Lawyers must shake off their reputation for being resistant to change and instead ‘set a technological example’ to the world, the Master of the Rolls said today.

In a speech to the London International Disputes Week, Sir Geoffrey Vos predicted that online dispute resolution will become a default option for litigators as changing processes brings about a ‘transformation’ in access to justice.

Urging lawyers to embrace the move to digital working, Vos said he personally had completely discarded paper but noted that members of the legal profession had a ‘reputation for being slow to accept new ideas’. That, he said, would not be possible in the digital revolution taking place in the commercial sector.

Sir Geoffrey Vos, chancellor of the High Court

Vos: lawyers can still earn good fees in new world as long as they add value

Source: Michael Cross

‘The new generations will demand that justice, like everything else, is delivered at proportionate cost online,’ said Vos, who described the current processes for dispute resolution as ‘cumbersome and expensive’.

‘Lawyers, judges and arbitrators will need quickly to acquire a comprehensive understanding of how these [new] technologies work. A paper-based process will simply not be satisfactory in the new era,’ he said. 

The head of civil justice in England and Wales said that online dispute resolution had so far been largely limited to small claims, but this will change dramatically as most cases of all sizes are resolved online long before coming to court or requiring a judicial decision. He told the audience that business and property courts would be included in any digital overhaul.

Vos said the online dispute resolution system he envisaged would have advantages for lawyers and litigants alike – hugely increasing access to justice and increasing confidence in the England and Wales legal system, but also allowing solicitors and barristers to concentrate on the cases that are not straightforward or capable of being resolved online.

‘Lawyers will continue to earn good fees where they add value,’ said Vos.

Revealing new details of his vision for an online 'funnel' for civil claims, Sir Geoffrey said the 'harmonised' system would incorporate 30-40 existing dispute resolution portals run by ombudsman schemes and the like. These would be regulated and accredited by the government with a 'blue tick' scheme and create consistent data sets to feed in to the central online court system in the event of a dispute not being settled at the pre-court stage.