A current hot topic in the world of online technology and social media is that of data protection and the integrity and security of our personal online information. Whilst this has always been an important area – and one that has been regulated to some extent by the Data Protection Act 1998 – a number of high-profile cases relating to personal data breaches have made many online users examine the codes of practice that online enterprises work to when storing, managing and transferring their personal information. Such considerations are especially pertinent to the legal industry, given the highly sensitive nature of information that will be stored.
In today’s job market, the use of technology is increasingly taking over. Positions that were traditionally held by human beings are being replaced by computers and other forms of technology in the name of efficiency. But this is not true of every position. In fact, the advancement of technology has strengthened some job titles. One of those positions is that of the Legal Secretary.
When we think of what the role of a Legal Secretary entails, we tend to think of a female in front of a typewriter, transcribing in shorthand. We think about typical secretarial tasks – many of which could easily be replaced with various forms of technology. Interestingly, the ever-advancing technology has made the Legal Secretary a more desirable and in-demand position.
How Making a Small Change Can Make a Big Difference
Gone are the days of the 1-to-1 or 1-to-3 ratio of Secretaries to Fee Earners. We’re now more likely to see 1-to-7 or even 1-to-10, and barely a week goes by without a firm announcing the centralisation of support resources, or support restructuring.
The role of support services is constantly changing, as is often seen in drives for efficiency of back office support, specialist support teams, lower cost locations, outsourcing, in-sourcing, near-shoring … there’s a lot of change!
The Internet must easily rank as being the best invention of the late 20th century. The ease in which we are now able to communicate with each other around the world really is worth its weight in gold. And alas, this is exactly how more and more unscrupulous individuals feel about the potential opportunities to exploit others and even steal using the World Wide Web.
We have all heard about the dangers of e-mail scammers lurking on the Internet and now realise that we have to protect ourselves from these attacks. This is now more prevalent within the legal industry than ever before, with around 500 law firms having been targeted in a recent e-mail scam from one source alone, as reported by the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority (SRA).
As part of our regular practice updates, this month we will be considering the latest proposals for expanding ‘e-justice’ in the civil court system. The Civil Justice Council has called for the creation of an online court within the next two years. This would be a radical overhaul of the current UK court system. Key features would include virtual courtrooms, a lawyer-free environment and the possibility of services similar to the eBay disagreement negotiating procedure. The online system would be for claims of up to £25,000, and the idea is backed by Lord Dyson, the master of the rolls, who is head of the civil judiciary in England and Wales.
Password security is vital security
Last month’s huge data breach at the Panamanian law firm of Mossack Fonseca – to give you an idea of its size, it was hundreds of times bigger than the material released by Wikileaks in 2010 – is an example of just how much damage a data security leak can cause. The private affairs of the firm’s clients became public property overnight, allowing the press to trace money across continents and into tax havens.
Although the leak uncovered some pretty questionable, and possibly illegal, behaviour on the part of some of the firm’s clients, many other clients who were not doing anything wrong had their most private financial affairs opened up for the world to see.
Ever since the early 1990s, when the heinous murder of James Bulger was heard in Preston Crown Court, the English judicial system has slowly realised that there are plenty of occasions when certain defendants and trial witnesses need to be protected from the hugely intimidating environment of a courtroom.
Whilst the entire country was in uproar back in 1993 when the 10-year-old Jon Venables and Robert Thompson were tried for the murder of James Bulger, in their determination and haste to bring these boys to justice at that time, our country’s legal system broke just about every rule in the book. This was to the extent that the English legal system was later criticised severely by the European Court of Human Rights in 1999 for failing to give Thompson and Venables a fair trial.
The Robots Are Coming
The fresh, shiny new year has arrived, and I hope that you are also feeling fresh and shiny after the holiday break. What will 2016 hold for you, jobwise?
Past performance is not necessarily a guide to future performance, but one major development during 2015 that is likely to have some impact on your firm (and therefore on you) in the next year is the fast-moving field of artificial intelligence (AI) and the law.
Some big claims are being made for recent developments: there has been talk of “the demise of lawyers”, and of 2016 being a watershed moment in legal business. Reports that lawyers are going to be obliterated have been much exaggerated, but it is likely that within the next couple of years, AI is going to start affecting your work – in good ways and in bad.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Case management systems are designed to monitor the life cycle of a case in order to manage the workflow of everybody dealing with the case. This makes the most effective use of everyone’s time. There are lots of different systems available to perform this task, but they all have a lot in common when it comes to the features on offer.
Different systems have different types of law firms in mind. There are software systems, which are specifically programmed for small law firms that have only a few cases on the go at any one time, and there are other systems for larger law firms handling many cases at once. There are also some systems which are designed to cater for specialisms and niches within the legal profession, such as medical law or intellectual property law.
Have you ever authorised a payment from your bank account with a PIN, checked off an “I agree” box on a website or acknowledged delivery of a package by signing with a stylus on the delivery man’s electronic pad? The chances are that most of us have done all of those things within the past few weeks. Every time we did so, we were “e-signing” a contract or other document. In fact, as I’ll make clear shortly, we were not only e-signing but also “digitally signing” — and yes, there is a difference between the two. But whichever way you do it, signing documents without a traditional pen has become an integral part of modern life.