The population of earth has reached 7 billion people, every single one of whom send you irritating
emails to join something called “LinkedIn.” - Dave Barry
The terms “high-tech” and “lawyers” do not usually go together. After all, there are still lawyers that swear WordPerfect is the only word processing program the legal profession should use. Admittedly, most have moved past the DOS version but there is movement now toward a much more techno-savvy legal profession so you should be ready for it as you interact with your legal counsel.
Later this year, we will be asking our staff and clients to get ready for several significant technology initiatives that are currently gaining traction throughout the legal industry. As you interact with your legal counsel, it is likely that everything from how services are provided, to how communication and reporting is conveyed, will be different from what you have experienced in the past.
Here is a summary of what you can expect:
Paperless Office: This is a development that has long been promised but not yet delivered, but as a firm we are committed to making this a reality. The law societies of this country all require that lawyers keep client files for up to 10 years. As you can well imagine, the mountain of banker’s boxes filled with paper and stored in expensive warehouses is significant. That is about to change. All newly closed files are being digitally scanned and stored in PDF format (with back up redundancies of course). Not only does this benefit us as a law firm (lower storage cost, better access), it can benefit the client too. If you’ve lost your paperwork from a real estate purchase and need a copy of that Real Property Report and Compliance, or your accountant needs a copy of the mortgage statement from the file, we will be able to retrieve that for you in short order and at greatly reduced cost.
Paperless Reporting: Not only is our new goal to scan and store paperwork digitally, we are also moving toward reporting digitally with a new “client portal”. Some clients will prefer this, some will not but the option should be there and we are working towards that. For example, for commercial clients that would normally get two or three reporting binders with perhaps hundreds of pages of documents, we will give them a secure bank level encrypted portal in which they can log in and collect all the documents they need. Our portal will reside on our own cloud server in Canada so unlike similar cloud solutions like Dropbox, solicitor-client privilege won’t be compromised by disclosure laws like the U.S. Patriot Act. This may turn into a more comprehensive system as well, that can give clients digital cloud access to legal documents such as “live” corporate Minute Book contents and other important legal information.
Electronic Communications: Right now, I process up to 200 emails per day. This is a significant difference from just a few years ago when mail, deliveries and faxes still ruled the office. I remember the anxiety that the facsimile machine created in the legal community when it was first being adopted. The same anxiety has occurred in relation to email – and some lawyers and clients are still cautious to fully buy-in - but the technology is hard to ignore. I recently closed a large multi-million dollar cross-border share purchase transaction that involved law firms in LA, Texas and New York. We exchanged and negotiated document revisions and even exchanged closing signature packages by email. Clients were able to meet with their own lawyers in their own hometowns to sign documents, avoiding the typical time consuming and costly face-to-face meetings. Disclosure and due diligence documents were also uploaded to a shared client portal and updated daily until closing. The deal would have been extremely cumbersome and even more complex using previous technology.
Document and File Management Systems: These have been around for a long time. But to be efficient in real estate transaction matters, a lawyer that has the latest technology, is able to produce accurate documents in a timely manner, and can thus provide quality legal services is a must. Our firm uses the latest file, client, contact and document management software to manage real estate and all other client files. It’s hard to even remember what we did without these systems. I remember a real estate deal that closed just a few years ago where the seller’s lawyer provided our office with a transfer of land that was literally typed from scratch on a typewriter. It was a major point of excitement for all of us in the office – we had not seen that in ages, and some in the office had never seen such a thing. We all marvelled at how long that would have taken (not to mention the amount of whiteout necessary for typists like me). Today we can produce documents in a fraction of the time with far more accuracy as well.
Information and Answers: Lawyers have been late to this game too, but they are catching up. Our firm has a dynamic and informative website with articles, blogs, and links. These days people want at least some answers before talking so we deliver as much as we can online (with more information being added all the time). Social media is also regularly used. Communities such as Google + and LinkedIn make connecting and getting questions answered easier than ever before.
If you like technology, then you should be in great shape as you head into your investing future. Always find a team (lawyers, accountants, brokers) around you that understands, and employs, technology as well, and you will multiply the benefits significantly.
Darren Richards is a partner with Richards Hunter Toogood. He focuses on both residential and commercial Real Estate and Corporate/Commercial Law serving both small and medium sized owner-managed business in the Edmonton and surrounding region. Mr. Richards also acts for major banking institutions and other lenders in relation to their commercial loan facilities. Reach him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or www.rht-law.ca.