High-tech ways of working due to the pandemic are here to stay for the Scottish legal sector

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Given the good level of transaction activity and the optimism felt by many lawyers about the relative speed at which transactions resumed in the second half of 2020, now is the time to look ahead to see what. can be done differently to effectively deal with a range of challenges.

One of the major trends over the next 12 months is expected to be the increased use of new technologies by lawyers and their clients. Even before the pandemic, technology, including AI, was becoming a higher priority for lawyers, and this was intensified by the need to communicate virtually.

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The legal industry, which can be traditional in its approach, is increasingly realizing that it must embrace technology for its own benefit and that of its clients. And with cybercrime becoming an even greater threat to businesses and all organizations following high-profile incidents such as the cyberattack on the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa), businesses know they need to put in place systems that will protect themselves and their customers.

Peter Lawson, President of Burness Paull, says: “The legal market is changing rapidly due to the impact of technology. We have already benefited as a company from this change with the early adoption of new software solutions and process change, and we will continue to innovate for the benefit of our customers and employees.

Andrew Chalmers, Managing Partner at Davidson Chalmers Stewart agrees that there is a huge opportunity to capitalize on the innovations developed through working from home to maximize efficiency, both internally and in terms of customer service.

And Murray McCall, Managing Partner at Anderson Strathern, said, “We live in an age of technological change so rapidly that we need to be sure that we are delivering our services in the way our customers want them to be.

He refers to an app recently launched by his firm that allows clients to share the information needed to get work started on their will or power of attorney, even on the go and outside of office hours. He adds: “There are so many technologies to choose from, but the real opportunity and the real benefit is finding the right technology for your customers that will give them real tangible benefits, whether in terms of efficiency or reduction. costs. “

According to Barry McCaig, partner and Glasgow office manager at Pinsent Masons, a major consolidation of law firms has been achieved and the profession’s next big challenge is how it responds to technologies, such as AI, to increase efficiency.

His feeling is that larger clients want better, simpler, and easier relationships with law firms and lighter, more responsive panels. He says adopting new technologies and introducing innovative working practices to adapt to changing market conditions are powerful differentiators for winning new business.

Steve Dalgleish, chief technology officer at Shepherd and Wedderburn, says law firms have been stepping up the defenses around their digital assets of late. Heavy investments have been made in security tool suites covering “old favorites” like antivirus and malware, as well as newer concepts covering abnormal behavior detection and email security.

He adds that as more services migrate to the cloud, increasing resources are spent on validating third party risk (vendors) and fourth party risk (vendors). This means that it is vital that all communications are verified.

Other areas affected by the changes during Covid-19 are work practices and the importance of health and wellness. Some changes made out of necessity are expected to be here to stay.

Claire Armstrong, Managing Partner of Dentons in Scotland, said: “Supporting and nurturing the talent we retain at the company has been vitally important, but also the most difficult aspect of working remotely during the pandemic.

“Customer requests have increased, so it was essential to check with the team, especially the more junior colleagues, to understand where people may need help and support. We all had to adapt to a new way of working and some found it more difficult than others.

She adds that her company has invested more time in encouraging an open conversation about issues, from the mental health impact of the pandemic to struggles with menopause, and other more personal issues. “

Allan Wernham, Managing Director of CMS (Scotland), said: “As we see some industries returning to near-normal operation, return to work management will provide many companies with the opportunity to embrace new models that can improve efficiency and employee retention. levels. “

And the fallout from the pandemic is not expected to go away overnight, especially as governments tighten the purse strings in an attempt to recoup some of the spending during worst times.

Euan McSherry, partner at Aberdein Considine, said: “The leave program ended in September, but many government protections for companies remain, such as the extension of the irritation period in commercial leases until the 30th. March 2021.

“We are seeing a slight increase in liquidations and corporate-led administrations, but any significant increase in insolvency and restructuring activity will likely depend largely on how the government treats repayment of Covid loans. “

Lawson says, “We have been very fortunate not to have seen dramatic declines in activity levels in one specific area.

“One sector that has been hit harder than others is commercial real estate, primarily due to the impact the pandemic has had on office and retail space. This slowed down some developments and transactions initially, but the market is adjusting and coming back with the return to the office.

“We have seen clients in certain sectors directly affected by Brexit and we are supporting them in their challenges of adapting to the new regulatory landscape.

“However, as a company, we have not seen any reduction in international deal flows following Brexit so far – quite the contrary. There is still a strong appetite for cross-border transactions in our markets. . We are optimistic that this will continue to be the case. “

Others share this positive outlook, but point to the lingering shadow of Covid-19 and Brexit. Chalmers says, “As the economy continues to open up and more companies find their feet, I expect a further increase in transactional activity due to pent-up demand and volume of business. money flowing into the market looking for a decent return. .

“We do, however, have a number of major challenges ahead, all of which threaten the current economic rebound – labor shortages, rising material costs and rising fuel prices will create a lot of uncertainty and put a strain on the economy. potentially a major brake on the recovery. “

The other big topic that is expected to dominate this year and beyond is climate change, especially with the COP26 being held in Glasgow.

Wernham says: “In the wake of COP26, there will be significant opportunities to support customers as the UK accelerates the transition to net zero carbon emissions.

“While we will continue to help businesses take a leading role in this ambition, they cannot be expected to bear the full burden on their own – governments and, most importantly, individuals will need to step up. if we want to create a lasting legacy.

This article first appeared in The Scotsman’s Legal Review 2021


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