I saw two reports recently of family courts using Skype technology to link judges to people in remote locations. These made me think again about how slow our legal system is in embracing modern methods of working.
Both cases involve family law issues and show an encouraging direction of travel. In the first, the court used Skype to contact the parents of a Nepalese child who was being adopted. The court was able to watch a solicitor on the ground go through the papers and see everything was signed correctly, as well as interviewing the parents directly. In the second example, a judge allowed a Skype link with a witness in Columbia after an additional “bridge” was used to improve security and deter hackers who might want to get into the court system.
At Woolley & Co, we have been routinely using Skype (other free video calling services are available!). It is a cost-effective way of connecting with clients and having “face to face” discussions when it is impossible to meet up. This is particularly useful when we are dealing with cross-border cases, an area in which we have significant experience. If the client is in a different country it is much more practical to use Skype than meet face to face, and much more engaging than just a normal call. You can have three-way calls also when necessary.
Indeed, one of our family law specialists works part of the time from Egypt and is able to continue to offer a high-quality service to clients back in the UK and around the world by making best use of the available technology.
This issue about technology is not a new one. I have been talking about this for ages. The points remain valid though and courts are still very slow to adopt. Surely we are the only business sector that does not routinely rely on email?
When I founded Woolley & Co, Solicitors in 1996, it was partly out of frustration at working in an outdated sector and I implemented a new business model, with widespread use of emailing documents, for instance, something which is more commonplace now but was seen as revolutionary at the time. It saves time and money for all concerned. Its use in family law cases, including divorce, should be widespread rather than being the exception worth reporting in industry newsletters.
A start would simply be for law firms and courts to routinely accept email. This is such a simple step that would make such a difference. I find it staggering that some firms will not do this. You have to suspect that in some cases it is a strategic to slow down a case. This option could be removed by making email exchange of documents the norm.
Allied to this, put systems in place so that court documents can be securely submitted online and allow online payments of court fees. You can pay for bits for your boiler online, you can pay for your holiday, you can pay your TV licence and your tax bill – but you cannot pay court fees online. It makes no sense. While the cost of implementing such a system would not be small, the time it could save both courts and clients in the longer terms would pay for it a hundred times over.