The need for increased digitisation of the legal sector is crucial given how dynamic the environment is.
Around the world, industries are rapidly transforming with digital technologies and customer experience being at the core of this transformation. In India as well, there is an ongoing nationwide effort to bring industries and businesses together to create a Digital India. While most industries are accelerating towards becoming more and more digital in their strategy and operations, the legal services industry is just getting started.
The need for increased digitisation of the legal sector is crucial given how dynamic the environment is. Younger professionals, who are more technology-savvy, are becoming partners sooner now, triggering the need to scale up the firms’ digital capabilities in order to give them a more workable environment. These lawyers require a framework that promises efficiency in every process. Also, with entry of foreign players allowed in the sector, mid-size law firms are talking of expanding their own brand by way of partnerships and mergers. This naturally paves the way for the adoption of global practices, which are more automated and heavy on digital solutions. Therefore, to attract and retain top talent and to grow, law firms now need to enhance their processes to leverage the industry's best practices. Such efforts would increase the speed of work and enable more efficient case management. This would benefit all stakeholders-firms, lawyers and civilians involved. The result would ultimately lead to better governance through safer information sharing.
On the government side, the digital initiative is fast gaining momentum. In 2017, taking a huge leap towards digitisation, the Supreme Court digitised a staggering one crore five lakh pages and records of civil appeals, ranging from the pre-independence era till 2002 as part of its recent reforms. Also, last year Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Integrated Case Management System (ICMIS) in the presence of then Chief Justice of India, JS Khehar, extending the flagship program for fostering digitisation of government service delivery to Indian courts. Modernisation has traditionally moved from the private to public spaces, except in the case of a few sectors like defense. For India to have a fully digitised legal system, it is important that private law firms that handle a bulk of the legal work become more receptive to a digital framework for managing their practices.
Investing in the right digital technologies will help the industry deal with the voluminous information in their possession more efficiently and gain crucial insights fast. One of the first steps to begin with could be investments into practice management solutions. These solutions (e.g Kleos) automate workflows and make collaboration easier. Coping with a relentless flow of tasks becomes much simpler that way. With a tech-assistant in place, accessing and editing files remotely becomes a possibility, so does accessing historic case information through easy search. Collaboration is simplified and so is instant file sharing in their latest versions not only internally but with third parties too. All this makes gauging individual performances straightforward and transparent. According to current estimates, the adoption of such software in Indian law firms is as low as 0.1%. Boosting this figure will be crucial for the creation of a digital framework for law firms, government and the entire ecosystem.
Automation and the advantages that come with it also improve the ease of scaling up operations. Currently, there is a significant gap between the hourly rates of Indian lawyers and that of their international counterparts. This is something that is sure to decelerate the process of global entries into the Indian legal sector. Estimates suggest that competition-led pricing has curbed the size of the Indian legal market, despite more work being available due to the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST). The need of the hour for the sector is to maximise returns while making the business processes more efficient and world-class. Digitisation and streamlining of practice management comes as an answer to these issues by boosting overall efficiencies, and growth.
—by Shireesh Sahai, CEO – India, Wolters Kluwer