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The mobile lawyer: a new service delivery model

2016-11-30

Lawyers need to start thinking beyond traditional models of service delivery to explore how technology can help them provide a more streamlined and cost-effective service to clients, says Toronto civil and commercial litigator Jonathan Miller.

Software and other advanced technology can help free lawyers from the drudge work of their jobs and allow them to be more strategic, he tells AdvocateDaily.com.

Moving toward a more digital practice makes good financial sense for firms and their clients who will benefit from a more efficient practice, says Miller, an associate with the Toronto office of Shibley Righton LLP.

“Wherever possible, lawyers should be embracing new technology, especially given the push by some to do away with the billable hour and provide a per-service fee,” he says. “And all of this relates to reducing costs to clients.”

Miller says one of his practice areas — construction law — tends to be “document-heavy,” and it’s not unusual for him to work on a file that involves multiple three-inch binders full of documents. While he doesn’t anticipate paper being eliminated any time soon, he says even small changes can have a big impact on productivity.

“If I’m in a client meeting, I can take notes on my tablet, send those notes to myself as an email and I never have to worry about losing a piece of paper,” he explains.

Miller says he frequently makes use of online portals that allow access to ebooks and other publications specific to his practice area.

I have the Rules of Civil Procedure on my tablet. The electronic service also has other publications such as Commercial Arbitration in Canada: A Guide to Domestic and International Arbitrations, Construction, Builders' and Mechanics' Liens in Canada, and Annotated Canada Business Corporations Act — so that makes life a lot easier because it’s faster to search for something electronically. There’s a huge upside in knowing if you have your tablet, you don’t have to carry around a bunch of books,” he says.

While the legal industry isn’t known as an early adopter of new technology, Miller says that reticence comes from legitimate concerns around regulatory compliance and client confidentiality. At his own firm, he sees positive change, and it’s coming from the top.

“One of the partners at the firm uses an iPad Pro, which he takes to client meetings, and has even used it in a motion to flip back and forth between the various documents being referenced,” he says.

But Miller suggests it’s not feasible to ask lawyers and law firms to digitize their practices if they can’t extend its use into a courtroom for a motion or a trial or file documents electronically.

“It’s certainly something that both sides of the bench — the administration and the practice side — need to consider,” Miller insists.

At the recent Legal Geek conference in the U.K., the head of strategy at a leading London practice said lawyers are trained to be risk averse, but they need to shift their mindsets if they expect to compete going forward, reports Legal Futures.

Nick West, chief strategy officer at Mishcon de Reya in London, said lawyers have been educated to believe the law is an “artisanal industry” where the only tool of the craft is their brain, the online news outlet went on to say.

The biggest upside Miller says he sees with a digital practice is the freedom of mobility, allowing lawyers to work effectively regardless of whether they’re in the office or not.

“If I have a half an hour between client meetings or while on recess in court, I can get some work done on my tablet and be productive,” he notes.

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2016-11-30