However, there are some pioneering Courts that have broken the mold recently by starting to accept electronic files. So, could this last bastion of paper in the legal profession soon fall? Tim Long CEO of Zylpha believes that it could and in doing so pave the way for a much greater use of secure electronic legal communication.
Secure electronic legal document bundling is at last being seen in many quarters as an essential prerequisite for law firms and in-house practitioners seeking to ensure cost effective compliance in document management and communication. Others also see it as a sound method of minimizing operational risk in both law firms and in-house environments.
However, the UK Court system has, to date, insisted on receiving paper-based document bundles. Should this change to the acceptance of electronic files though, it will no doubt herald the full automation of the Court process. As a result, it also will facilitate the sector-wide use of electronic document bundling and communication as a best practice standard. If, or rather when, this happens, the benefits for all parties concerned could be enormous. As it is, the existence of this last bastion of paper-based systems is to a degree holding back the adoption of electronic-based documentation and communication across the legal sector. Thus, if the Courts change, the sector’s best practice standards will change too.
As bundling is simply a method of delivering all the relevant case documents to Court and other relevant parties, the use of the latest secure IT is an ideal solution to speed up and enhance the process. In its simplest form, the pagination and repagination of A4 folders and subsequent distribution of bundles can traditionally take hours using paper files. By replacing this with software, the same result can be achieved in a matter of minutes through the production of PDFs containing the relevant content files from Word, Excel, Visio, SharePoint, HP Worksite, and PowerPoint. With an electronic process, it’s now also a straightforward task to add in video evidence such as that pulled from digital CCTV cameras. In addition, the latest systems are also now integrated with Adobe Echosign and a full suite of anti-money laundering tools.
Producing additional copies over time is also far faster. Storage and print costs are slashed too. In addition, with the latest top-level IT security deployed, the levels of protection are far greater, and compliance standards are adhered to more easily. With leading systems containing links to case management systems, the transition to full electronic bundling makes considerable sense.
Major drivers are in play in other areas of the law. With the Ministry of Justice portal now taking RTA, EL, and PL files, this speeds up the process considerably and minimizes costs significantly. Separately, many of the major bodies themselves such as the Rolls Building and the Ministry of Justice are investing significantly in new internal IT. At local authority level too, bundling technology, such as that my own company develops, is spreading widely into related areas such as contract, conveyancing, and confidential areas like social services and child care.
However, despite all these developments, most Courts still steadfastly require paper versions to be produced in advance of the files reaching Court. This leads to the bizarre ‘last bastion’ practice of managing bundles electronically prior to submission and then printing them out to present them in paper. There may be light at the end of the tunnel though. The wholesale adoption of IT elsewhere has given the Courts the encouragement to move to electronic systems. Indeed, the UK Supreme Court accepts electronic bundles, and it is rumored that a few County Courts are either accepting or actively considering accepting electronic document bundles. This has to be the first signs that there is an overall momentum to move to electronic systems.
Once this last bastion of paper-based systems has fallen, there will undoubtedly be a dividend across the entire sector as the best practice standard will change for all. At these times, when costs and service levels are under such scrutiny, the efficiencies gained could make a significant difference to the legal professional as a whole and not just the Courts themselves.