In this interview with the Nations’s Legal Editor John Austin Unachukwu, Ope Olugasa, Managing Director of Grace Infotech Limited (GIL), an Information Technology firm and publishers of Lawpavilion a leadng legal IT research tools provider tells why they withdrew from AGC sponsorship and more
HOW would you appraise the last 10 years of firm’s performance?
Looking back, our achievements are so numerous, however, I will highlight a few. From available statistics, the average Nigerian business usually fails within the first five years, so we are pleased that we are not part of that statistic. Celebrating our 10th year in business is definitely a significant milestone. In terms of our achievement in the legal services industry in Nigeria, oh! it has been quite an adventure. I can never forget our first outing at the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) 2007 Conference in Ilorin Kwara State where lawyers came to our exhibition stand and laughed at us
Why did they laugh at you?
They told us that no Nigerian court would permit a counsel to cite electronic law reports in open court or in written submissions. In fact, a particular judge was mentioned as not being receptive to such “disruptive practices”. But our testimony is that this particular Judge is one of our subscribers today, with electronic law reports being a permanent fixture on the landscape of legal practice in Nigeria.
How did you achieve this?
For several years we have traversed the length and breadth of Nigeria, preaching the “gospel “ of technology adoption in legal practice. So, we feel immense satisfaction to see the wide acceptability from the industry now. More recently, we have been focusing on using technology to solve local problems, especially within the legal services industry. For example, a couple of years ago, we got the opportunity to work with the leadership of the NBA to re-introduce online registration for the biggest gathering of lawyers in the world, that is the Annual General Conference of the NBA. Using software developers trained in Nigerian universities and polytechnics, we were able to design, develop and deploy a registration portal which contained the list of all legal practitioners called to Bar in Nigeria and particularly those who have been verified. Deploying that solution has helped the leadership and administration of the NBA to better plan and prepare for this annual gathering. Furthermore, deploying technology as we did checkmated the incidents of a handful of legal practitioners not paying the correct fees for the Conference as was obtainable before our involvement.
What is the impact of LawPavilion products on the Legal Services Industry in Nigeria?
We believe our biggest impact for our subscribers has been to afford them the confidence to do what they do best. Time and time again, we hear and receive testimonials from our subscribers about how much ease using LawPavilion has brought into their practice. We have several good reports about the speed with which Judges now deliver rulings because with the tap of a button, authorities are called up though our search engine which in turn aids the speed of dispensing justice. Furthermore, our boldness in being Headline Sponsor for international conferences such as the IBA Investing in Africa Conference and regularly showcasing our products at international exhibitions has cemented the confidence our subscribers place in our products. For the general public, we believe our impact will be felt even more through our public-education tools, one of which is the “Know My Rights” app that I mentioned earlier. As we continue to use technology to solve local problems, we have no doubt that our country will move several positions forward on global indexes such as the World Bank sponsored Doing Business Index and the World Justice Index.
In the judiciary in particular, what has been the impact of adopting LawPavilion?
We take a special sense of pride that even the judiciary is now at the fore front of the drive for using technology in the adjudication process in our courts. Nowadays, it is commonplace to hear “electronic filing and service”, “electronic case management”. We have truly moved forward from campaigning for adoption of technology, now we are using technology to solve salient and lingering problems. We feel so blessed and grateful indeed for what we have been able to accomplish in the industry. Today, you will find subscribers to LawPavilion electronic legal research software in the Judiciary, in big and small Law Firms, in Faculties of Law, among law school students, and more recently in neighbouring countries and outside the shores of our great country. Indeed, we can say we have started exporting technology. It is now acceptable to see the citation of “LPELR” in judgments from the highest courts in our country to the pages of treatise by erudite scholars and authors. It certainly has been a very rewarding and gratifying journey for us as a corporate organisation operating in this space.
So, what is your anniversary gift your subscribers?
As part of our celebrations, we will be making our latest product, a legal analytics software which we have named “LawPavilion Prime” commercially available for our teeming subscribers. We unveiled the prototype of LawPavilion Prime containing only about 5,000 Supreme Court Judgments sometime last year along with our Judicial Appreciation Awards Ceremony, the Words in Gold Awards where we recognised and celebrated Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria through a compilation of their pronouncements through the years. We went as far back as the very first set of Justices who sat in the hallowed Chambers of the Supreme Court and we enjoyed the rare privilege of having the Keynote Address delivered by the Acting President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo (SAN)
What is so special about the new edition?
After this, we felt our subscribers deserved the very best at all times, so we went back to the drawing board to ensure that we included Court of Appeal judgments into LawPavilion Prime to give it the edge over mere electronic law reports. We are pleased to announce that work is now complete on the software for PC and Android versions with iOS following very quickly and we are poised to deploy this solution commercially at the 2017 NBA Conference. Through our patented technology for analytics, we are set to provide Legal Practitioners with over 13,000 reported cases with analytical ratings to ensure that at all times, a LawPavilion subscriber is relying on the best and highest ranked authority on a principle of Law.
Why did you say LawPavilion Prime remains the most sophisticated product on legal analytics in Nigeria or even African legal services market today.
