What if the Computer Replaces the Lawyer? – By Goodnews Daniel

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Goodnews Daniel is an Author, Speaker and Entrepreneur. He’s Co-founder at Geecock Solutions Limited and host of Law Innovations Seminars where he speaks to, and trains lawyers and law students on legal technologies. He was a Resource Person at the 2017 African Bar Association Annual Conference where he spoke on The Impact of Technology on Business Growth in Africa: The Legal Industry as Test Case. Daniel who is a law innovation evangelist, spoke  to Newswire Law and Events Magazine on the future of the legal profession for the African lawyers in the emerging world of technology.

Excerpts:

Goodnews Daniel delivering his papers during the Young Lawyers Forum at the 2017 AFBA Annual General Conference in Port Harcourt, Rivers State
Goodnews Daniel delivering his papers during the Young Lawyers Forum at the 2017 AFBA Annual General Conference in Port Harcourt, Rivers State

What do you mean by Recontextualizing? >> Recontextualizing is simply remodelling the practice and business of law to adapt to the new realities created by technology. Put differently, it is detraditionalizing the practice of law through adoption and use of technology to drive legal processes. It means making use of various technology solutions that either automate or assist lawyers in legal service delivery. Recontextualizing is essential in four different aspects of the legal profession.

First, new realities created by tech place a demand on law itself to recontextualize. That means, as technology creates “new contexts”, and makes several successful attempts to change the law, there is need for law to be reconceptualised to recontextualize – update and fit into the new context created by tech. Today, for instance, the concept of crime has been redefined by tech. in this age of machine intelligence, can a machine have mens rea? How do you prove actus reus, electronically? If software-powered car, a self-driven car hits a pedestrian as a result of software failure, who’s liable, car owner or software programmer? How about privacy? Electronic evidence, e-discovery, electronic defamation, to name but a few, are all recreated by tech. it’s the law’s desperate attempt to catch up with the brisk steps of tech.

This was the case when Industrialization showed up and there was need to redefine Intellectual Property law- patent and copyright, given that there was equal need to protect inventions as well as other creative works. Much more now, there is need to yet recontextualize so as to cover up the various grounds seized by tech. E-commerce also caused law to recontextualize. Contract has been radically altered. Justice thrives when the hand of the law is not too short to save. There mustn’t be lacunae.

Lawyers at the Young Lawyers Forum Session at the conference
Lawyers at the Young Lawyers Forum Session at the conference
Hon. Justice Roli Harriman of the High Court of Delta State and Rose Rameau, Fulbright Scholar, University of Ghana School of Law, during the Young Lawyers Forum
Hon. Justice Roli Harriman of the High Court of Delta State and Rose Rameau, Fulbright Scholar, University of Ghana School of Law, during the Young Lawyers Forum Session

Second, lawyers themselves need to recontextualize. That means lawyers need to re-evaluate their working practices and skill-set. The 21st Century and its myriad technological new complexities and the forces of globalization have so changed the business of law that legal knowledge alone doesn’t suffice to meet the ‘more for less’ demands of clients. Lawyers therefore should re-evaluate their skill-set, and add the needful to become “more fit” to survive the disruption of tech in the legal industry. This, I believe, is the true essence of Continuing Legal Education. If all a 21st Century lawyer possesses is his legal knowledge, then s/he’s probably planning to become irrelevant and be replaced soon.

Third, recontextualizing is most needed in law schools. Most law school curricula around the world are completely centered on law only, which in itself produces lawyers with deep legal knowledge but inadequate for efficient law practice in the 21st century. There is need to integrate technology – legal technologies such as Data Analytics, E-Discovery, Data security, Legal Project Management, Case and Client Management System, Document and Assembly Systems, etc. into the curriculum. Forward-thinking law schools have introduced several innovation courses into their program to equip and produce technophisticated lawyers in the 21st century. Schools such as Bucerius Law School (Germany), Stanford School of Law, and many others around the world are redesigning their curriculum to recontextualize.

Lastly, law firms need to recontextualize. Business models must be redesigned to fit more, not less, into the new realities created by tech. Alternative Business Structures, Legal Process Outsourcing, Limited Scope Legal Service, Unbundling, pro se litigant, etc., are amongst the several examples of the radical changes in the business of law that law firms and legal or corporate divisions must remodel to maintain relevance. Firms cannot continue to operate as usual and expect to thrive. Firms that fail to recontextualize will lose relevance and corporate clients to their competitors.

Goodnews Daniel after delivering his papers at the 2017 AFBA Conference
Goodnews Daniel after delivering his papers at the 2017 AFBA Conference
Lawyers at the Young AFBA President, Hannibal Uwaifo, delivering a keynote message to conferees during the Young Lawyers Forum Session at the conference
AFBA President, Hannibal Uwaifo, delivering a keynote message to conferees during the Young Lawyers Forum Session at the conference

Who is a T-Shaped Lawyer?  >>  The T-Shaped Lawyer is the ideal 21st-century lawyer who not only possesses deep legal knowledge and skills, but also has the ability to collaborate across many disciplines such as technology, business, analytics and data security. S/he is one who understands, appreciates and applies technology in the practice of law. Apart from his/her deep legal expertise, s/he also possesses a breath of knowledge across other areas of relevance for efficient practice of law. He understands data analytics, legal project management, Big Data, legal process engineering, cloud computing, Internet technologies, Cybersecurity, database management, computer networks and solution design, business development, entrepreneurial thinking, etc. His nous is programmed to leverage technology and deploy it fully for uber-efficient law practice. S/he’s technophisticated as his/her legal nous is a combination of legal knowledge and legal tech-literacy. S/he’s not necessarily a Telecommunications and Media Technology lawyer, but he efficiently makes use of technology as a tool to enhance his legal practice.

