Larry Fenelon participates in the IR Global Disputes Virtual Series – Technology & Disputes: The impact of new technology on litigation and dispute resolution

Larry FenelonPartner, Leman Solicitors

Foreward by Andrew Chilvers

For the legal sector, COVID-19 has been a huge catalyst for change globally. Overnight, almost all legal advisors decamped en masse from their expensive mid-town and city offices to their homes to work. Personal meetings suddenly disappeared to be replaced by virtual meetings on Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

As the UK went into Lockdown only 2% of lawyers admitted they worked from home, according to a recent survey by RollOnFriday. com. Those attitudes have now changed radically as countries and territories around the world have gone into Lockdown and the vast majority of people have become home workers. Now almost 75% of legal advisors admit they would happily work from home three days a week and – amazingly – only 7% said they wanted to return to the office full time.

Above all, working remotely may have broken the longstanding links between office and work. Some 44% of respondents said in the long term they only wanted to return to the office for two days a week at the most. Many lawyers also believe working from home is good for their work /life balance. Elsewhere, many have said working remotely significantly improves efficiency, with less commuting time and disturbances around the office. In this virtual series legal members of IR Global gave a fascinating insight into this new world of working and how each jurisdiction has been handling their operations during Lockdown and the post-COVID-19 period.

What steps are you taking to adapt your services to the new remote working environment?

We are Ireland’s first paperless office and have been for many years so we were well placed to adapt to a remote working environment. We were fortunate to have a seamless adaptation to a remote working environment as a consequence. Prior to the lockdown every team member received a home office package of hardware. Since lockdown MS Teams calls has become the mode of communication within teams, pretty much on a daily basis. Our marketing happens through social media such as Linked In, Twitter, Passle, Biteable videos and webinars. Client meetings take place via Zoom or MS Teams or in person.

Virtual commissioning – are we there yet?

Virtual commissioning will become a reality in Ireland shortly. As matters stand no affidavits can be sworn remotely in Ireland. However, under new legislation, section.21 of the Civil Law and Criminal Law (Miscellaneous Provisions Act) 2020 introduces a ‘Statement of Truth’ which will replace affidavits and statutory declarations which require an independent solicitor to counter sign. The Statement of Truth when introduced under new Court Rules, due in months, will allow for the document to be signed digitally and without the necessity of a counter signature from an independent solicitor.

Witnessing an e-signature in Ireland is satisfied when a witness is physically present when the signatory applies their electronic signature and the witness then applies their electronic signature underneath as witness.

What is happening regarding online dispute resolution in your jurisdiction?

The Courts Service of Ireland have introduced remote or virtual hearings for procedural applications and appeals in the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court, where a re-hearing of witness evidence does not occur. The video conferencing technology used by the Courts Service is Pexip VMR (virtual meeting room). Participants are provided with log in details in advance. The Judges and Registrars may be in a Court room or attend remotely. Communications with the Courts Service is almost exclusively electronic and Court Orders and Judgments are now delivered digitally. The upside is that there is no need to waste time traveling to Court and wait in a Court room for your case to be called, so there is a significant time saving by logging in to the Court at a designated time. There is little or no online mediation being provided for the resolution of commercial disputes.

Regarding the rise of technology, how much do you understand about blockchain for your clients?

We host an annual legal technology conference called the ‘Future of Law’. In 2018 the event concentrated on Blockchain and how it could practically apply to the legal industry. It could certainly have application in the provenance of legal title in property transactions, however this requires a digital conveyancing platform overseen by the Property Registration Authority. Blockchain as a source of immutable evidence as a proof in Courts is a very attractive prospect for litigators. Ireland is positioning itself as a Blockchain development centre of excellence with many Blockchain companies operating out of Dublin. Blockchain is being adopted across public and private organisations, in supply chain and as part of technology infrastructure.

The Government and several Irish-based companies have also combined to establish Blockchain Ireland, an initiative led by IDA Ireland’s Blockchain Expert Group, aimed at helping to promote and share information on Blockchain in Ireland.

Blockchain Ireland Week took place in May of this year, and Leman Solicitors hosted one of the events ‘Blockchain for Lawyers’ in their offices. The focus was on the impact of Blockchain on legal processes, such as smart contracts, and the tokenisation of property.