By Alice Namuli Blazevic, Partner – Head Tech and Innovation, Katende, Ssempebwa & Company Advocates, Uganda
The early 21st Century has proved to be an era of rapid global technological development. Various technological revolutions are unfolding on a previously unimaginable scale and in so doing changing the way we do business.
Law firms in Africa are increasingly turning to technology to solve their clients’ problems. As more and more clients demand tech solutions relevant to Africa’s business markets, the legal tech community is growing and evolving.
Having witnessed a phenomenal growth in the ICT sector in the last decade, Africa business market is on the rise. Internet use statistics indicate that Africa’s Internet user population is at 70 percent as of January 2022. The Covid 19 pandemic is pivotal to this growth.
Due to the increased use of technology in businesses, we have witnessed the advent of tech startups that have grown into unicorns on the continent. These include; Chipper Cash, Jumia , Flutterwave, Interswitch and more
These companies have disrupted the mode of doing business and the way we live on the continent. Fintechs like Chipper Cash and Flutterwave are able to move large sums of money across the continent at very low costs and the likes of Jumia move goods across borders in record time and at very low cost as well.
The disruption of the market due to the increased use of technology has affected so many industries like health tech, edutech, fintech, agritech and the legal profession has not been exempted.
The increased use of technology has inevitably created a new client or tech based businesses for the legal profession whose needs must be understood and served with highest level efficiency.
Lawyers are slowly adopting the use of technology in their legal practice to enable them serve the needs of the new client more efficiently with optimised workflows. And, to learn about the new technologies that are being widely used by the new client to advance service delivery to their customers.
As clients change their mode of operation, so must lawyers. Technology has thrust the legal profession in the future since their clients moving online to offer services to a population that’s largely internet savvy. This has in turn enabled lawyers to learn these new disciplines as well to (a) be more efficient and (b) better serve the client .
Some of the new fields of law are:
- Artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data
- Brand protection and digital rights management
- Cloud-based technology
- Data protection, privacy and cybersecurity,
- Distributed ledger technology, including Blockchain etc.
New trends affecting the legal profession:
Legal Tech startups
WeeTracker, a Pan African, research and media company, classifies the legal techs into the following categories.
- E-discovery. These are startups that have made it possible for individuals to access justice or legal information through the use of text messages.
- Online Legal Services. Comprises digital platforms that provide legal services including legal advice, consultation, and Q&A forums.
- Lawyers Market places are digital platforms that connect clients with lawyers.
- Legal Documentation. These are startups that generate legal documents for their users online.
- Legal Practice Management. Includes providers of systems and data analytics used in the legal sector
There are over 100 startups on the continent providing legal tech solutions aimed at enhancing delivery of legal services for lawyers and access to justice.
Most of the start-ups offer consumers ‘Do-it-Yourself’ alternatives for more standard legal tasks like simple contracts and routine advisory work. These options are great for start up business since most of them run on very tight budgets in the early phases of their businesses.
Legal tech tools
The proliferation of technology into law has occurred at an accelerated pace due to the Covid 19 pandemic. This has resulted in churning out of new forms of technology and legal methods that are easy to use increasing the efficiency of legal professionals.
The trend globally for legal tech is;
From document and practice management tools to e-signature, e-scan tools and virtual hearing platforms the market is now flooded with many options to allow the use of technology to efficiently serve clients.
Tasks that used to take a long time can now be done much more quickly.
New model law firms.
These range from how people find lawyers, to how firms find talent, to how lawyers collaborate and provide legal services.
New model firms that operate without the high overheads and partnership structures of the traditional firm are cutting into law firm market share and handling complex, sophisticated work. These types of law firms tend to be more specialised attending to very specific needs of the new client.
Challenges facing the legal tech and innovation industry
Lawyers face challenges like ethical regulations on marketing, ownership regulations which affect building teams (due to strict licensing), and financing issues that are far stricter than for non-legal companies.
Various states in Africa, including Uganda and Kenya, have specific laws that govern the remuneration of lawyers. However, these provisions were as written, tailored for traditional forms of legal practice as opposed to some of the services that legal tech startups provide. Furthermore, there are challenges relating to consumer protection amidst the use of apps and technology for legal services. Adhering to the already present rules on the regulation of advocates has been seen to have a negative impact on legal tech startups as they lose their competitive advantage when it comes to pricing and have their risk significantly driven up due to the misappropriation of consumer protection laws that were designed for traditional legal services on their products.
A vast majority of the data handled by lawyers is sensitive. This has led to a reluctance to use certain types of technology such as cloud services due to the fear of data breaches. The realm of data protection law in Africa is still relatively new. For startups, this presents a challenge because most technology innovations today are being built either as applications in the cloud or link to existing information systems through the cloud. Without a way to guarantee data protection, various tech startups are facing an uphill task in selling their products.
Lawyers are not usually known for being enthusiastic about change, but when it comes to technology, they may not have a choice. The major threat to the legal profession is not the advanced technologies on the market, it is the failure to change or adapt to the times.