Of what advantage is technology to law practice?>> Technology helps lawyers to be more efficient. There is now no aspect of legal service delivery that hasn’t been touched by tech. From document assembly to client & case management, data analytics, legal bargaining, advising, collaboration, discovery, ADR (Online Dispute Resolution), courtroom management, law firm management, etc., software tech solutions, abound. Some of these tech help to automate certain legal process routines, and data processing and storage via cloud tech. they may not necessarily be legal tech as generalist vendors have already provided solutions in this area. Examples are Microsoft Office (for data processing), Google Docs and Drive (for data processing and cloud storage), and other security solutions.

But there are some others that have been designed for the legal profession to assist lawyers in their legal work such as document drafting, legal research, legal data analytics, etc. Of course, some yet try to replace lawyers. These offer advisory services to clients in the stead of lawyers. Online Dispute Resolution systems, for example, settle transaction-related disputes between parties without human intervention. They are designed to disintermediate the legal profession as the traditional medium of legal service delivery. Legal expert systems are another example of such.

The truth is, technology has revolutionized the legal industry, and will continue to so do but its impact on the profession depends on the profession itself. Practitioners can choose to become victims by not leveraging tech or become victors by adopting tech and becoming legal tech literate. Of course, much as we believe that machine intelligence is growing exponentially, at the moment, there are still areas machine intelligence has not colonized yet. Lawyers who desire to maintain relevance must identify those areas and focus on them while recontextualizing to be “more fit” to survive and thrive.

Must Law firms or lawyers advertise? >>  What I don’t understand is if lawyers are into business or not.

Most jurisdictions around the world don’t allow legal advertising on account of legal ethics. Most States in the United States, for instance, don’t allow it. These restrictions are imposed by the Bar Councils and perhaps the Courts of such jurisdictions.

England and Wales have since 1986, been otherwise, however. Other parts of Continental Europe have also removed such restrictions. Some parts of Asia also don’t allow. India, for instance, don’t allow legal advertising. Even though websites are allowed, testimonials are not allowed.

In other words, any private or public statement made on or behalf of a lawyer or law firm, with the intent to promote business of law, is legal advertising. Such is not allowed as it is contrary to the ethical standards of the legal profession.

But the 21st century legal profession is more competitive than it was in the last centuries. In this century, technology itself is a major competitor. Lawyers face the challenge of Disintermediation or Unlicensed Practice of Law as tech vendors now provide legal services through tech around the world, thus, removing the middleman –  the legal profession in some areas of legal practice. Besides, lawyers have lawyers who leverage more tech to compete against too. Globalization has successfully removed jurisdictional barriers to law practice. That means, much as a lawyer from one part of the world may not be able to handle litigation in another except in some circumstances where it is permitted, lawyers can provide advisory services across jurisdictions. Law practice of the 21st century is cross-border. This also heightens the inherent competition in the profession. Lawyering is business, and as such, competitive, and more so, the business of law is a business of competition.  This is not to downplay the sacred place of ethics, but every business is competitive, the business of law, inclusive.

More so, as globalization thrives and forcefully opens up legal markets to international competition, legal advertising is now more necessary than ever before. Lawyers must learn to announce the ‘lions and bears’ they have killed if they must be able to win the bidding for ‘goliath’ opportunities against international behemoth firms.

How about the Alternative Business Providers trend? These could be legal outsourcers, secondment firms, accounting firms or technologies that are competing strongly against the legal profession. In most countries, they have been allowed to provide legal services. Most accounting firms have the legal right to now own or collaborate with law firms in legal service provision. That means everywhere the lawyer turns, he faces several people trying to put him out of business.

Could there be a better time than now to remove legal advertising restrictions? My take on this matter is that the Bar Associations in Africa should review their Codes, and redefine the terms. I understand lawyers can own websites but no testimonials are allowed. One question: In this age where legal service has been commoditized, and most Government or corporate clients actually invite law firms to bid for legal projects, how do you sell yourself as a lawyer or a firm? Law firms literally pitch and bid for legal projects! Another question: If websites are allowed for lawyers or law firms, could it also be against legal ethics to sponsor it on social media ads? If I have a Facebook Page linking my website on Facebook, and I pay Facebook, to advertise my firm, for instance, does it contravene legal ethics?

Let’s not worsen our already bad legal situation. The African lawyer and legal industry must grow to compete with the outside world. We have good lawyers and firms in this Continent, but most of the time, nobody knows about our “lion and bear” stories to trust us with the “goliath”.

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