A perfect storm to propel the legal industry into a new age

 A perfect storm to propel the legal industry into a new age
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By Bjorn Biel M. Beltran, Special Features Writer

Disruption has been the name of the game in the past decade, with the emerging technologies heralding the arrival of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. All of it has culminated in the past two years when the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the world past a tipping point, when digital technology became so ingrained into daily life past a point of no return.

The legal industry is no exception. Mark S. Gorriceta, managing partner at Gorriceta Africa Cauton & Saavedra, said in an e-mail to BusinessWorld, that the rapidly evolving landscape has had a significant effect on how the legal business is done.

“For the past two years, we have seen the increase in demand to embrace digital transformation. We have seen innovative and rapid-changing solutions; new technologies that accelerated during the pandemic. With the unprecedented change in technology and the country’s rapid shift to digital economy, the legal industry also had to embrace and adopt new digital protocols,” he said.

Mr. Gorriceta noted that such conditions were the “perfect storm” to propel industries like media and telecommunications, as well as banking and financial services into the spotlight, as such industries remain integral to the country’s pandemic response.

Brick-and-mortar businesses, which massively felt the pandemic’s economic impact, were buoyed up by digital channels that enabled economic transactions as part of the Philippines’ rising digital economy. Mr. Gorriceta said that such digital infrastructure also allowed government services and regulators to provide continuity in essential services and allow “our social and economic lives in general to remain interconnected notwithstanding prolonged physical and social restrictions.”

Mr. Gorriceta further noted that the legal industry also faced the regulatory and compliance demands of these sectors.

“In this regard, the legal industry, together with the regulators, have brought the necessary legal and regulatory framework to allow these industries to germinate and boom,” he said.

“There has been an unprecedented pressure on the legal industry to create better and more efficient systems in order to keep up with the demands of its clientele. Like any other industry, work-from-home and/or hybrid working arrangements have become the norm during the height of the pandemic, which allowed continuous legal services to be rendered,” Mr. Gorriceta added.

Atty. Manolito A. Manalo, managing partner at the Ocampo & Manalo Law Firm (OMLAW), echoed the sentiment, saying that there was an increase in the use of digital technology to enhance legal services.

“Increased dependence on digital communication between lawyer and client as well as among team members especially during the period of lockdowns, allowed [OMLAW] to retain efficiency by using and improving on available resources to understand and meet clients’ needs,” he said.

One instance of these sweeping changes to the legal industry is the rise in compliance, monitoring, and enforcement of data privacy laws. Mr. Gorriceta noted that the National Privacy Commission’s mandate to protect data privacy rights of Filipinos and Philippine residents became imperative amidst the exponential increase in data collection and processing activities during the pandemic.

Mr. Manalo pointed out that, as the pandemic further challenged all industries across the world, more businesses have been seeking legal aid for guidance in navigating the changing landscape.

“The increased work resulting from clients and business who were negatively affected by the pandemic as well as those who operated in a ‘business as usual’ perspective were aided by the utilization of digital communication technology already in place and long entrenched in our firm’s culture,” he said.

Furthermore, Mr. Manalo said that his firm continues to strengthen their digital communications technological requirements and ensured that updated rules and laws under the ‘new normal’ are available for reference and dissemination to clients for application.

Mr. Gorriceta, for hist part, said that their firm is assisting their clients to shift to purely digital or digitized business models that enable their operations to continue and survive in this ‘new normal’.

“We have also facilitated various licensing and compliance requirements of several Finance & Technology (fintech) companies — from conglomerates pivoting to fintech to founder-led start-ups,” he said.

“In support of the Technology, Media, and Telecommunications and fintech sector, our firm continues to participate in key stakeholder discussions with regulators to create laws and regulations to further develop the industry while balancing and protecting the consumer and/or investing public’s rights under the law,” Mr. Gorriceta added.

Even as the country moves past the pandemic, its impact will be felt for years to come. Mr. Gorriceta said that he foresees fintech, particularly emerging technology initiatives such as blockchain, will continue to make disruptions in the sector and assist the government in reaching more unbanked and underbanked Filipinos.

Mr. Manalo, meanwhile, expects an increased use of technologies like video conferencing by the courts and other government agencies, as well as more reliance on online filings and submissions with regulators. Changes introduced under the “new normal” will also open it up to competition from similarly positioned firms as well as other non-legal partnerships offering services that were previously solely provided by law firms.

Leaders in the Philippine legal industry

Gorriceta Africa Cauton & Saavedra and OMLAW are both winners in the Asia Business Law Journal’s recently concluded Philippine Law Firm Awards 2021, which recognized the best law firms in the country in the past year.

The awards identified one Law Firm of the Year, four Best Overall Law Firms, and four winners each in 22 practice areas, all of which have demonstrated excellence in the industry despite the disruptions. The winners were selected based on the votes, references and qualitative information received from in-house counsel and other legal professionals in the Philippines and around the world.

Law Firm of the Year was awarded to ACCRALAW for the second time in a row. It was identified as among the best firms in the Philippines across 15 categories in the awards this year.

“The firm has been at the forefront of embracing technology to constantly improve its services, and technology has been a real game-changer for firms in the past two years since the pandemic forced lawyers to work from home,” Asia Business Law Journal stated.

ACCRALAW was also recognized among the four Best Overall Law Firms, alongside Cruz Marcelo & Tenefrancia; Romulo Mabanta Buenaventura Sayoc & de los Angeles; and SyCip Salazar Hernandez & Gatmaitan.