The Chief Judge of Borno State, Justice Kashim Zanna, has revealed fresh threats which the legal profession faces in the age of advanced technology.
Although it is known that new technology has shaken the foundations of society affecting the way humans live and carry out their activities in every field of endeavor, the insight by Justice Zanna shows clearly that legal practice is not immune to the dangers and possibilities of technology.
Justice Zanna, who has his footprint on major innovative ICT automation solutions in the judiciary – raised the hope that the advancements signify the birth of a new era in the delivery of services.
He made the presentation as the guest speaker at the 40th get-together of the Nigerian Law School Class of 78 over the weekend in Abuja with the topic: ‘Advances in Technology: A Sign Post or Requiem to Legal Practice?’
“We live in an age of disruption,” he said. “ln most professions, including the practice of law, technology is enabling levels hitherto inconceivable. Consequently, it is also disrupting settled practices to such an extent and at such speed that the Planning Committee may justifiably ask if the disruption is leading up to the destruction of the legal practice, at least as we know it.”
Justice Zanna went on to quote Stephen Maher (1995), who wrote of how technology will transform the practice of law and how agreements are formed and monitored and added that he wrote that in 1995 when blockchain technology, which enables the smart recording of transactions.
Some of the major areas of impact of technology on legal practice as highlighted by Justice Zanna include: Big data, Cloud Computing, Advanced Analytics, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning.
Speaking on big data, the judge asserted that “Almost all our activities no leave footprints stored as data, from making phone calls and snapchat to purchasing flight ticket; use of GPS to social media platforms like Whatsapp and Facebook, taking and sharing photos on Instagram, sending wedding and other invitations by SMS and emails, the list of data generating activities is endless.”
Speaking to a hall packed with judges and senior lawyers, he identified liberalization of practice across ‘markets’, cost of practices and technology as the three factors that have combined to disrupt and determine the trajectory of legal practice.
He further noted other technological innovations that now have direct impact on legal practice such as Document Automation, Alternative Legal Service Providers (ALPs), Rocket Lawyer, Law Firms in the Cloud and Virtual Firms, Giggling, Legal Question Answering, Chatbots and Robot Lawyers and Legal Advice Crowdsourcing.
Here are excerpts from the thoughts of the jurist:
1) Document Automation: Applications have been developed which enable the drafting of documents like wills and contracts by simply answering question onscreen at the end of which a draft is generated. The range is wide from generating (drafting) forms, wills and contracts to complex briefs and opinions.
2) Alternative Legal Service Providers (ALSPs)/On demand legal service providers: a) LegalZoom.com, Inc. is an online technology company that provides legal solutions for families and small businesses. Through the platform, customers can access legal help for products including wills and living trusts, business formation documents, copyright registrations and trademark applications. The company also offers legal help through a network of independent attorneys and registered agents services.
b) Avvo is the largest online market place connecting consumers and lawyers. In Avvo question and answers forum, consumers can get their legal questions answered for free by more than 175, 000 participating lawyers or search more than six million previously posted questions and lawyer-provided answers. The lawyer directory provides Avvo-related profiles, client reviews, and peer endorsements for 97 percent of all lawyers in the US so consumers can find the lawyer who is right for them.
c) Rocket Lawyer is an online legal technology company based in San Francisco, California. It provides individuals and small to medium-sized businesses with online legal services including incorporation, estate plans, legal health diagnostics and legal document review. Similar platforms are: Juridocs and Text A Lawyer.
3) ALSPs/New Law: Is a category of alternative legal service providers (ALPS) that sets itself apart from BigLaw or TradLaw providers. Using ne or ‘disruptive’ technologies, flexible working and flexible client focused legal services, agility etc.
4) Law Firm in the Cloud/Virtual Law Firms: They are Cloud Computing-enabled legal practices without physical offices and human office helps. The number of law firms that do not practice from an office building is growing, their practices being almost entirely and some completely cloud based. Several effective and comprehensive legal practice management software are available to enable lawyers set up and practice online, Clio, Rocket Matter, Total Attorneys etc. they save on rents and cost of paying secretaries and associates. Culhane Meadows PLLC in the US is one of the big ones, growing from four partners to 60 at a point and receiving three Big Law migrants.
5) Gigging: The practice is now merging and rising of freelance lawyering. Lawyers are electing no to have or belong to firms nor have offices but rather practice from home or wherever they wish, online or on contract at the client’s location. The client may be company legal departments or even law firms requiring additional hands or skill sets to execute big projects. Technology has enabled freelance platforms that have emerged to facilitate freelance lawyering i.e. Axion, Vario, Lawyers on Demand etc. Tools like Yammer and Basecamp also facilitate collaboration by lawyers on specific projects. Enabled and utilizing technology to avoid hiring assistants, renting offices and incurring other expenses incurred by traditional practices, they offer services at low cost and disrupt the traditional practices.
6) Legal Question Answering: The success of IBM’s Watson in defeating in 2011, the best two human contestants in the TV quiz competition, Jeopardy, demonstrated that systems can answer questions better than humans. Application to law is obvious. So Jimoh Ovbiagele and Arruda went to work and came up with ROSS: It works by allowing lawyers to research by asking questions in natural language, just as they would each other.
7) Chatbots/Robot Lawyers: The application of AI in solving legal problems is just beginning. One such application, DoNotPay is already available online for the UK and 50 states in the US. It has helped for free, 375, 000 persons to successfully contest parking tickets. Users can type in questions like ‘I got an unfair parking ticket’ or requests for legal compensation from an airline or reporting discrimination for a total of 1000 different categories.
a) Ailira is an artificial intelligence that uses natural language processing to provide free legal information on a broad range of legal issues, including Business Structuring, Wills and Estate Planning and much more coming soon.
8) Legal Advice Crowdsourcing: Free collaborative versions of the services offered by the ALSPs, albeit limited versions, so far are also disrupting the legal market. Enabled by technology, they offer free legal advice. An example is Reddit.
Giving his verdict on whether computer programs will takeover legal practice from humans, Justice Zanna said for the school of ‘Yes but’ answer “machines and systems will have limitations where only human skill and capacity can perform.” And for the school of ‘Yes’, “It is the outcome that matters to a client. When the success comes at a fraction of the cost of as human lawyer’s service, in these particular cases free, the choice is obvious.”
“I find it unimaginable that our current legal institutions and legal profession will remain substantially unchanged over the next decade,” he said.