Gowlings aims to take more paper out of legal process

One of the nation’s largest law firms has built an infrastructure to speed the process of transforming paper files into electronic information and help lawyers manage data more effectively.

Toronto-based Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP

(Gowlings) is rolling out a set of e-litigation services across its offices — a process that should be completed early in the new year. The system, eLS, should cut back on the amount of paper documentation required to litigate a case.

One element of eLS is “”e-discovery.”” The discovery process in the Canadian legal system requires the presentation of all relevant legal documentation. The volume of documents brought to bear can be overwhelming, said Alan Butcher, commercial litigation lawyer and partner at Gowlings and the person that is spearheading the project for the firm.

“”Obviously, from a judge’s point of view, if you’re looking at 26 volumes of documents for your trial, you’d much rather have a CD-ROM in your laptop to take home,”” said Butcher.

The move from paper to electronic documentation has been under way in Canada for some time, according to Alan Gahtan, principal of the Gahtan Law Office in Toronto.

“”It’s something that law firms have been doing for at least the last 10 years where it’s appropriate. There are certain cases where you have a lot of documents and it becomes cost-effective to handle the whole discovery process electronically,”” he said.

The transition has been slow, though, said Butcher. Some parts of the Canadian legal system are more forward-looking than others. For example, the Alberta Court of Appeal requires all appeals be filed as PDF documents to cut back on the volume of paper, he said.

Where eLS will make itself useful is not only the creation of electronic documentation, but as a presentation tool in the courtroom and a management tool that the lawyers can use to store, file and exchange information.

“”One of the services we’re focusing on with the eLS is the ability to cull, review (and) process that data and use the most advanced tools that we can bring to bear,”” said Butcher.

The system will be intuitive to use and support will be available as needed for all users across the country. Lawyers don’t have a lot of time for in-depth training, he said.

“”If they do go to the training sessions, they’ve forgotten about it three months later when the case comes up. Having constant structural support there is what is necessary to get over that hurdle.””

By deploying the system uniformly, clients will receive the same level of service at every Gowlings office, he added.

“”It’s no longer an added an added bonus that you may find a lawyer who’s technologically talented,”” said Butcher. “”We want to make sure that all of our clients have access to these tools through this service we developed to work in tandem with our lawyers.””

Clients will have secure access to files through an eLS extranet.

There is the possibility that eLS could be deployed outside Gowlings. Other law firms could benefit from the technology, said Butcher, but it could raise some conflict of interest issues. Gowlings could be looking at lawyers from those firms from across the other side of the court room. More likely, he said, Gowlings could sell it to clients so they can use it internally for their own purposes and also to exchange data with Gowlings more readily.

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