession is no exception. When COVID-19 struck, law firms were forced to close their offices and switch to a remote working model. As a result, both in-house legal teams and external law firms needed to explore virtual ways of delivering their services.
Although remote work was not a totally new phenomenon, the urgency with which the transition took hold, alongside the fact that many legal businesses still relied upon traditional working practices and legacy technologies, left many individuals in the profession feeling underprepared and unable to work effectively.
To make matters worse, against this backdrop of chaos, the UK’s exit from the European Union still needed to go ahead. The ratification of Brexit has had a significant impact on workload for all legal professionals, regardless of specialism or job role. As law firms and corporate law departments get to grips with the myriad of new regulations, and subsequent client requests and activities, the switch to remote working has presented yet another unwelcome hurdle.
With legal workloads at an all-time-high it has never been more important for law firms to ensure that their employees are equipped with the tools to remain productive and collaborative, regardless of where they are working. Whilst set to be challenging, this period of transition could also be one of opportunity for legal professionals, enabling them to maximise on new business opportunities and become an essential asset to their clients.
Leaving the European Union during a global pandemic
As the UK finds its feet as a nation officially outside the European Union, professionals in the legal sector have found themselves suddenly juggling a spike in demand for their services. While growth is a priority for all businesses, it must be manageable in order to reap the rewards. Unfortunately, for many legal professionals operating in today’s climate of crisis, this is not the case.
In fact, recent research revealed that despite 58% of in-house legal teams seeing their workload increase as a result of the pandemic, only 6% saw their budget rise to support the extra activity. It is no surprise that 29% of those surveyed said they are having to do more with less. This can have a negative impact across the whole sector and those working within it. For example, research from legal software specialist Access Legal discovered that time constraints were the top challenge for all law firms, regardless of size, with 48% struggling to set time aside for career development processes such as essential learning and training.
To add to this, maintaining a healthy work-life balance while tackling high volumes of work in the midst of a pandemic is not easy, especially within the legal sector. In fact, according to recent reports, 70% of lawyers believe they work in the most stressful profession, with 81% of respondents naming workload as the leading cause.
Whilst challenges related to remote work rage on, in the lead-up to Brexit, many firms – particularly those that carry out cross-border work – have faced pressure to ensure that they themselves are compliant. From understanding where data is stored and how it is transferred to reviewing and updating privacy notices, consents and relevant policies and procedures, firms will have needed to take necessary steps to ensure they comply with both the EU GDPR and the UK Data Protection legislation. Moving forward, clients, suppliers and other third parties will need to be informed around the transfer of data, and, more importantly, staﬀ will need to undergo relevant training.
Needless to say, legal professionals are currently faced with a never-ending to-do list, from client requests to internal processes. In order to support their staff and enable them to transform this pressure into opportunity, legal businesses need to streamline operations.
Moving forward, clients, suppliers and other third parties will need to be informed around the transfer of data, and, more importantly, staﬀ will need to undergo relevant training.
Meeting the Brexit workload
Modern technologies – such as legal speech recognition software – could provide an answer. These solutions empower barristers, solicitors, paralegals, clerks, and other legal professionals to complete documentation simply by using their voice. They can help legal teams to navigate the challenges of Brexit whilst still delivering in terms of client needs and maintaining productivity levels, regardless of where employees are based.
Recent research by Nuance revealed that legal professionals spend an average of three hours a day typing out case notes, briefs, contracts, and correspondence. By leveraging speech technologies, most of that time could be diverted towards other, more valuable activities – such as billable work and client service. These technologies can convert spoken words into editable text up to three times faster than they could be typed, resulting in a significant reduction when it comes to document turnaround time. They are able to recognise specialised legal vocabulary and acronyms and even enable automatic formatting of legal citations. The best on the market are powered by deep learning technology which achieves the highest recognition, even for users with accents or those working in open office environments.
Cloud-based technology ensures that legal professionals have access to all these features, regardless of where they are based. This is something that proved particularly useful over the last year. In fact, the research found that 80% of legal practitioners who were already implementing speech-to-text solutions felt properly equipped to work from home when the pandemic struck, as opposed to just 53% of those not implementing the technologies.
One example of a legal professional already benefitting from this technology is Jonathan Silverman, founder of Silverman Advisory LLP. He deployed speech recognition in his firm for the first time in 1995 and has been leveraging the technology ever since. In addition to speedy and accurate document creation, Jonathan’s firm is able to meet client needs swiftly, and personally benefit from greater job satisfaction through increased control over document production.
For legal professionals – whether in-house or external – discovering the benefits of digital transformation in this new post-Brexit, remote world, legal speech recognition technology could be the secret for meeting client needs, growing practices, taking on new clients and increasing overall profitability.
Ed McGuiggan, Vice President of Global eCommerce
Nuance Communications UK Limited
Address: 33 Soho Square, London W1D 3QU, United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 1628 491600