Paradigm shift towards sustainable tech-law

IT was Salmond, one of the greatest philosophers, who pointed that as society alters, so do its needs, and a serviceable legal system must be able to take account of new social, political and economic requirements. From time immemorial, technology advancement has been a vital tool for achieving efficiency in professional tasks: law practice cannot be an exception. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, there was a barrage of problems bedevilling the Nigerian legal practise, ranging from slow delivery of judgment and access to justice, poor legal representation. etc. It is becoming clear that the ethos and prestige accorded to the legal profession are fast evanescing. The justice system is needlessly silhouetted and kept in abeyance in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Aside from time-bound cases which need be heard for the exigency of time, the Nigerian Supreme court is yet to adjudicate on appeals filed before it since 2008 till date! With cases piling up every day, and with under-staffing, orthodox method of adjudication and more plaguing the judicial system, it’s time we stepped up our game and embraced human-assisted machine in this vital sector that forms the fulcrum of development in every society. Halting the sitting of the court due to a global pandemic will deal a debilitating blow to the development of developing countries. The administration of justice, at all times, must be unstoppable, immutable, and continuously progressing, and never for a second stopping for whatsoever reason. Irrespective of the disaster bedevilling the society, we must as a people device and embrace every practical means to make it works at all time, in fact, till thy kingdom come!

The retardation in the administration of law and its practice comes with debilitating effects.  The role of law practice in every society with a quest for innovation and technology is very sacrosanct. Therefore, an urgent need for radical shift towards thinking out of box, with a view to achieving effectiveness and efficiency in legal practice and make same sustainable, by embracing Artificial Intelligence (AI), is inevitable.  Efficiency, simply put, is the quality of being able to do a task successfully without wasting time, materials or energy. Legal practices that embrace powerful technologies like Artificial Intelligence are working more productively and spending less time on complex legal tasks. An AI machine, usually, can perceive its environment, identify the contents of documents, efficiently; thus fewer rigours are deployed while many humongous tasks are performed. Nigeria’s law practice embraces the frontloading system, a system which makes judges and counsels to be overwhelmed with bulky documents to read and interpret. With the aid of the AI machine, Andrew Arruda, the world’s first artificial intelligence lawyer and CEO of ROSS Intelligence, used his insights as a lawyer to build ROSS. He, in a TED talk, canvasses vehemently that law firms should adopt AI, propagating its abilities to help “lawyers serving on the front lines, get better results for their clients and become better lawyers in the process.” He further proposed that AI could be used within law firms as a tool for boosting efficiency. The question is, how does artificial intelligence bring efficiency to law practice? This can be answered in broad spectrums, I will, however, limit it to a few fundamental areas, to wit: research, due diligence and trial.

Research is one of the fundamental tasks inherent in law practice. According to King George III, lawyers do not know much law more than the people, but they know better where to find the law. As a matter of fact, one of the very fundamentals that distinguish a sophisticated lawyer who is building a sustainable law practice is his ability to conduct in-depth legal research. The fact is the orthodox methods of conducting legal research which is laborious and energy-sapping cannot breed sustainability in law practice due to the emerging trends in global social, economic and environmental phenomena. AI machine like the ROSS Intelligence brings efficiency to legal research by relieving the legal researcher of the rigor of browsing through shelve. Sustainability in law practice entails meeting global standard practice in resolving disputes. The occurrence of the global health hazards occasioned by coronavirus has changed the wave of business. Since the onset of Covid-19, many firms have been held on the hostage, directing their employees to work from home. Law practice is not immune to this, as the judiciary, particularly in Nigeria, has been grounded with little or no legal proceeding going on. Sustainability in law can be created where there exists the establishment of more cosmopolitan law firms, which can manage efficiently the assemblage of a large number of Partners.

Sadly, in Nigeria, over 85 per cent of law firms is a one-man-show business, manned by respective individuals with orthodox technology, too mundane to give their law practice an international outlook. In fact, recent research showed a paltry of 13 per cent of law firms in Nigeria are technologically equipped. Practice Manage Automation Machine which is a form of AI can be of immense help to manage efficiently, the activities of a large conglomerate of lawyers. For example, times recording programmes can log the hours spent by a lawyer in terms of work done in respect of each client, and automatically generate invoices at the end of each month or relevant time period. United States’ Baker & McKenzie LLP had 714 Partners, 2,453 Associate and 603 other workers, and generated $2,104,000,000, in 2010. DLA Piper LLP, the world’s largest law firm, with over 1,032 partners made over $2,440,000,000.00 in 2012. These firms are built to outlive those who established them. All these will make the practice of law sustainable and will definitely trigger sustainable development in Nigeria.

Many have argued that the use of AI will inevitably, lead to redundancy of many lawyers due to the fact that it inures in a lawyer the ability to perform the tasks of over 20 lawyers. However, learning from the UK’s law practice, where most law firms have embraced the use of artificial intelligence, it is far better and convincing to say it does more good than harm. In conclusion, Artificial Intelligence, by creating efficiency in areas of research, due diligence, trial and contact vetting breeds efficiency and makes the practice of law more sustainable. Consequentially, it births development in every sane society.

Also, with the use of AI machine, managing a big partnership of law firms will be feasible, and the firm can generate more money, thus, making the practice of law practically sustainable.

Finally, if the hunter has learnt to shoot without missing, the bird that seeks to survive must learn to fly without perching. It is in the light of the modern trend in technology exigency and undeniable reality of the desirability for a sustainable law practice that this writer canvasses, vehemently, that it is high time every serious-minded legal practitioner, judicial officer and all the stakeholders in the justice system disentangled themselves from the cocoon of conservatism which the straight-jacketed practice of law, arising out of their training, has imprisoned them. They must, as a matter of socio-economic, technology and advancement exigencies break loose from the maximum prison into which orthodox practice has confined them. They must gallop quickly into the light of economic, social justice and innovative efficient legal representation in order to justify their very existence as the catalysts for development in Nigeria.

  • Balogun, a legal practitioner, writes in from Lagos via rilwanbalogun60@yahoo.com

 

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