Q&A with ABC Legal Services: Technology’s Role in Increasing Access to The Justice System

Chambers directors and law firm managers encouraging their firms to invest in technological advancements used to face great resistance from their peers. Established partners at more traditional legal practices were overly concerned about costs and the negative impacts technology installations could have on their organisation’s productivity and training to get up to speed. In 2020, the conversation quickly changed.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the legal industry in a multitude of ways. For one, it has paused court proceedings and created barriers for the public to access legal services. However, mandates created as a result of the pandemic have rapidly pushed forward technological advances that were not a priority for lawyers in the past. The new ability for legal professionals to work from remote locations and leverage process automation has quickly opened the door to address challenges from the pandemic, as well as making long term improvements to everyday operations.

In an effort to explore how the pandemic has impacted the legal industry’s perception about the use of technology, as well as to address issues of access to the courts, ABC Legal Services held a webinar on the topic of legal technology and its growing impact on access to the legal system. The panelists included Brandon Fuller, Chief Technology Officer at ABC Legal and President of Docketly, Radley Angelo, Head of Customer Success at ABC Legal, and Sascha Mehlhase, Vice President of Products at ABC Legal.

Below are a few of the webinar’s highlights explained by these individuals.   

What is the legal industry’s current stance on emerging technologies?

Sascha Mehlhase: The pandemic made implementing new technology a do or die situation, as the ability to work remotely became a necessity. This has snowballed into an increased willingness to consider other types of new technology. For example, 56% of law firms are interested in exploring the implementation of legal artificial intelligence (AI) technology over the next five years. There are multiple players in the field using AI to expedite many types of legal research, document review, analytics, litigation prep, and e-discovery.

Radley Angelo: Natural language processing (NLP) enables computers to read text or language quickly and provide a summary, which is proving very helpful to legal professionals pouring through lengthy legal documents. This technology is still in its infancy, but there’s increasing interest in the legal community towards its implementation. There’s also increasing understanding about how machine learning (ML) complements and enhances human work, rather than replacing it.

Why has the industry been slow to adopt technology?

Sascha Mehlhase: Barristers’ chambers and law firms have been notoriously slow to adopt technology throughout the world, in large part due to the necessity of interacting with courts that continued to require paper submissions and in-person conferences. The resistance to automation was at least somewhat influenced by civil service unions that did not want to see jobs for their workers replaced by technology. However, more widespread implementations of these technologies have made it clear that these tools help supplement tasks and create the opportunity to focus other case work.

Radley Angelo: To expand on Sascha’s response, the resistance to technology included resistance to tools such as robotic process automation (RPA) that made work more efficient and might result in reduced labor requirements.

How have courts responded to the pandemic? What has been the impact here?

Brandon Fuller: The courts’ response to the pandemic was to phase in as much technology as possible, as soon as possible to keep the justice system from collapsing. The pandemic turned the perception of courts from a “place” to a “service” throughout the world.

Sascha Mehlhase: E-filing was already well underway in most jurisdictions, but e-conferencing was rare. In less than a month, conferences from New York to Tokyo to Nairobi were online, with criminal justice given priority. Some courts found the tool “Court Call” very useful for implementing remote access and other necessary technological improvements since the pandemic.

What technologies are currently being used in the legal sector?

Radley Angelo: Legal practices have been able to enable high-quality remote conferencing, e-signatures, and other technological advancements smoothly and rapidly are seeing great success in keeping and acquiring clients. Some law firms are taking customer service the extra mile by using technology to improve their clients’ satisfaction by predicting friction points with clients and providing solutions on the fly.

Brandon Fuller: Many legal professionals that shunned technology are embracing it for its ability to save their livelihood during an economic crisis. Some lawyers are preferring to do court appearances remotely through video conferencing, avoiding the stress of commuting to courts and the hassle of parking.

How can lawyers use emerging technologies in their day-to-day operations?

Sascha Mehlhase: Lawyers are adapting by doing consultations and intakes remotely and using e-signatures or other methods to obtain client signatures on documents. In New York State, Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order allowing notarization via Zoom. Court conferences are held via audio and video conferencing or other remote technologies with judges, lawyers, and clients in their kitchens and living rooms.

Radley Angelo: Offices that were beginning to go paperless took the leap towards retaining paper copies only when legally required and filing everything else electronically. Most are pleased with the flexibility of working remotely with electronic documents, making them more amenable to the introduction of machine learning, automation, AI, innovative apps, and the expanded use of technology in the courts.

How are legal technology providers addressing the need for data security?

Brandon Fuller: The seismic shift towards the adoption of some technologies has spurred concerns about data safety, confidentiality, and security. Redundant cloud servers have replaced the need to keep in-house servers with backups of client data, and enhancements to encryption algorithms are improving the ability to keep data more secure.

Overall, there has been a drastic and rapid increase of technology adoption in the legal industry since the pandemic. This will continue to increase as more lawyers, clients and customers become familiar and even reliant on these tools for everyday operations.

About the Authors

Sascha Mehlhase is the vice president of products and innovation at ABC Legal Services. Sascha oversees ABC Legal’s growing product, marketing and customer experience teams in transforming ABC Legal into the best-in-class technology and service industry leader, while simultaneously finding new avenues to scale. With nearly 20 years of product and marketing experience in software and technology, Sascha has advanced product strategies and led global teams in a variety of industries. Most recently, as senior director of product management at Intrado, Sascha oversaw their cloud-based telecom and communications platform as a service business and drove the company’s international product expansion into more than 170 countries. Sascha earned an MBA from Loyola University, Chicago and a B.A. in Social Economics from Hamburg University, Germany.

Radley Angelo is Head of Customer Success at ABC Legal Services. He has experience leading rapid prototype development and software engineering consultations with companies of all sizes. Prior to becoming Head of Customer Success at ABC Legal Services, Radley worked as CEO of Spark Creative Tech, as a Software Engineer Intern at National Geographic, and as a Research Associate at Qualcomm Institute at the University of California, San Diego.

Brandon Fuller is Chief Technology Officer at ABC Legal Services and President of Docketly. He has a long career of innovating technical solutions in digital platforms with a focus on cloud-based software. Prior to becoming CTO at ABC Legal Services, Brandon worked as the CEO of Docketly, Technical Leader for Blue Jeans Network, Technical Leader at Cisco Systems, Owner of Orion Software Development, and Director of Product Development at Latitude Communications.