Tech verdict: Lawyers, go digital or perish
What you need to know:
To add to an already worrisome situation, many local law schools are not preparing students to seamlessly work with artificial intelligence and ‘whatnot’ when their time comes.
Perhaps, one can argue that lawyers’ situation is somehow hopeless but not serious but that of law students is serious but not hopeless.
As the curtains fell on the Africa Law Tech Festival 2020 Tuesday, the conversation about the future of legal practice in the age of digital disruption takes shape. Novel technologies have changed the practice and trajectory of almost every profession and the legal arena has not been immune to it.
Sadly, it is the perception in the legal profession, perhaps even more than in political circles that change of whatever nature heralds chaos. Precedent and tradition, for instance, are considered the sine qua non features of legal practice. It is not uncommon to hear my fellow ‘learned friends’ in court referencing with enthusiasm 18th-century judicial decisions.
However, the purpose of the profession is not primarily to celebrate the past, however rosy, but free ourselves of short-term perspectives and take wings into the future.
Legal tech is not widely embedded in the country. For most litigators, the most advanced tech tool they are comfortable with might be the Kenya Law website and an online calendar. Yet the adoption of new technologies in the legal circles is increasingly becoming common in the occidental world.
But what is the glass-is-half-full perspective of tech-enabled law practice? One of the main advantages of legal tech to the practice of law is operational efficiency. Lawyers stand at good stead in delivering services to their customers in the most cost-effective way while maintaining bespoke quality.
On a larger scale, technology may help to progressively ensure that more people enjoy the constitutional right of access to justice. In sum, legal practice will greatly be disadvantaged if we fail to inculcate legal tech in the lawyer’s daily life.
As we ponder the potential benefits of technology, it is an inescapable truth that the profession might not be prepared for it. Finding an advocate who is comfortable with the programming code as well as the legal code in our jurisdiction could be futile.
To add to an already worrisome situation, many local law schools are not preparing students to seamlessly work with artificial intelligence (AI) and ‘whatnot’ when their time comes. Perhaps, one can argue that lawyers’ situation is somehow hopeless but not serious but that of law students is serious but not hopeless.
Nonetheless, we all have to chart a way forward lest we suffer the brunt of digital disruption. And this onerous task of forging the future lies with members of the profession.
The newly elected leaders of the Law Society of Kenya, led by the president, Mr Nelson Havi, ought to develop a legal tech blueprint to guide lawyers into the future. Further, law schools should have a rethink of the curriculum to ensure that their graduates offer tomorrow’s working solutions.
But this journey is not of the lawyer alone. All those who can offer a helping hand ought to. Realistically though, such hopes and aspirations can only be met with a declaration of faith. I believe, therefore I am, declared René Descartes. We all hope.
To sum it up in the lawyer’s favourite language, Latin, respice, adspice, prospice. Let us examine the past, examine the present and examine the future.
Mr Memba is an associate advocate at BMN & Co. Advocates. [email protected]