e-Briefs and case management systems – maximising potential

06/09/2021

Access a Litigation Committee guidance note on the benefits of utilising your case management system’s e-brief tools.

digital document

This note on e-briefs should be read in conjunction with the notes published by the Technology Committee on Case Management Systems September 2019 and follow up note “Suppliers of case management systems for e-briefs” in December 2019. As outlined in the previous publications, there are many benefits of having a case management system (CMS) including a digital version of your file. In the present climate and from a litigation perspective now more than ever the desirability for firms to utilise e-brief technology cannot be overstated.

What is meant by an e-brief

An e-brief is simply the standard paper-based brief, collated and forwarded electronically primarily as a PDF Document. It has been used since the 1990’s in the United States and has developed significantly in terms of technology and usability with the use of hyperlinks (link allowing one click to attachment). The development in the United States indicates the potential for the technology whereby a traditional brief can be developed via multi-media, for example where the papers reference a photo or CCTV where the reader can click to the particular critical photo or the critical snippet of the CCTV relevant before returning to the source page.

An e-brief is easily produced by most CMS when all documents are scanned into an e-file as received. The e-brief generated can then be sent as an encrypted PDF. Depending on the CMS, there should be a facility to update the brief. A solicitor always retains the ability to print and send a hard paper copy of the brief however that reduces the significant benefits associated with the e-brief concept.

The e-brief should essentially present the same information as the paper brief but in a more accessible and user-friendly format.

Benefits of e-brief

The e-brief has the obvious benefit of:

  • being environmentally friendly,
  • avoiding the need to store a physical copy brief,
  • significant saving in terms of postage / DX charges and copying costs,
  • time saving with regard to use of administration resources,
  • reducing the risk of copying or paginating errors,
  • updating or restructuring briefs / booklets can be completed quickly and accuracy, and
  • briefs / booklets can be received instantaneously and accessed remotely.

Are you maximising the potential of your CMS?

There are a number of case management systems which have a built-in facility for e-briefs that your firm may not be fully utilising. Firms with CMS technology often collate briefs in a digital format but print the brief rather than sharing the e-brief digitally via a sharing platform.

No CMS ? No problem !

If you have not invested in a CMS, there are a number of software options available that will combine PDF’s into a single document such as the features of Acrobat Pro DC / Nuance Power PDF outlined in the technology committee’s note. The key is ensuring that when a hard copy document is scanned into your word folder, the OCR option on the scanner should be used and the document saved as a PDF.    

Sharing platforms

There are a number of sharing platforms that work with cloud technology which can be utilised, such as Box, One Hub, LiquidFiles or Drop Box. Indeed most firms will have Microsoft installed which includes a one drive share folder option as standard. 

The best practice with GDPR protections

The e-brief will contain the same sensitive material as a hard copy brief and must be sent with the same precautions with regard to addressee of such communications and indeed the determination as to who should receive the document. The carbon copy or cc function for recipients of e-mails should be treated with similar caution.

The data sharing protocol with counsel should be adhered to as per practice direction “Instructing Counsel and GDPR” dated 6 June 2019 and the protocol outlined on the GDPR and Data Protection on the Law Society website.

Each solicitor and barrister is responsible for implementation of technical security measures, particularly given the risks associated with e-mail. The technology committee have indicated a number of data security and data protection considerations should be taken into account with regard to compliance with privacy and security obligations.