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LAW PRACTICE IN THE FACE OF TECHNOLOGICAL DISRUPTION

Change is inevitable and the disruption it brings often causes inconvenience and opportunities. Robert Scroble.

Disruptive technology has pervaded every profession and our most noble legal profession is not an exception. It is apparent that a new dawn has arisen for legal practice world over.

The traditional practice of law by lawyers through the use of papers and hard documents is giving way to paperless lawyering with the automation of legal services. Technological innovations like virtual reality, artificial intelligence, online dispute resolution, e-learning/library, relentless connectivity, internet of things, and virtual meetings have become the order of the day.

The advantages of this technological revolution are endless as it is faster, it increases efficiency, it reduces cost, it reduces stress and it increases creativity.

There appears to be no area of law that is unaffected by this tide, from case management which is now being done electronically to client interviewing which has gone virtual.

One of the most profound trends now is Artificial Intelligence which is the use of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior. Lawyers use robots to review legal documents, conduct legal research, and proofread legal documents. In some jurisdictions, robots are used for dispute resolution.

According to an online article published by Global Legal Post on 26th February 2018, Artificial intelligence beat lawyers in a challenge to review 5 contracts containing 153 paragraphs. The challenge pitted 20 top corporate lawyers against the Law Geex AI platform. The results showed that AI completed the task in 26 seconds compared to an average of 92 minutes for the lawyers.

Social media like Linkedin, Facebook and Whatsapp are fast becoming veritable tools for lawyers in the conduct of their cases. In a US case of Romano V Steelcase [2010 WL 3703242] where the Plaintiff filed suit for injuries that she claimed caused her to be largely confined to bed. Defendant then requested discovery of content from Plaintiff’s Facebook and MySpace sites which contradicts her claim. The Supreme Court of the State of New York held that the information requested by Defendant was necessary to the defense of this action and ordered the Plaintiff to provide the Defendant with access to private postings, including deleted material, from both Facebook and MySpace.

Furthermore, with the use of Virtual Reality (a computer technology that generates realistic images, sounds and other sensations to simulate a user’s physical presence in an imaginary environment), Judges may not need to visit locus-in-quo and crime scenes, trials can also take place without a physical location.

The techno-legal disruption is so notorious that the Court in some jurisdictions has given ICT compliant landmark judgments.  Interesting among them is the Indian case of Tata Sons Limited & Ors v John Doe(S) & Ors [CS (COMM) 1601/2016] where the court the High Court of Delhi held that the Court summons can be served on the Defendant in the suit through Text message, Whatsapp, and email.

The Nigerian legal system also has not failed to adapt to the technological trend. In a ruling of 26th July 2018 Hon Justice E. A. Garba of the High Court of Taraba State in Mohammad Awwaldanlami, Esq. v Governor of Taraba State & 24 Ors (TRST/11/2018)held that the originating process and other processes of the court should be served on the 3rd to 25th Defendants/Respondents by posting and sharing on social media. Furthermore, the introduction of electronic registration of companies in Nigeria by the corporate affairs commission, e-filing in some Nigerian Courts and the creation of the Unified Multipurpose Identification (UMID) Card are all steps in the right direction.

Technological disruption in the legal profession is not without its challenges. Being a novel development that was hitherto not contemplated by legislation, there are some borderline ethical considerations. Prominent among them is the issue of data protection as it is becoming a trend for lawyers to invade social media account of parties to extract information for litigation. Many people have also questioned the ethical and legal implication of using robots to perform judicial and quasi-judicial functions.

There is no gainsaying that the technology has come to stay and will change the face of legal practice for good. Law firms must embrace it as it cannot be over flogged that only a lawyer it is only a tech-savvy that will remain relevant in the years to come.

To this end, the curriculum of legal training both at the university and at the Nigerian law school should be expanded to accommodate the latest technological trends.

The Nigerian Evidence Act among other laws should be reviewed to bring it in line with international best practices on the use of technology. It is also suggested that the age-long culture of having a well furnished physical library as part of the requirements for the Conferment of the status of Senior Advocate of Nigeria should be relaxed to allow for more progressive options of a virtual library.

Since the law will always be one step behind technology, it is suggested that best practices legislation should be put in place to tackle the budding challenges of the techno-legal practice.

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