What do a family law barrister in Bristol, a law lecturer in Cardiff and a legal publisher in London have in common?

The answer is that Lucy Reed, Julie Doughty and I are collaborators – both as members and trustees of the Transparency Project and, more recently, as co-authors of a book, Transparency in the Family Courts: Publicity and Privacy in Practice (Bloomsbury Professional).

Collaborating via the internet isn’t particularly new. But with the modernisation of the courts and the development of increasingly virtual ways of conducting litigation, lawyers are becoming more and more accustomed to the idea of working remotely, not only from their colleagues in different offices or at home, but also from clients and, increasingly, the courts themselves. This article looks at some of the web-based apps that can help.

With our lives increasingly documented online – whether this takes the form of professional personas on LinkedIn, personal updates on Facebook, political views on Twitter, selfies on Instagram or damning reviews on forums – it has become virtually impossible to forget our past. Younger generations are sometimes publishing (either purposefully or inadvertently) their every thought, picture or video for the internet to archive in perpetuity.

Although users of social media and cloud storage services may think they are in control of their data, anything which becomes publicly visible is often quickly indexed by search robots. Once any content has been ranked on Google (or other search engines), it is often difficult to later remove this content from search results. Even if a social media account is later deleted, copies of any posted content may be stored by archive engines, making the removal process even more complicated.

This situation has led to much debate over the so-called “right to be forgotten” with ensuing case law and legislation attempting to grapple with the issue.

Changing your legal software supplier has always been difficult and on occasions, acrimonious. Each software system will have different ways of setting up clients, names and addresses and other characteristics, entering financial information, managing the handling of cases (with different case management systems), managing the security of the data, restructuring management reports, how long to keep “old” data, stylistic matters in all reports … and so on.

This has always involved major efforts from the law firm in the preparation of data ready for transfer, and from both the original software company and from the target software company. Each side has to “understand” the other side of the operation and convert or structure the data accordingly. It has been, and still can be, not only a difficult operation but an expensive one. It is certainly a good idea to make absolutely sure that your existing supplier cannot provide what you want, before embarking on the process of changing supplier!

Back in November 2012, I described in the Newsletter how, since ebooks had hit the big time, the law publishers had enthusiastically responded. Where are we now?

In terms of the general picture, ebook sales have recently plateaued, though reports of its demise are premature. According to Simon Rowberry, writing in The Bookseller: “On the surface, the narrative of the ebook’s demise may appeal to bibliophiles who cherish print – but the reality behind ebooks’ recent plateau is more complex”.

Most types of primary legislation (eg Acts, Measures, NI Orders in Council) on legislation.gov.uk are intended to be held in “revised” form, meaning that amendments made by subsequent legislation are incorporated into the text. Most types of secondary legislation are not revised and are held only in the form in which they were originally made.

A central criticism of legislation.gov.uk in the past has been that much primary legislation is not in fact up to date, in some cases lagging several years behind amending instruments. However, recent efforts have turned this situation around.

Legislation.gov.uk is now in the final stages of a programme to bring all the revised legislation fully up to date. Except for a few special cases that require extra work (such as the Taxes Management Act 1970), the backlog of outstanding effects will have been cleared and the revised legislation brought up to date by the end of 2018.

“Big Brother is Watching You” ― George Orwell, 1984

Although he wrote his dystopian masterpiece even before ARPANET was a twinkle in the eye of the US Department of Defense, Orwell described the essence of a society in which words, actions and even thoughts are constantly monitored. In 2018, the society he described is no longer fiction: GPS and smartphone apps track our location, Alexa sits in our homes listening to our private conversations, Google knows what we are thinking sometimes even before we do, and we feed Facebook a constant stream of personal data to enable advertisers to sell us stuff we don’t need or persuade us to vote a certain way.

Data is the new oil and most businesses now obsessively gather information on their customers, employees, website visitors and anyone else they come into contact with. Some of this Big Data is useful – either to the business or their users – but much of it is simply collected and stored (this is known as Dark Data). But although the EU has attempted to safeguard the privacy rights of its citizens with the GDPR, and privacy campaigners such as Max Schrems have made inroads to challenging the collection of data by Silicon Valley, the vast majority of people still willingly (or unknowingly) trade their personal data in exchange for a multitude of internet services.

Although much of this raw data is valuable in its own right, organisations which can find the links between different data silos, and effectively see how an individual navigates the internet and conducts their life, ends up with refined – and far more valuable – data. The way to link all the pieces of individual data and create a data trail is through the use of tracking.

Open law is the idea that public legal information should be freely available to everyone to access, use and republish. The current position in the UK differs completely as between legislation and case law.

This article first appeared in Legal Web Watch December 2017. Legal Web Watch is a free email service which complements the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers. To receive Legal Web Watch regularly sign up here.

Two recent reports consider in some detail the application of technology in delivering legal advice and assistance, viewed through different prisms. Both are, I think, essential reading if you are at all interested in legal tech as we are in danger of being swept away by the hype surrounding leading edge AI and blockchain developments at the top end of the market.

This article first appeared in Legal Web Watch June 2018. Legal Web Watch is a free email service which complements the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers. To receive Legal Web Watch regularly sign up here.

The following items have been selected from Delia Venables’ “New” page.

Times are changing. The way we create, share and consume information has evolved rapidly and so to has the way we work. Now, more than ever, not only is it possible, but it is vitally important that a firm has remote access to its data from a multitude of devices.

Why do we need remote access?

If you are only able to work from the office, you are putting unnecessary restrictions on yourself and your business. You may remember ‘The Beast from the East’, where this became a reality for many as roads became impassable, trains were severely delayed, and schools closed meaning parents had to stay at home.

Wouldn’t it be perfect if, despite not being able to come to work, they could still work anyway? Well now they can. With browser-based software, such as DPS Spitfire, all they would need to do is log in online and get to work. It really is that simple.

At Quill, we’ve recently launched an outsourced typing service, called Quill Type, in association with Law Society-accredited Document Direct. Here’s why the new addition to our outsourcing portfolio has come about…

Outsourced typing services are gaining traction in legal circles as law firms alleviate the unmanageable demands upon their limited internal typing resources.

You see, it’s the very nature of law that means practices generate lots of paperwork. Each legal matter requires a series of correspondence and documentation between solicitor, client, barrister and court. Other organisations are often involved too, for example HM Revenue & Customs, Land Registry and estate agents in residential conveyancing cases. These third parties necessitate interaction, mostly via written methods.

In an earlier contribution to the Newsletter I made the point that the partly hidden “A” as in Online Alternative Dispute Resolution, which tended to focus ODR’s perceived remit on out of court solutions such as mediation and arbitration, was beginning to disappear altogether as more focus was made on introducing ODR into the justice system itself. How is that progressing?