When we think of technology in the legal profession, we tend to focus on electronic discovery and its potential to save time and reduce costs by sorting through and filtering out massive amounts of data, particularly before it undergoes the labor-intensive and expensive phase of document review. Often overlooked, however, are other, lesser-known technologies that make the substantive work lawyers do every day easier, more efficient and more productive.
Among these “other” technologies are cloud-based legal workspaces designed to facilitate collaborative and cooperative work in litigation. These workspaces are now being accessed by legal teams, their clients, outside counsel, consultants and expert witnesses—and in some cases, even opposing counsel and the judge during the course of a hearing or a trial.
In addition to being highly skilled work that takes years of education and hands-on experience to do well, “lawyering” in today’s legal environment is intensely collaborative. Most cases require teams of legal professionals working together closely to assess the strengths and weaknesses of a client’s position, identify and analyze key evidence, perform research, annotate and organize materials into binders, and develop compelling arguments and a coherent legal strategy. To further complicate matters, many legal teams are widely dispersed geographically. Effective collaboration requires legal team members to have convenient access to the same files of evidence and work product. These teams must also be able to have real-time discussions to share insights and move their work forward efficiently.
Why the Cloud?
The cloud component of this technology is essential to its potential as a game-changer in the legal profession. A virtual legal workspace can be accessed by authorized users who log in from a web browser to a simple, intuitive dashboard. It doesn’t matter where users are located, what time of day or night it is, or which Internet-connected device they are using. The cloud model also keeps costs down, because firms and legal departments are not required to purchase, install or upgrade software on local machines, and fees are generally directly related to the actual usage and data volume required by the matter at hand.
Scalability is another key advantage of the cloud. There are virtually no limits on the size or complexity of a case. Unusually large cases, cases with huge influxes of new data or even multi-matter litigation can be accommodated immediately and easily, without the worries of crashing a local network, purchasing and deploying additional servers, or hiring additional IT staff.
Because these workspaces operate within a private cloud environment, they are also highly secure—much more so than popular file-sharing services like DropBox and Google Drive, which are tailored to a less-demanding consumer audience and lack litigation-specific tools and features. A cloud-based workspace containing the key documents and files pertaining to a case can be segregated into different “layers” of content to ensure specified files are accessible only to appropriate classes of authorized users.
Moving Beyond the Paper Shuffle
Cloud-based legal workspaces can go a long way toward solving the many logistical barriers to effective collaboration. They accommodate multiple electronic formats, including text, audio recordings, images and video, so legal team members no longer need to move back and forth between various computer programs to pull up what they need.
Documents, transcripts, pleadings, exhibits, sealed orders, declarations, testimony—all of these and more are accessed, marked up, annotated and discussed within the workspace. Long, complex email threads among team members with large attachments of multiple versions of documents are unnecessary. Document printing, photocopying, “sticky note” annotations and hard-copy binders can be virtually eliminated. Material is organized in customized virtual binders by issue, witness, date or any other category, and live hyperlinks can easily be created between passages or documents to integrate key content—a very powerful feature for lawyers preparing for depositions or trial.
Legal workspaces in the cloud are beginning to transform the nature of legal work in the 21st century. Because they make it so easy and fast to organize large amounts of electronic materials and thoughts in a way that is easily viewed and understood by even the most technology-phobic audience, cloud workspaces also have enormous potential to make the ideal of a paperless trial a reality, with opposing counsel, their clients, judges and witnesses able to view what they need to without the paper shuffle.