By Oyetola Muyiwa Atoyebi, SAN FCIArb. (U.K)

INTRODUCTION

Technology stands as the paramount revolutionary force in society, driving significant transformations across various sectors over the centuries. Its continuous innovation has brought about comprehensive changes in governmental structures, societal systems, and organizational frameworks with remarkable precision, determination, and vigour. Indeed, no facet of human society remains untouched as technology relentlessly advances, reshaping traditional paradigms with unprecedented efficiency. Through the years, an array of technological concepts has emerged, fundamentally redefining diverse sectors and institutional arrangements, encompassing fields such as medicine, education, agriculture, engineering, law, and beyond.

As conservative as the legal profession ‘parades’ itself to be, technological incursions have remodelled its modus operandi at an exponential rate that the branding “legal technology” or “LegalTech” has become inevitable.[1] While some have applauded it as holding a promising future for the legal profession,[2] others have criticised it as being detrimental to the fundamentals of justice.[3]    Despite the proponents of these two schools of thought having legal justifications for their positions, a third school or “harmonising” school has proposed the recognition of the diversity of legal technology as the basis for evaluating its advantages and disadvantages.[4] Nevertheless, it is undeniable that legal technology serves as an unparalleled catalyst for the development of the profession and legal system across jurisdictions.

In Nigeria, stakeholders within the legal profession and the broader legal system have long emphasized the importance of acknowledging the role of legal technology in advancing the country’s legal infrastructure.[5] However, the response generated so far in terms of learning and the incorporation of training on legal technology into the Nigerian system of legal and continuing legal education is far from satisfactory. This is not only due to limited awareness levels on the subject, other factors also exist which include limited willpower, and economic and socio-political issues which negatively impact the stability of Nigerian society.

This article will explore the concept of legal technology and its development, the role and impact of legal technology on the Nigerian legal profession as well as recommendations for further development of the nation’s legal regime.

THE CONCEPT OF LEGAL TECHNOLOGY AND ITS DEVELOPMENT

There have, undoubtedly, been several attempts at defining legal technology.[6] While some have examined it from the functional perspective,[7] others have defined it from the sub-sectoral angle.[8] However, in an attempt to provide a wholesome definition of the concept, Ryan Whalen,[9] described legal technology as “all devices, capable of being used as a means for interacting with the substance of law or assisting its user to interact with the law, and the skills and techniques by which we use them.”[10]  According to Julian Webb, legal technology refers to “the use of digital information and communication technologies to automate all or part of the legal work process, to offer decision support to legal service producers, and to provide legal information and advice directly to clients/end users.[11]

From the above, it is explicit that legal technology can be viewed from two perspectives. Thus, it can both refer to the devices or apparatus used in aiding interaction with the law, as well as the skillset or methodology involved in the use of these devices. However, a more favoured approach to the subject is its recognition as any product of technology and innovation that enhances the legal system.[12] While legal technology may suggest the use of technology in the delivery of legal services, the scope, in reality, is wider as it relates to the deployment of technology in its interactions with the law and not just in legal services delivery.[13] This article will however lay more emphasis on the legal professional landscape of the nation.

The development of legal technology, like its counterparts in diverse fields, took a progressive approach and lawyers in the earlier centuries were seen making use of ‘technological’ tools such as typewriters, phonographs and dictation machines, fax machines for the sending of documents, UBIQ terminal used for searching cases online, etc.[14] However, recent years have seen the evolution of emerging technologies such as blockchain technology, artificial intelligence, and cloud computing as well as technological tools which have the potential to impact the nation’s legal landscape.

It is perhaps expedient to state that for a technology to be classified as ‘LegalTech’ such must be capable of interacting with the law, aiding interaction with the substance of the law or aiding legal professional duties. It has however been argued that legal technology exists in varying degrees as some technologies which can be employed in the legal profession can also be utilised in other sectors as a result of which they exist in the lower rung of the ‘LegalTech’ ladder while those specifically developed to be utilised in the legal sphere occupied the upper rung.[15]

Going further, the phrase ‘LegalTech’ is not an abstract one. Though, a complex framework, it consists of several ideals, tools and skill sets, which enable the enhanced operation of the legal regime of nations which have incorporated same. It should however be noted that these components are not mutually exclusive and they tend to overlap in their functionalities. Some basic components of ‘LegalTech’ therefore include E-Discovery (digital investigation), electronic legal research (for instance LawPavillion, LegalDigitalNG), legal document automation and management systems, digital case management systems (for instance Clio), legal billing systems, etc.

