This article was contributed to TechCabal by Conrad Onyango /bird
Before the pandemic, it was mandatory for lawyers and clients to appear before a physical court of law or an advocate to initiate legal proceedings. In Kenya, that meant appearing before a judge wearing a robe and a wig. There could have been fewer institutions more steeped in tradition than the legal profession. Fast forward 18 months and the profession is almost unrecognisable.
“We recognise that legal practice can no longer operate in the rigid manner that it did in the past and that our clients require dynamic, 21st century based solutions for their businesses,” said Shem Otanga, a partner with Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr (incorporating Kieti Law), in Nairobi.
A cornerstone of most societies the world over is that justice has to be seen to be served, without interruption. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, limited movements and restrictions on in-person meetings meant that justice had to be served in virtual courtrooms created through video conferencing apps like zoom.
African law firms quickly adjusted to the new realities and adopted technology to speed up the delivery of justice and maintain their competitiveness.
Otanga believes that technology now plays a fundamental and irreplaceable role in the provision of business services, with current realities of business practice continuing to drive a legal tech revolution, even beyond the current remote working models prompted by the pandemic.
Almost as if the flood gates had opened after centuries of stasis, the profession is looking to leverage technology to advance almost every manual service in the book, including contract preparation and review.
Automated text messaging, legal tech apps and social media are emerging as key mediums used to offer legal services, consultations.
Legal technology revolution in Africa
Kieti Law, with operations in Eastern and Southern Africa, for example, is preparing for the tech revolution by utilising all workable digital and tech tools to bring its services closer to clients.
“We want to ensure that our clients do not have to journey far to reach us, so we deploy tech to make ourselves accessible, efficient and relevant,” said Otanga.
Currently the firm said it uses legal podcasts and vlogs to disseminate information on emerging issues of law, employ e-learning tools and run tech design thinking programs to equip staff to keep up with the revolution.
In 2020 another African law firm, Anjarwalla & Khanna (A&K) partnered with Microsoft to launch a Legal Tech Incubator to support the development and promotion of innovative technology-based solutions to legal challenges and enhance law and legal practice in the continent.
‘The initiative aims to help budding entrepreneurs translate their ideas into viable applications for the African market and ensure access to justice,” A&K partner in charge of innovation Dominic Rebelo said in a statement.
The Kenyan based law firm has a presence in Algeria, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Guinea, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.
Furthermore, young groups of legal entrepreneurs aged 30 and below are driving the revolution of the often conservative sector, shows a report.
Global Legal Tech Report for Africa 2020 reveals that continent has most (53 percent) of the youngest legal tech company founders compared to countries in Asia, as well as Australia and New Zealand, where founders are above 30 years.
“Not limited by legacy practices, this new generation of lawyers in Africa are re-imagining the legal profession through Legal Tech,” Alpha Creates Researcher, Eric Chin said in the report.
The report, produced through a collaboration between African and international legal and technology networks, identified Nigeria, Uganda, South Africa and Zimbabwe as emerging legal tech hot spots.
The majority of Africa’s legal tech firms are looking to expand operations across the global market, with a high preference for local markets, according to the report.
West Africa is the most preferred (75 percent) growth market, followed by Eastern Africa (67 percent) and 42 percent said they were assessing Southern African markets.
Digitised legal services for individuals and SMEs are also projected to have a transformative impact on African societies and economies, particularly in the post-COVID era.
This sentiment seems to include the legal industry, with Otanga arguing the catalytic effect of the pandemic is unlikely to be reversed despite the push to resume an element of “normalcy” and for societies to enter into a “post-pandemic” environment.
Rather, it is likely that justice will be seen to be served in virtual courtrooms across the continent.
The full report can be found here