With the introduction of Legal Analytics, what we are providing for legal practitioners is not just a compilation of reported cases. We have further to highlight locus classicus on any issue of law inputed into the search engine. Also based on the search results, the LawPavilion Prime using a unique algorithm calculates the precedential value of each case and then collates all relevant cases on that issue or principle of Law as pronounced by the courts especially at the appellate levels. In fact, LawPavilion Prime is best experienced as mere words do not do sufficient justice to the ingenuity that has gone into creating this new product. It is truly an excellent example of showcasing the growth and development of Nigerian jurisprudence and we are very proud to have raised the bar again in electronic law reporting by introducing analytics into law reports. We really look forward to showcasing the unique product to our subscribers at the NBA Conference 2017 as they join us to felicitate our 10th year anniversary and we are positive that as they begin to use this product as we head into a new legal year, their legal practices would improve significantly and become even more profitable.
How do you feel getting involved in NBA programmes?
We derived a great sense of pleasure of making that enormous contribution to NBA Conferences since 2014. It is important to state that the registration portal and overseeing the registration process including printing the name tags were our small contributions as part of our sponsorship towards the NBA Conferences, we never billed or charged a penny for it.
Any discounted rate for lawyers at the AGC?
Yes, we also have amazing discounts and loads of freebies for our teeming subscribers at the NBA Conference holding at the Landmark Event Centre, Oniru, Lagos. We look forward especially to welcoming our subscribers who live and practice outside Lagos State to the Centre of Excellence. It is going to be a beautiful celebration with lots and lots of gifts and prizes. On the other hand, we will also be celebrating with Nigerians as we have developed a new Android App called “Know My Rights”. As a company that invests heavily in research and development, we observed that people are reluctant to consult legal practitioners due to a myriad of factors such as ignorance, perception that legal services are expensive and time-consuming amongst others. But we know that the services of lawyers are indispensable for us to have a sane society where the rule of Law prevails.
What is unique about “ Know My Rights” product?
Based on our research, we realised that while English is the official language, there is a language that transcends all tribal divides of our country and that language is “PIDGIN”. So through the “Know My Rights” app, we have brought together the best of culture through language and technology. Working with renowned language scholars, we are pleased to present our “Know My Rights” App which contains the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), easy to understand presentation of Child’s Right Act, the Domestic Violence Law of Lagos State, Legal Issues on Interaction with the Police, the Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIO) and Federal Road Safety Corps Acts and several others. We have included the English and Pidgin language versions of these salient Laws in the app so that anyone can read them, understand them and be properly guided. We have even translated the Nigerian Constitution into Pidgin Language. As more people become aware of the position of the Law, the agitations against the Judiciary and Legal Practitioners would be put in proper perspective by the public. We also firmly believe that access to and usage of this app would serve as a marketing tool for Lawyers because the need for lawyers would be very clear and conspicuous.
Our continued survival is predicated on our clients and subscribers’ businesses, so we will explore opportunities to use technology to move our subscribers’ businesses forward. The app is already available for download free of charge on the Google Play Store and we will encourage many Nigerians to take advantage of its availability. As time progresses, we will add other relevant and far-reaching Laws to the App. We look forward to the App becoming a learning tool in our primary and secondary schools so that the Nigerian child or citizen is aware of his rights and responsibilities which are a sine qua non for growth and development of our great nation
You have partnered the NBA to enhance service delivery to Nigerian lawyers for some time now. How do you feel about your partnership with the NBA
First, we would like to seize this medium to express our immense gratitude to the leadership of the NBA and the TCCP for considering us worthy partners to the association of the noblest profession. To us, it is a testament to all we have been able to accomplish these past years. Over the years, we have enjoyed the opportunity to act as ICT Partner to the NBA-AGC and indeed it has been a worthwhile partnership for us, having the stamp of approval from the industry that we serve
It is widely believed among lawyers that you did not deliver at previous NBA conferences because you failed to make conference materials available to conferees what actually happened?
Yes, a number of participants had erroneously thought we failed to make conference materials available. I think its important to clarify at this juncture that we were never in charge of production of conference materials, NBA handled it themselves. We always seek for ways to add value to the legal services industry in Nigeria and we do not intend to relent anytime soon, in spite of previous mistakes and challenges. We are a value-oriented and value-driven company and it has been working for us from inception till date. Based on the success recorded with online registration for the NBA-AGC, we feel a sense of elation that the industry has now also recognized electronic voting, which was the means of voting used for last year’s election into the National Executive Officers of the NBA and which we were opportuned to have worked in conjunction with the leadership of the NBA to provide the portal and voting mechanisms in 2016.
What is your package for conferees at the 2017 Annual General Conference of the NBA holding in Lagos?
Due to the fact that we enjoyed such excellent rapport with the NBA, there were discussions for us to collaborate with the NBA-AGC through the TCCP for the 2017 Conference. However, we couldn’t afford to meet the request made of us, which was to avail Conference attendees of our flagship product free of charge for one year. Based on our financial projections for the year and beyond, acceding to that request would have signalled the death knell for our business because we invest heavily in research and development. Bearing in mind such costs incurred and to be incurred on research and development, we were unwilling to sacrifice quality on the altar of making a quick buck or scoring cheap points.As a company, our passion and dedication to the Nigerian legal community and the NBA is unflinching, and there is no going back in serving Nigerian Lawyers with integrity and excellence. Hence we were left with no option than to seek other avenues of partnership with the NBA for the 2017 AGC. So while our products are not being given for free at the Conference, we have various huge discounts and other freebies to give our teeming, loyal subscribers and those who visit our exhibition stand at the Conference.
Culled From The Nation
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