ASSESSING THE IMPACT OF LEGAL TECHNOLOGY ON THE NIGERIAN LEGAL REGIME

There is no gainsaying the fact that technology has several legal, functional, ethical etc., implications on the legal profession. However, recognising the fact that an assessment of the future of the legal profession across jurisdictions cannot be complete without an acknowledgement of the impact of technology, it is essential at the time to have an in-depth comprehension of how technology affects the profession. Thus, this discussion will be examined from both the positive and the negative perspectives.

To begin with, one would readily agree that legal technology has improved access to justice in the nation. While the Nigerian legal system still grapples with such issues as inefficient workflows, backlogs of cases, unwarranted bureaucracies, etc., legal technology has no doubt enhanced the justice system as visibly seen in quarters where it has been effectively deployed,[16] by eliminating the hindrances to accessing adequate legal services. More particularly, with the aid of virtual platforms, legal services delivery has taken an upward scale, allowing professionals to gain client satisfaction in real-time. Also, people in undermined areas have quicker access to legal services which would otherwise not have been possible owing to the condition of their environment.

Secondly, legal technology has enhanced efficiency in the legal system as a whole. Not only has the legal profession been improved, but the nation’s system of adjudication has experienced enhanced efficiency as a result of which justice has, compared to previous years, been dispensed in due time and litigants are enabled to reap the fruits of their claims. Moreover, alternative dispute resolution procedures have become more streamlined and efficient for the quick and easy resolution of disputes. The use of LegalTech tools in case management processes has not only eased the burden of legal practitioners, judges and paralegal staff, it has also saved valuable time and reduced the possibility of making errors.

Furthermore, assessing the potential of the further deployment of LegalTech in the Nigerian legal system, one would agree that the use of technologies such as Blockchain technology or Cloud computing, in the execution of legal contracts or record-keeping or other legal procedures will, without equivocation, enhance transparency and accountability within the legal system thereby engendering client confidence. Legal documents can be preserved unaltered for as long as is desired and all parties to a legal transaction can be assured that their stakes cannot be compromised without their consensus.

Moreover, complex legal processes can be manoeuvred with the use of legal tech tools. AI algorithms are enabled to work through large volumes of data in real time and can therefore aid legal research, which constitutes the bulk of a legal professional’s work. Hence, LegalTech holds a lot in store for the research and legal analysis duties to be carried out by a legal practitioner.

Having examined a few of the positive impacts of legal technology on the Nigerian legal system, it is expedient to examine the challenges, which have been or may be faced in the use of these technological tools.

Firstly, there is a phobia of technology displacing professionals in the provision of legal services. Thus, where legal routine tasks are automated, the assumption is that human lawyers may no longer be needed and this will ultimately lead to serious economic losses for many. While this may be a valid assertion in respect of legal practitioners who refuse to upskill and hone their professional capabilities for the future, it is not entirely correct, as it has been variously posited that technology particularly LegalTech, cannot replace a human practitioner’s role in the justice system as ‘the system was made for man and not man for the system.’[17]

Furthermore, the incorporation of technology in the legal system will no doubt give rise to data privacy and security concerns. The issue of data privacy is still a big one across jurisdictions and although multi-level legislative and institutional efforts are increasing to combat the subject, they have only achieved mitigating rather than eradicating effects and this will no doubt hamper the sensitive nature of the legal system of the nation.

In addition, it has often been stated that legal technology may give rise to ethical concerns.[18] Apart from issues such as threat to fair competition, the use of technologies such as Artificial Intelligence may, as a result of the peculiarities of its operations, raise issues of lack of accountability, fairness and the presence of bias which may inhibit the fundamentals of the system. What is more, complete reliance on these technologies may give rise to fatal errors.

