Disruptive technology has affected virtually every industry in the world. There is almost always one ‘app’ that helps you solve a problem or answer a question these days. As interesting as this may sound, the negative effect is its possibly devastating effect on employment indices, replacing human spaces with technological tools. To the smart ones, they have aligned themselves with the movement, getting relevant training in the digital space as it affects their profession, some others have found the tasks not yet covered by these disruptions and specialized in them, awaiting doomsday as it were. The legal profession has not been exempt from this movement, albeit very slow especially in Nigeria where we still have an attachment to traditionally crude methods of legal processes.
With the invention and commercialization of word processors, there was a great sigh of relief from lawyers who hitherto had to use typewriters and stencil sheets to make copies of court processes. My guess is that as typewriters made their exit, managing partners were happy to cut down clerical staff. After all, when we have only ministers in the temple of justice in the chambers, fellowship is cheaper and sweeter. But yeah I could count how many law offices had more than one desktop computer talk less of laptops – oops I haven’t been to one since I left Ibadan.
But there were more problems. Like the great F.R.A Williams who died reading law books, most lawyers aspire to have this big sized library that can house several tons of books read, unread and for the decor. Law reports from 1985 till date on one section, Laws of the Federation on the other, forms and precedents, at least two books on every area of the law that exists, souvenirs from conferences on another and maybe some space for some awards on another. The aim is basically to have a ready reference resource he could go daily to farm for authorities needed in the firm’s activities – pleading causes. This is the pride of the lawyer, knowing where to find the law in this vast space of knowledge.
Then came electronic books and electronic reports. All this vast space was to be reduced to a small mobile device. The Nigerian lawyer didn’t quickly accept this one. It was great to run cheaper, but to cut off the chip off his shoulder was going to make him appear incapable of handling complex situations that were only so by his construct. Plus, with this, the automatic search system would give any smart and logical person the answer to questions, making him irrelevant – he thought.
As if this was not enough, some humans began to make codes and develop software that could create value for money over the internet. They called it Blockchains! Bitcoins, side chains, Eutherium and began to talk about distributed ledgers and ‘if and then’ solutions to the heavy legalese the lawyer put in commercial contracts for which they also charged some good percentage of the “consideration the contract sought to exchange”. As we all know however, when you threaten the lawyer’s capacity, ego and likely source of income, you are bound to elicit a reaction akin to you touching the tail of an angry leopard!
Even the usual recording of court proceedings has been automated in some jurisdictions but here, Mr. Stephen the court clerk would never want that, because it would take away the source of his livelihood.
But I join the pro-technology lawyers in the match towards an e-world. Lawyering that is made simpler using information technology tools. When my law reports are handy, e-books are virtual and client details stored in the cloud, I can access them from just anywhere and give on-the-go opinions when sought. It makes more sense not having to review 103 pages of boiler plate clauses in contracts for two weeks, get comments and then go through another review before the final agreement is drawn and executed. If we can just agree to the outcomes, write some codes, run it on computer systems and allow execution happen over the internet at scheduled moments.
Information Technology is not threatening in any way to lawyers. Think about it like accountancy and how life was for them before spreadsheet solutions came about, or civil engineers before any imaging and constructions tools was invented. Now the accountant only needs to add to college education skills in spreadsheet solutions manipulation. Lawyers who embrace these tools would work smarter, be better armed with more authorities to give opinions on the go. We need to re-think our education of lawyers and insert The Digital as part of our gargantuan five-year curriculum. Thus forming and producing lawyers well baked for the solution of the most recent of complex legal problems we face as a glo-gital (global and digital) world.
Okezi Uwede-Meshack is a Lagos-based corporate-commercial lawyer.