The traditional model of functioning of the legal community has been dramatically turned with the advent of digital technology—especially in the post-pandemic scenario. Post-Covid-19, the walk-in clientèle would prefer reaching out to freelancers over visiting medium to large law firms because of the costs.

Technology has removed physical footprints. On the positive side, this has helped flexibility to work across borders, travel and have their office on wheels, save significant infrastructure and maintenance costs and reduce manpower. However, if the plan includes co-working spaces and collaborative work environments, there could be a possibility of sailing in both physical as well as digital boats.

The hiring of entry-level, skilled graduates and the development of a team of independent legal employees without much dependence on senior counsel would save costs exponentially. Video-conferencing and the establishment of e-courts, facilities that promote e-filing have become more accessible. Courts are gradually installing digital devices to conduct hearings and hear witnesses.

E-discovery helps in the identification, preservation, collection and searching of electronic documents for use as evidence in a legal case. Corporate legal departments or individuals working with volumes of data, use e-discovery tools help to handle relevant Electronically Stored Information (ESI) efficiently for commercial litigation purposes.

The challenges faced in India surround mostly around the lack of provisions of any acts that can govern the internet policies and privacy. Additionally, the lack of knowledge amongst professionals, inadequate training in e-discovery are some of the other factors.

AI to rule

Artificial intelligence (AI) has become an integral part of leading law firms as it offers multiple benefits to automate work: legal research and due diligence work can be accelerated by confirmation of facts, cross-checking, background verification that in turn promotes faster litigation procedures. Sorting of documents based on keyword search, sifting through years of legal data to predict legal outcomes, case documentation with e-discovery processes can accelerate the legal profession.

Deloitte predicts 1,00,000 legal roles will be automated by 2036 and law firms will start using new talent strategies by 2020. The post-pandemic era has essentially been a boon in certain areas of the legal industry including cyber, financial, arbitration, dispute settlements and even divorce lawyers.

Family-run businesses may have unforeseen disputes, debt-restructuring may be adopted to overcome the financial troubles, employer-employee disputes may arise as companies start shifting to flat hierarchies, payment defaulters, outside court settlements and cybercrime-related cases are bound to surge.

Overall, areas governing cyber law, cryptocurrency regulations, data privacy laws are going to keep the legal industry busy. Multiple start-ups have bloomed which may open doors to hold consultation services.

The traditional firms who do not adapt and flex with the ongoing trends in technology and digitalisation are likely to be side-lined by the newer tech-savvy firms or single practitioners. Also, it is perhaps time to do away with ‘hourly billing’ and go for one-time payments.

What makes a firm different from the rest? The solution is to have an in-house diverse team with professionals from a variety of backgrounds including HR, finance, forensics, MBAs, doctors and engineers under one roof.

The aftermath of the pandemic seems comparable to the 2007-08 global financial crisis. However, the difference between then and now is that the entire human race has evolved to the virtual models of business and has invested sums in building their digital infrastructure.

(The author is Managing Partner & CEO,Surana & Surana International Attorneys)