Finally, the digital divide prevalent in Nigerian society no doubt, impedes the effectiveness of legal technology. This is because a sizable percentage of professionals have inadequate knowledge of the workings of these technologies and as such cannot make good use of them. This is a challenge, which therefore needs to be addressed forthwith.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Recognising the important role of legal technology in the development of the Nigerian legal system as well as the undeniable fact that the future of the system cannot be shielded from the surge of LegalTech, it is recommended as follows:

  1. There is a need for increased collaboration between the government and relevant stakeholders for the improvement of LegalTech facilities in the nation’s legal regime. A comprehensive legal technology framework which engenders equitable access to justice promotes safe and responsible innovation, and takes cognisance of all the highlighted challenges.
  2. Adequate training/Continuing legal training of legal professionals and paralegal staff is needed to fully harness the benefits proffered by legal technology.
  3. In order to mitigate data privacy concerns, legal professionals and other stakeholders in the legal industry must ensure that they put in place robust measures for data protection, in line with the Nigerian Data Protection Act and other relevant national, regional and international instruments, especially in dealings with clients, third-party tech vendors, etc.
  4. There is also a need for relevant stakeholders to invest in appropriate infrastructure to aid the effective deployment of LegalTech in their professional relationships.
  5. The campaign for digital literacy in the nation’s different sectors needs an upward spiral, particularly in the legal profession and the legal system as a whole.
  6. Ethical frameworks need to be developed to regulate the use of LegalTech devices and tools in order to ensure that they do not occasion grave ethical infringements in the delivery of legal services.
  7. Finally, there is a need for more inter and intra-sectoral collaboration for innovation and development of LegalTech for improved professional services delivery.

CONCLUSION

LegalTech is not a magic wand that solves all legally related challenges with a wave of the hand. Rather it aims at improving the legal regime by offering improved efficiency, accessibility, quality legal solutions and overall effectiveness in the system. As noted by Ryan, although the future of law and legal systems is uncertain, it is almost certain that technology will play an increasingly high-profile role in practising, accessing, enforcing and making the law.[19] Hence, it is expedient at this time, to intensify the campaign for an army of legal professionals who are efficiently equipped with not only legal knowledge but can also leverage technology in serving their clients and the society as a whole effectively.

SNIPPET

The development of legal technology, like its counterparts in diverse fields, took a progressive approach and lawyers in the earlier centuries were seen making use of ‘technological’ tools such as typewriters, phonographs and dictation machines, fax machines for the sending of documents, UBIQ terminal used for searching cases online, etc.[20] However, recent years have seen the evolution of emerging technologies such as blockchain technology, artificial intelligence, cloud computing etc., as well as technological tools which have continued to impact the nation’s legal landscape.

KEYWORDS

LegalTech, Legal technology, artificial intelligence, blockchain technology, technology in the legal profession.

AUTHOR: Oyetola Muyiwa Atoyebi, SAN FCIArb. (U.K)

Mr. Oyetola Muyiwa Atoyebi, SAN is the Managing Partner of O. M. Atoyebi, S.A.N & Partners (OMAPLEX Law Firm).

Mr. Atoyebi has expertise in and vast knowledge of Technology Law and this has seen him advise and represent his vast clientele in a myriad of high-level transactions.  He holds the honour of being the youngest lawyer in Nigeria’s history to be conferred with the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria.

He can be reached at atoyebi@omaplex.com.ng

CONTRIBUTOR: Tobenna Mogbo

Tobenna is a member of the Dispute Resolution Team at OMAPLEX Law Firm. He also holds commendable legal expertise in Technology Law.

He can be reached at tobenna.mogbo@omaplex.com.ng

[1] Louis Mayo, ‘New Technology and National Goals Some Implications for Legal-Policy Decision Making’ Notre Dame Law Review 33 (1961–1962) 37 available at  https://scholarship.law.nd.edu/ndlr/vol37/iss1/5 accessed on the 9th of February 2024.

[2]See Andrew Arruda, ‘An Ethical Obligation to Use Artificial Intelligence? An Examination of the Use of Artificial Intelligence in Law and the Model Rules of Professional Responsibility’ (2017) 40 American Journal of Trial Advocacy Vol. 40, Iss. 3, (Spring 2017): 443-458

[3] Frank Pasquale, “A Rule of Persons, Not Machines: The Limits of Legal Automation” George Washington Law Review (2019) 87, 1, available at https://www.gwlr.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/87-Geo.-Wash.-L.-Rev.-1.pdf  accessed on the 9th of February 2024.

