‘The main legal challenges are now mostly in the privacy, data protection and cybersecurity space’
We talked with Luis Marin, partner at Ecuadorian law firm Lexvalor, about the main issues Covid poses for the legal profession in Ecuador.
What paradigm shifts has the pandemic brought to the legal sector in terms of digital management?
The Covid pandemic took the legal services market, traditionally reluctant to change and adapting to technology, by surprise and forced an intensive digital evolution. This year has fast-forwardeddigital management in what would have likely taken 4-5 years. Adapting practices to fully remote work, changing traditional practices to digital case management, cloud storage and shared access of documents slowly turned into the rule, rather than the exception. Digital management is now a key element of any legal practice and adapting to using, modifying, and sharing documents remotely is a fundamental tool for any lawyer.
How smoothly has the period of adaptation gone in the private legal sector in Ecuador?
The private legal sector in Ecuador had traditionally been reluctant to adapt to using available technology in its practice. A forced disconnection with physical office space left practitioners with no other choice than to move their computers home, acquire laptops, digitalize case files and learn to communicate through technology with their teams and clients. Prosecution, litigation and other key practices which require constant submission of filings, evolved to accept virtual submissions when accompanied by verified digital signatures. This led to an avalanche of lawyers requesting and obtaining verified legal signatures and learning how to use them in order to digitally sign documents and file them online. Slowly, practitioners learned how to use Zoom, Teams, Webex, GotoWebinar, and Polycom to hold meetings, attend hearings and other necessary actions for the legal practice. Even though the process has had its flaws and outlined concerns which must be addressed in the near future (i.e. data protection and cybersecurity, amongst others), it has been successful and we are now surrounded by a legal sector which is much more comfortable using technology as an efficient and cost effective solution to replace several actions that were previously done physically.
And in the public sector?
The public legal sector is probably the most reluctant to change and digital evolution, likely because of regulatory limitations and bureaucracy, which typically require reforms, never-ending internal approval protocols and budget restraints. Covid-19 however proved to be the best trigger for this forced evolution, leading to authorities like the Superintendencia de Control de Poder de Mercado (a competition authority) to enact a virtual box for filing submissions and verifying the validity of digital signatures; the Servicio Nacional de Derechos Intelectuales (an intellectual property authority) to enabling all pending features of its online platform, including credit card payment for fees and review of status of prosecution of filings. Other entities such as the Superintendencia de Compañías (a corporate registry) had long ago pioneered implementing a digital platform which granted free access to companies information and has now also put in place a series of online review and submissions features.
What are the main legal challenges that have arisen?
The main legal challenges are now mostly in the privacy, data protection and cybersecurity space. Using technology to share and process information brings with it privacy and data protection concerns which must be addressed to stay in step with the legal standards of the industry. Ecuador does not yet have a data protection statute, even though we suffered a massive data leak in 2019. Even though a draft bill has been under discussion for more than two years, data protection remains a key concern in Ecuador, and the pandemic, contact tracing apps for Covid infection and other governmental initiatives have evidenced the need for this key legislation to be enacted. The draft bill is under active discussion by the Ecuadorean National Assembly and may hopefully be adopted in the coming months. Law firms must now be prepared to comply with the standards and requirements which this new legislation will bring and have clients ready to put in use the tools that will ensure compliance with this new legislation.
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