Ailie McGowan: Digitalised civil court system is an achievable objective

Ailie McGowan is a litigation lawyer for Shoosmiths in Edinburgh and specialises in commercial litigation and debt recovery claims. Working closely with partners Andrew Foyle and Stuart Clubb, she frequently deals with actions in the Sheriff Court and Court of Session.
Ailie McGowan is a litigation lawyer for Shoosmiths in Edinburgh and specialises in commercial litigation and debt recovery claims. Working closely with partners Andrew Foyle and Stuart Clubb, she frequently deals with actions in the Sheriff Court and Court of Session.
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While many industries have embraced advances in technology, some in the legal profession will be unsurprised that their own sector has traditionally been slower to adopt new technology platforms. Yet there is evidence of a shift in intent as over the past few years both legal firms and the Scottish Courts have sought to embrace the efficiencies that technology affords.

Indeed, the Scottish Courts have adopted an online platform for ‘simple procedure cases’ and now provide a facility for lodging documents electronically in commercial actions in the Court of Session. In Scotland, the technology being implemented by legal firms include tools to review contracts and to assist in managing workloads.

Nevertheless, I would suggest that there remains a seismic gap between the available technological tools at the disposal of lawyers and those being actively used by legal firms and the Scottish Courts.

Lord Carloway in his recent annual address at the opening of the new legal year, commented: “Online cannot be viewed as an option or alternative to the courts system; it is the future of the court system.”

My own firm increasingly utilises a number of digital tools and this reflects its innovative, client-centric focus. We use digital tools in our internal practices to increase efficiency and with our clients to increase visibility of the progress of their legal issues. Our cloud-based software application Matters+ is designed to assist the in-house lawyers who we work with to be able to view their performance and value of their team. We are also actively exploring the use of AI in our contract-reviewing service, Spotlight – the AI-assisted version is due for launch next year.

As it happens, Immediation, a legal-tech start up in Australia very recently launched what it refers to as the ‘world’s first’ online dispute resolution platform. According to the business, it aims to give lawyers, general counsel and clients direct access to fixed fee expedited mediated outcomes within 30 days.

However, there’s a sticking point. Its launch comes at a time when there is still no court system in the world that adopts a fully online civil dispute resolution system. Is there now an opportunity for the Scottish Courts to buy into the tech revolution and by implementing the first fully online civil court system, position themselves as a leader in resolving civil disputes in a user friendly and economical manner?

However, to be an early adopter of such a tech driven approach the Scottish Courts would not just have to act fast but also ensure that both the traditionally risk-averse legal profession and all civil court users have faith in cutting edge tech systems.

From a tech development perspective, the Scottish Courts could look to other industries for inspiration. In a recent report by PwC, almost eight out of ten financial services firms stated that they expect to be striking more partnerships with fintech firms over the next three to five years as they seek to bolster their offerings and defend against the threat of new competition.

By striking partnerships with legal-tech firms, the Scottish Courts and legal profession could put itself at the forefront of legal technological innovation and provide a fully functioning digitalised civil court system.

In the words of Bill Gates: “Software innovation, like almost every other kind of innovation, requires the ability to collaborate and share ideas with other people.”

Surely it’s time for the Scottish Courts and our wider profession to fully embrace all of the benefits that the digital age affords!

Ailie McGowan is a litigation lawyer for Shoosmiths in Edinburgh