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Business case is critical for new tech legal investments

Toronto technology and business lawyer Peter Murphy admits many law firms could benefit from new information technologies, but he doesn’t advise them to rush into projects without aligning them to the firm's objectives through a solid business case.

Murphy, a partner with Shibley Righton LLP, says when he started out, email was the new kid on the legal technology block. Much has changed over the last two decades, but because of the nature of their profession, lawyers often view new developments in technology with suspicion.

“The legal industry may be slower than others when it comes to adopting new technologies, and that may have to do with the fact our profession is built on looking backward at the common law that’s developed over time,” he tells AdvocateDaily.com.

“A senior lawyer once told me about when the first photocopier arrived in his office," Murphy says. "He had his associates check each copy against the original because he didn’t trust the photocopier's accuracy."

Fears tend to fade once the technology has proven to be reliable, but it’s fair to say that lawyers and the legal industry in general are not early adopters, he admits. Still, there are many examples of how digital advances have changed the legal landscape in the 20 years Murphy has been practising.

“Gone are the days of going through paper-based consolidations,” he says. “Now plenty of online databases are available, making legal research much more efficient.  Computer database technology is now crucial for the efficient management of evidence in litigation files, and on-line data rooms make the due diligence process of commercial transactions much easier.  Project management software is being customized for lawyers to use to manage their progress on larger files."

One area where in-house counsel can benefit from new software is in time tracking and billing, which lends itself to improvement through information technology, adds Murphy.

“Billing management software packages are available to make the billing process more efficient," he says.  "These applications help in-house counsel keep up-to-date on the progress of files and helps them gather and process the information necessary to manage their legal budgets more closely."

Technology can help firms run more efficiently, but investing in it without a solid business case is never a sound strategy, Murphy suggests. IT projects face particular challenges: many don’t finish on time or on budget, and absent a clear business case they face the risk of not solving the problems the organization truly requires the technology to solve. It’s important to understand the perceived business benefits and risks before moving ahead.

“A key concern is client confidentiality and data safeguarding," says Murphy.  "We have all seen the news stories involving unauthorized access to organizational data, including the files of Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.  It is imperative that law firms employ comprehensive data security policies and precautions throughout the firm, and in particular to new technologies they implement."

Murphy expects in the future, advancements in artificial intelligence might make light work of what is today labour-intensive research and analysis for lawyers.

"Leveraging cutting-edge software may assist in legal analysis such as application of the Income Tax Act and regulations," he says. "When implemented properly, technology will continue to offer us new ways to add value for clients."

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