MOVING AWAY FROM PAPER-BASED PROCESSES TOWARDS TECHNOLOGY-BASED SOLUTIONS
History suggests that there is always a point in time where an event suddenly changes the way industries operate, from the Gutenberg Printing Press in the 1400’s to the Industrial Revolution in 1700’s. The year 2020 will go down as one of those years where society has had to undergo a drastic adaptation in order to keep up with the changes that are taking place. While these changes are taking place in most industries, the legal sector has been especially impacted.
Nevertheless, if there was any sector that needed the “push” to adapt to the changes offered by modern technology, it would be the legal sector. The current state of the judicial system is such that if one had to travel back to a time where emails and the internet were non-existent, one would find that nothing much has changed. The reliance on paper-based documents is almost, in a sense, archaic. This is particularly due to the fact that its use, especially in the South African legal industry, poses an administrative nightmare. A legal professional has to go through the process of opening a file, printing, going to court to have documents issued, make copies, and then physically serve them. Then there is also the risk that a court file may go missing, and one would have to go through the entire administrative process of opening a duplicate. In its current state, the judicial system operates almost as if technology does not exist.
The efficiency of technology cannot be overemphasised. Imagine a platform where documents can be submitted, issued and served without having to leave the office, or having a “cloud-based” solution where documents can be accessed by the parties to the matter, including judges, during court proceedings. This would not only speed up court processes, but also ease the burden currently facing the judiciary with regards to its backlog of cases.
While placing more reliance on technology may pose other risks, such as cybersecurity risks, the trade off with the current administrative system in place would make the decision a no-brainer. This is especially the case when one takes into the account the fact that documents already go missing in any case. The process of addressing cybersecurity risks can be made simpler by employing strict measures in order to mitigate the chances of data breaches (something already required of law firms in any case).
Even though we we have seen a slight adaptation to the way court processes are being carried out, for example, the conducting of matters via video-conference, as well as the use of platforms such as CaseLines, we are still a long way off in terms of moving away from the paper-based system. Despite the current chaos facing the legal industry with its having been rendered nearly fully incapacitated because of the Covid-19 pandemic, there is no better time than now to start making the necessary changes and adapt to modern times.