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Digital legal departments paving the path for paperless business
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Digital legal departments paving the path for paperless business

Brad Newton

Traditionally, the legal sector has generally been viewed as resistant to change, unwilling to rise above outdated, costly and inefficient paper processes, writes Brad Newton.

In DocuSign's Digitise or Die: Australia’s Digital Expectations report, we’re witnessing a tipping point within the sector.

Law firms, lawyers and even legal departments within business have realised the true end cost of not matching technology to client demands, and are introducing electronic documents, contracts and records to replace their paper counterparts at rapid pace.

Legal departments are leading the paperless charge, implementing digital technology within their own operations, and clearing the path for other business departments to digitise.

Progressive lawyers are no longer willing to deal with reams of paper, printing lengthy contracts, posting out letters and wordy submissions, or faxing documents – all increasingly become things of an outdated past for businesses of every sector and size.

Legal more innovative than IT

In comparison to recent years when legal was perceived as the most rooted in the past and outdated processes – and therefore a challenging business department to deal with – we’re now seeing a shift towards legal being perceived as one of the most digitally innovative.

In a recent survey sponsored by DocuSign, results revealed that legal is one of the least likely business departments to halt or hold back plans for the adoption of digital tools.

Alarmingly, 46 per cent of senior decision makers surveyed called out the IT department for holding up their plans to digitise, and 36 per cent pointed the finger at the finance department with just 33 per cent citing legal as a barrier.

The whole legal sector is on board

A reason why legal departments are more adoptive of digital methods could be down to a flow on effect from the enthusiasm of the entire legal profession.

Today we’re seeing law firms such as Gadens and Colin Biggers & Paisley joining Property Exchange Australia Limited’s (PEXA) electronic conveyancing (e-conveyancing) platform, and completely digitising their property sale processes, saving their clients’ money in both paper and transportation costs. We’re also seeing Australian technology platforms such as Rundl integrating electronic signature technology for the exchange of contracts and signed documents.

Now more than ever, law firms are incorporating technology into their service propositions – from block chain and e-signatures to artificial intelligence, machine learning and data security. The fact that technology has significantly altered the business of law is undeniable.

Big wins and big risks

At the most basic level, digital systems see legal departments creating, saving and sharing documents electronically, which increases efficiency at a number of levels. But that’s not the only advantage paperless legal departments see.

Smart legal data repositories help legal teams increase security and compliance, improve cross-department collaboration, implement data governance, mitigate risk and provide more strategic counsel to their clients.

But it’s not just about the benefits. The risk of data loss due to disaster, loss of time and cost, and failure to protect sensitive data, should be motivation enough to digitise.

Digital means secure

Fifty-three per cent of Australians are no longer happy sending important documents by mail. There are two overriding reasons: people are either worried that their documents will be lost in transit, or that their sensitive data will be shared without their permission.

This tells us that people are increasingly seeing digital as more secure than hard copy. Given how important data security and privacy are for clients, law firms and lawyers have to listen to these concerns and provide customers with a more efficient, user-friendly service that they can trust.

Without this, organisations will find it very difficult to maintain and grow their client base.

Improved cloud technology and security, along with government regulation, are prompting many legal departments to prioritise paperless processes and jump on the paperless bandwagon. Businesses with digitally minded legal departments will be at a considerable advantage to their slow-moving competitors.

The message is clear. Businesses without innovative legal departments driving digital transformation are at risk of being left behind.

Brad Newton is the vice president of DocuSign ANZ.

 

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