Maximising the use of technology

June 15, 2020

By Bill Braithwaite QC

Everyone says that the new ways of working during this virus outbreak will change the future of work, but I wonder whether we might find that, unless we’re really determined, we will just revert to where we were? I’m very keen, both personally and for Chambers, that we should explore all sorts of new opportunities, which will involve maximising the technology that we use, and finding out what works best, for us and for others.

A good example has been the different video conferencing platforms available. We’ve had Starleaf in Chambers for some years, and it works ok for video conferencing between our city offices, but it seems to have fallen by the wayside when confronted by Microsoft Teams and Zoom. The same can be said, I think, about Skype for Business, which I understand has now been taken over by Teams, but which is, or was, the courts’ preferred option – because it’s what they’ve got access to, no doubt. Even Teams seems to have given way to Zoom, partly because of the number of users you can get on screen together – it seems to be 25 on Zoom, with more on a second page, and until recently was only four on Teams (now nine?).

At the moment, I assume that most people are simply using their laptops for video conferencing, but I suspect that we will discover a big difference between that and a more bespoke package of second screen, second computer, special camera, good headphones and microphone, and, possibly, a second broadband line as backup. Advocacy, both in court and privately with clients, may now necessitate good front line technology, so that you can be seen and heard clearly and easily, and the impression is as good as it can be.

Of course, for those who work with large volumes of papers, the time has now come when paperless working is a must (at long last! I’ve been wanting people to embrace if for over ten years). Transferring files, even large ones, is easy, if you use the right tech, and managing the papers is far easier digitally than it is with hard copies. Also, of course, when we are at home we can pick up whatever paperwork is necessary, at any time.

Managing huge bundles of papers needs a little expertise, but it is easily acquired. Adobe seems to be the common system, but there are several others. The essential thing, in my opinion, is to find software that will do what you want it to do, as distinct from what it wants to do, and thinks you should do. I can do everything that I used to do with hard copies, by way of highlighting, mark-up, moving, copying, indexing, hyperlinking and so on, and more besides; for example, the ability to search thousands of pages of papers for a particular word can be game-changing.

Training, both in-house and externally for solicitors, has always been an important part of our job, but is now so much easier and more accessible. I arranged something recently at short notice (two weeks) for 30 plus solicitors, and there was no expense involved; no hotel hire, catering or travel.

Perhaps the single most important opportunity for us as Chambers is to re-examine all aspects of our work and, crucially, the service we offer to solicitors, clients and the wider world. We’re hoping that those we work with will be able to help us to create improved systems, for the benefit of all concerned.