“You can’t divorce risk and opportunity”: SRA unveils IT and Innovation report

The Solicitors Regulation Authority has today (14 March) published a report called ‘IT and Innovation’ which illustrates ways in which law firms can use technology to better compete and reveals that the SRA is looking at creating a safe ‘innovation space’ to help firms and individuals bring new ideas to market.
The report, which is directed at all law firms from BigLaw to the high street, provides a somewhat mixed bag of IT pointers as well as guidance on the SRA’s current thinking with regard to technology. It includes a series of quotes or ‘case studies’ from anonymous legal IT providers illustrating how they have or can help.
Headline tips in the report include automating expensive and time-consuming tasks to help reduce costs; developing ‘virtual assistants’ to deal with legal processes; and using artificial intelligence to analyse large volumes of documents. ‘Deep data analysis’, the report says, includes using AI to analyse the merits and precedents in a case and an opponents’ history in litigation, cutting the time taken to decide on the viability of a case. Client and solicitor communications, meanwhile can be improved using online services and “using smartphone apps to provide instantaneous communication can help share information between client and solicitor.”
While many of these tips appear fairly advanced, elsewhere the report provides guidance on keep information secure, including keeping passwords secure and keeping software updated.
Speaking to Legal IT Insider, the SRA’s executive director for policy, Crispin Passmore (pictured on the home page) said: “This report is for everybody. Big law firms are more likely to have an IT department and the capital to invest but innovation doesn’t have to be large scale and take lots of money or change the world. It’s about doing things differently and about the attitude behind it. Perhaps the biggest challenge in a changing world is to focus on client, client, client.”
He added: “We are trying to get law firms to see that you can’t divorce risk and opportunity. When we talk about managing risk we don’t want you to be put off using technology. “Lawyers tend to be risk averse. We’re trying to say ‘use innovation to deliver better services.’”
The report, which is part of a wider drive by the SRA to encourage innovation within law firms, reveals that the regulatory body is considering creating an ‘innovation space’ to help existing firms develop their businesses and encourage new firms to come to market. It says: “Our thinking is at a very early stage, but we hope to provide a safe space within which regulated firms and individuals can prototype innovative products, services, business models and methods of delivery with support around how our regulation interacts with their ideas.”
What this means in practice is that law firms will be encouraged to approach the SRA with their ideas to see if the body, which will shortly revise its unwieldy and outdated handbook, can help facilitate and regulate it. The SRA in October launched SRA Innovate, which is dedicated to helping providers of legal services to develop their businesses in new ways. The soft launch of SRA Innovate was followed in November by a report, ‘Innovation and growth in legal services’, designed to encourage law firms to work differently and break down the barriers to innovation.
Passmore said: “SRA Innovate is saying to firms ‘tell us what you want to do and we will work out how to regulate it.” The SRA has also set up a virtual reference group to help it develop its thinking.
SRA Innovate will be formally launched at a conference on 22 March.
The launch comes as the SRA this summer opens a consultation on the amendment of its highly prescriptive handbook, with the aim of cutting it to 50 pages and seeing it become more outcome focussed. Conversations held within the ‘innovation space’ are expected to help shape these amendments. A new version of the handbook is expected to be published in the second half of 2017.
Passmore, who joined the SRA in 2013 from the Legal Services Board, where he was strategy director, said: “We will write the rules around what you need to achieve rather than the steps you need to take to achieve it. It will be more flexible so that when firms do something different they shouldn’t have to come and ask permission.”
A full interview with Crispin Passmore will be published in the next issue of Legal IT Insider
Also in the IT Innovation report:
Safe Harbour
“It is important to comply with the Data Protection Act when storing personal data, for instance when using cloud computing. As we discussed in our 2013 Silver Linings paper on cloud computing, firms based in the EU have previously been able to store data with US companies because of the Safe Harbour agreement. This agreement has been important
since US data protection rules are not otherwise equivalent to those in the EU. In 2015, the European Court of Justice declared the Safe Harbour decision to be invalid. The implication of this finding is that European businesses cannot rely on the Safe Harbour when sending information to the US. The long-term position remains unclear. At the time of writing, it appears that the major cloud providers are putting systems in place to enable European customers to store data with them. Firms should remain aware of this developing
area of law and take advice if necessary when considering information systems that would require the use of US data storage.” Note, there is no mention of the EU-US Privacy Shield, which replaced Safe Harbour in February.
Case Study
Tailoring case management systems to encourage use
“We identified two barriers to running efficient legal processes. One was the complexity of cases dealt with by large law firms, where it can become very difficult to ensure that all individuals are aware of how their work fits in or to control the costs.
“The other was that our customers felt that standard case management software was hard to learn and operate, particularly compared to the apps they voluntarily use in their personal lives.
“As a result, we are introducing a new system intended to streamline communication and improve performance while providing a simple, inviting and intuitive interface like consumer apps offer. We believe this will help make law firms work more effectively by making it easier and more rewarding for staff to use the systems.”
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