[4] See Ryan Whalen, “Defining Legal Technology and Its Implications” International Journal of Law and Information Technology, Volume 30, Issue 1, Spring 2022, Pages 47–67, available at https://doi.org/10.1093/ijlit/eaac005 accessed on the 9th February, 2024

[5] Nwaeze Godstime, ‘The Future of Law Practice in Nigeria in the Face of Global Trends and Developments in Information and Communications Technology’ May 8, 2020. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3596499 accessed on the 22th of February 2024.

[6] Ryan Whalen, op cit. fn. 4 pp.47-48.

[7] See for instance, Joshua Blank and Leigh Osofsky, ‘Automated Legal Guidance’ Cornell Law Review (2020) 106, 179; Robert Berring, ‘Legal Research and Legal Concepts: Where Form Molds Substance’ California Law Review (1987) 75, 15; Robert Berring, ‘Chaos, Cyberspace and Tradition: Legal Information Transmogrified’ Berkeley Technology Law Journal (1997) 12, 189 all cited in Ryan Whalen, op cit. fn. 4 p. 48.

[8] See Douglas Arner, Janos Barberis and Ross Buckey, ‘FinTech, RegTech, and the Reconceptualization of Financial Regulation’ Northwest Journal of International Law and Business, (2016–2017) 37, 371.; Maura Grossman and Gordon Cormack, ‘Technology-Assisted Review in E-Discovery Can Be More Effective and More Efficient than Exhaustive Manual Review Annual Survey’ Richmond Journal of Law & Technology (2010–2011) 17, 1, both cited in Ryan Whalen, op cit. fn. 4 p. 48.

[9] Op cit. fn.4

[10] P.49

[11] Julian Webb, ‘Legal Technology: The Great Disruption?’ in Richard L Abel and others (eds.), Lawyers in 21st Century Societies (vol. 2, Hart Publishing 2021) cited in Ryan Whalen, op cit. fn. 4 p. 49.

[12] Ryan Whalen, op cit. fn. 4 p. 48

[13] For an in-depth discussion, see Ryan Whalen, op cit. fn. 4.

[14] See Ron Friedmann , Back to the Future: A History of Legal Technology, (Prism Legal, 2004) available at https://prismlegal.com/back_to_the_future-a-history-of-legal-technology/  accessed on the 12th February, 2024

[15] Ryan Whalen, op cit. fn. 4 p. 51.

[16] For instance, top-tier law firms in the nation ensure that maximum adoption of technology in their legal services and this has enabled them secure and advise cross-jurisdictional clients.

[17] See for instance the argument of Ryan Whalen, op cit. fn. 4

[18] See for instance, Ishaq. O. Apalando, ‘Legal Tech in Nigeria: Applications and Implications’ (ACADEMIA, 2019) available at https://www.academia.edu/40034923/Legal_Tech_in_Nigeria_Applications_and_Implications_An_Independent_Report_ accessed on 19 February 2024.

[19] P.67

[20] See Ron Friedmann , Back to the Future: A History of Legal Technology, (Prism Legal, 2004) available at https://prismlegal.com/back_to_the_future-a-history-of-legal-technology/ accessed on the 12th February, 2024

"Exciting news! TheNigeriaLawyer is now on WhatsApp Channels 🚀 Subscribe today by clicking the link and stay updated with the latest legal insights!" Click here! ....................................................................................................................... Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material and other digital content on this website, in whole or in part, without express and written permission from TheNigeriaLawyer, is strictly prohibited _________________________________________________________________

School Of Alternative Dispute Resolution Launches Affiliate Program To Expand Reach

For more information about the Certificate in ADR Skills Training and the affiliate marketing program, visit www.schoolofadr.com, email info@schoolofadr.com, or call +2348053834850 or +2348034343955. _________________________________________________________________

NIALS' Compendia Series: Your One-Stop Solution For Navigating Nigerian Laws (2004-2023)

Email: info@nials.edu.ng, tugomak@yahoo.co.uk, Contact: For Inquiry and information, kindly contact, NIALS Director of Marketing: +2348074128732, +2348100363602.