Legal Nigeria

Experts task lawyers to embrace technology

By Joseph Onyekwere

Partner, SPA Ajibade & Co., Peter Olalere (left); Managing Partner, Omaplex Law Practice, Oyetola Atoyebi (SAN); Managing Partner, SPA Ajibade &Co., Dr. Babatunde Ajibade (SAN) Associate Partner, SPA Ajibade & Co., Bolaji Gabari and Managing Director, Law Pavilion, Ope Olugasa during the yearly laucheon of the firm in Lagos.

Experts in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) have called on lawyers to embrace technology in the discharge of their professional services. 
According to them, technology is evolving rapidly and law firms must deploy its tools or die off with time. This was the consensus at this year’s ASP Ajibade Business Luncheon themed “technology innovation and law, challenges, potentials and possibilities in the Nigerian legal landscape.”
Managing Partner of the firm, Dr. Babatunde Ajibade (SAN), in his remarks, said the lecture was organised to add value to the legal profession. 
“Our driving force for the yearly luncheon is our passion for the profession. We believe that the legal profession is the best profession in the world. The profession has done so much for us. We are a second generation law firm established in 1967. It is one of the longest surviving professional firms in the country. 
“So,we think that for the profession that has done so much for us, we should give something back to sustain and improve it. That is why we started these series and are sustaining it,” he explained.
According to him, technology will become a more important factor to the progress of the legal sector and to its efficiency in the near future. 
“As a profession, we must come to terms with that,” he said, adding that necessary steps must be taken to ensure that lawyers get the best from the developments that are taking place in the technological sector. 

He said: “We think and hope that it will make a difference. We need to use technology to address delays and inefficiency in the justice sector.

“One of the greatest challenges we face in terms of adapting to technologies in the profession is that the younger generation seems to be more savvy than the older ones.”

The keynote speaker, who is an associate professor, All Universidad Politecnica de Madrid, Victor Rodriguez  Doncel, spoke on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Law. 

Explaining how technology can help the legal profession, Doncel, who spoke virtually from Spain, said AI could forecast litigation outcomes and make statistical predictions of divorce settlements based on input data and previous results. 

According to him, it helps to support legal research, answer legal questions posed in natural language and can manage contracts, assess risks and generate documents. Other things it could do, he pointed out, include managing law firms and detecting tax fraud. 

Doncel who harped on the need for regulation in Nigeria, warned that “as it is, it is either law firms embrace AI or die.” 
The Chief Judge, High Court of Borno State, Justice Kashim Zannah, who spoke on “national judicial soft infrastructure, towards a justice sector ecosystem” noted that one cannot talk about AI without data. 
He stated that the challenges of adopting technology in the legal sector, especially the bench border on the “attitude of stakeholders, the working environment as well as change and adoption management.”
His words: “Attitude – There are vested interests that must prevail with their own ideas no matter what, which are aggravated by dependence on judiciaries. It is a challenge that must be surmounted. This also includes unhealthy competition and hubris.” 

Under the environmental challenge, he mentioned the difficulty of migrating from 100 per cent paper to electronic, lack of basic building blocks such as national identity and data as well as timely approval by agencies. 

Justice Zannah emphasised that to tackle the challenges, there must be awareness building among the critical stakeholders. 

Sharing experience with his law firm, the managing partner, Omaplex law practice, Oyetola Atoyebi (SAN), said his firm has a central database that all associates have access to. 

According to him, mere access to office systems gives the firm access to monitor all the fellow does and new lawyers are educated on this issue the moment they are hired.    

“By monitoring what they do, we curb inefficiency by insisting that every lawyer in the firm uses official gadgets such as laptops while in the office. The use of personal laptops is forbidden. This enhances service delivery.

“But the challenge is that those facilities are very expensive. Another thing is the protection of data. They must be protected by law in case anyone tampers with those critical infrastructure. We need to change our attitude and see that these things are workable,” he declared. 

Co-founder, DIYLaw Technologies Limited, Ms Funkola Odeleye, who also spoke virtually explained that technology does that which humans cannot easily do for themselves. 

“Adoption of technology is something that happens in every sphere of life. If it is adopted in other sectors, why not in legal practice? Technology helps us to take legal services to startups and entrepreneurs. 

“The market is big enough. Technology is an enabler, it will not take all the jobs away. There are push backs but we have continued to explain that technology works for you and does not work against you,” she said. 

Managing director, Law Pavilion Business Solutions, Mr. Open Olugasa, who spoke on the nature of change lawyers should be expecting in the coming years, declared that digital transformation is underway in Nigerian legal environment.     

This transformation, he stressed, would  be championed by the regulators. According to him, clients will no longer want to come to offices again to consume legal services and only law firms that are digitally alive will benefit from it. 

“You will need to engage in automation. AI will not take lawyers jobs, but will augment them. With AI, you can leverage institutional knowledge and the adoption of smart contracts will also enhance service delivery in the system,” he assured.