Digital document integrity in the legal industry

In our previous blog article, we took a closer look at why some industries still seem to be lagging behind when it comes to digital transformation. Even following the events of the last few years, which forced most businesses to change the way they operated, some are still clinging to traditional practices and operations. One such industry is: legal.

With reputations based on confidentiality and security of information (as well as, of course, skills in negotiation and the courts), established law offices around the world have not been so ready to adopt fully digital options the same way that newcomers to the field and Alternative Legal Services Providers (ALSPs) have done.

Much of this has to do with how a legal services business functions and the crucial aspects behind it. Trust following the divulgence of critical information is critical for the continued success of law offices. So switching from controllable, in-person, paper-based processes to a digital environment that seems less straightforward can be daunting for these businesses.

The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic forced businesses to take big leaps into digitalization - often even when they weren’t ready. So how did they, and perhaps more importantly, how do they continue to digitalize their operations in a way that confers the same level of digital trust and reliability as a face-to-face meeting?

The challenges and benefits of moving to digital documents

While completely overhauling how a business operates - especially in a highly traditional, arguably change-resistant field like law - is certainly daunting, there are clear benefits that accompany the difficulties faced in the initial process.

Finding the right solutions can seem like a lot of work but is an important step in the process. Once found, implementation and even training for usage can be quick and simple, depending on the software or other solution chosen.

When it comes to managing documentation, there are ready-made options available on the market now, so it’s important to find one that helps resolve current pain points such as security concerns, e-signing options, compliance measures, data handling, etc.

The right solution can provide the following benefits from the start:

  • Reduced risk of misplacement. Traditional, paper-based documents carry an added risk of being lost or damaged. Of course, the typical way around this is to have multiple copies - but then that contributes to storage volume (and security in the storage system). Digital documents instead are stored securely in the cloud, with the option of additionally downloading copies to store on hard drives or within other company systems.
  • Fast to share with all stakeholders. When you’re working on a document that requires a number of revisions or edits - these need to be made and approved by the necessary individuals. Traditionally, law firms have relied on paper copies or - more so today - on Word documents that end up being passed around via email. Digital documents allow for one working document to be accessed and approved easily.
  • Option to restrict access. Paper-based documents are at the mercy of how they are stored. Paper can easily be picked up by someone it was not intended for - either intentionally or unintentionally. Even Word documents are stored on particular devices that are at risk of hacking. Digital documents allow for access to be set for only certain individuals who are invited to view, electronically sign, etc., that document. Preventing unauthorized access or hacking attempts.
  • Collect verified electronic signatures. When a signature is needed, paper-based options are time-consuming and often require in-person signing in order to verify the identity of the signee. While there are digital options such as uploading a signature to apply to a PDF, these are far from secure and authenticated. The right solution provides a safe online environment where the identity of the signee is verified before an electronic signature can be applied.
  • Deliver data automatically to backend systems. With paper comes filing. And filing cabinets. And storage rooms. And it all gets to be a little much very quickly. Dealing with high amounts of data and documents is common for legal services businesses and must be handled accurately and appropriately. With the right tools, API documentation can facilitate easy connections that help automate the transfer of information to other systems currently in use.
  • Manage activity logs/audit trails. When it comes to the integrity of a document, this can make or break a case. Documents must be handled correctly in order to be admissible in a court. Being able to track the activity on a document - who had access, how, when, as well as any other actions taken on the document such as signatures and time stamps is a given with the right digital solution.

Moving to digital documents

While there are clear reasons to switch to a more digital approach to handling documents, the challenge still remains: who is there to lead this transition? Many law firms today do not have the in-house resources to manage such a process.

And yet, it’s clearly needed, as the American Bar Association recently reported that just 53% of respondents to a survey said there is an active policy in place for data management. Perhaps somewhat related to that…25% reported that there had been some kind of data breach within their company over the course of the previous year.

All these numbers show is that the legal industry is still behind the times with digital transformations. But what is the answer? While the decision might need to come from the company head, the training needs to start from the ground up. Basic security measures that include the handling of everything from devices and email to remote working and the software and other digital tools they use.

Collaboration with individuals from other backgrounds (legal tech, software engineering) can help speed up and make this process smoother (as well as help with maintenance - because cybersecurity is not a one-time thing). But finding and implementing tools that help automate some of these complex aspects of document handling and processing can make a major difference on the day-to-day.