A recent report on legal technology in the 21st century highlights two fundamental, closely related trends expected to have the biggest impact on business and the legal profession over the next decade: the rapid mobilization of people and data, and the increasing globalization of business activity. Ubiquitous mobility has begun to erase the traditional geographic and jurisdictional barriers to business and make possible a truly global marketplace. Accordingly, it is now commonplace for large corporations to conduct business across borders and find themselves engaged in multi-jurisdictional or parallel litigation.
In response to these new realities, more U.S. law firms are opening offices in other countries or forming intercontinental mergers to be in a stronger position to attract and retain clients. These firms recognize that even domestic cases sometimes have an international component, requiring witnesses to be deposed or evidence to be obtained abroad, or the expertise of co-counsel or lawyers within the firm who work from other countries.
Logistical Barriers to Cross-Border Litigation
An obvious complication in cross-border cases stems from differences in legal systems: judges may play a slightly different role in different jurisdictions, precedent may be less central to proceedings, privacy laws may be more stringent, and unfamiliar procedural rules for things like depositions and service notification may require the assistance of local counsel. But cross-border litigation also presents legal departments and law firms with myriad practical and logistical challenges related to communication and project management. Legal teams are often widely dispersed geographically. Language and cultural differences, different time zones, local customs and even local mail service all play a role in making legal collaboration more complicated.
Between paying for attorneys to travel for depositions and having to ship hard copies of exhibits and key documents to recipients in different countries, costs can add up quickly. Email is a big help, but when you start emailing large attachments of sensitive materials with annotations and commentary, it quickly becomes difficult to sort out complex email threads and maintain version control on documents that are being marked up by multiple team members simultaneously on their own computers.
Relying on email also increases security risks, as documents can get caught in spam filters or sent to the wrong recipients, or recipients may download sensitive data to personal devices or portable flash drives that are easily lost or stolen. Some legal teams turn to extranets or file sharing services like Dropbox and Box, but these services lack litigation-specific tools for analysis and collaboration, and they don’t allow for easy communication and exchange of insights in real time.
Worldwide Workspaces: Legal Collaboration in the Cloud
Lawyers in our global economy may work from a variety of locations, but they still need to collaborate closely with colleagues—as well as local counsel, legal experts and clients—in order to respond to each other’s comments and annotations, share insights, prepare for and manage depositions, and develop skeleton arguments in preparation for negotiations or trial. All of this typically proceeds in parallel to an iterative discovery process whereby new documents, as well as video and audio and other files, are being added to the mix every day. Printing, copying and distributing hard copies of key evidence and documentation is no longer viable, particularly with counsel and other important parties dispersed across the globe.
This is where cloud technology can make an enormous difference, particularly in cross-jurisdictional litigation. While many of us are now quite familiar with eDiscovery technology, legal collaboration platforms have received much less attention. Secure cloud-based legal workspaces are tailor-made to address the logistical and technological barriers to conducting cross-jurisdictional litigation efficiently and cost-effectively.
“Worldwide workspaces” make available all the essential records pertaining to a matter in a single location for designated users to access whenever and wherever it is convenient for them: key evidence, depositions, transcripts, pleadings, exhibits, sealed orders, translations and more, including audio and video. There are tools for markup and annotations, for discussing documents or strategies in real time, for creating hyperlinks between documents and passages, for viewing translations and originals of documents side-by-side, and for creating customized virtual binders of tagged content. This effectively removes email and file-sharing from the equation. Team members from across the globe can work with each other in the same workspace, with the same set of documents and at the same time simply by logging in from an Internet-connected device.
The “paper chase” no longer serves the needs of today’s globalized legal landscape. The legal complexities of cross-border litigation remain, but the practical and technological barriers to effective communication and meaningful collaboration are being successfully addressed with cloud-based workspaces.