In today’s fast-paced world, we have easy access to information whenever we want it. The COVID- 19 pandemic pushed us to embrace remote work and collaboration. Teams now rely on online platforms to replace traditional in-person meetings. We need digital tools to track project progress, ensure tasks are done on time and within budget. Artificial Intelligence (AI) projects are now focusing on transforming organizational data to provide valuable insights and transparency.
This article is going to give a deep insight into the connection between AI, law, and the ongoing digital transformation across industries. It raises valid concerns about how emerging technologies may impact human rights and well-being. Lawyers will have a crucial role in protecting and defending these rights. They will also provide valuable guidance for the responsible and ethical development of AI. It is important for lawyers to take a proactive approach rather than just reacting to issues.
In 2011, legal tech came up and it was associated more with technology startups disrupting the practice of law by giving people access to online software and this helped to reduce the need to consult a lawyer..
Legal tech is referred to as the application of technology software which aided individual lawyers, law firms, small- and large-scale businesses with practice management, document, automation, document storage, billing, accounting and electronic discovery. Presently, nearly every lawyer uses email and any other electronic tool as predominant in their practice. There is no doubt that technology has become a fundamental part of creating efficiency and promoting access to justice in the world currently. Technology has also revolutionized the way, ease, speed and time with which legal practitioners conduct their activities. It is becoming increasingly important in Nigeria’s legal industry, with the potential to reshape the sector in various ways. It is amazing how technology has changed the legal landscape. Instead of flipping through textbooks, people can now easily access court cases and legal information from anywhere in the world through websites and social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. This means that citizens can easily gain legal knowledge and raise awareness about legal issues. Plus, students and the public can access study materials and case files without relying on poorly equipped libraries or borrowing books. Innovations like Computer Assisted Legal Research (CALR) are helpful for legal education. Technology including information and communication technology (ICT) now plays an important role in legal practice and education sector. It has become essential for the effectual and efficient running of legal practice., so much so that if lawyers in Nigeria continue to ignore the need to encompass technologies into the practice of law, they will likely lose their relevance in the fast-unfolding future.
1.0 BENEFITS OF LEGAL TECHNOLOGY
Recent studies have shown that trial technology can speed up trials by up to 50 percent. It is amazing how user-friendly these legal technologies are, allowing attorneys to use laptops, tablets, and other devices to easily display evidence to jurors and judges in the courtroom. Space restrictions are no longer a problem when it comes to presenting evidence. With teleconferencing software, witnesses can even testify remotely, making the court processes more efficient. If the technology is working correctly, it can really make a difference.
The advancement of courtroom technology has made court records more accurate, secure and easily accessible. This helps improve communication between attorneys, judges and clients, allowing for a smooth flow of information. The recognition that the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is a key element in enhancing the administration of justice in any country is essential. Web services, online legislation and case law consultations, electronic filing and the exchange of legal documents electronically are just a few examples that are prompting judicial administrations worldwide to reconsider their current functions and activities.
- Technology for supporting Judges
Several applications have been designed to support and aid judges’ activities. Most of the technology designed are individual tools and this is for several reasons which include the independence and nature of the duties and obligations performed by the judges. A part of a judges’ daily activities is made up of conducting online legal research and going through a growing number of websites. The use of search engines and text mining techniques has highly increased the quality and efficiency of legal research. There are Forums and discussion groups which judges can ‘virtually’ meet and discuss legislation, procedures and cases and this has been an important development all around the world such as the annual WIPO Intellectual Property Judges Forum which aims at providing a platform for judges from across the globe to exchange their expertise on the mist pressing intellectual Property (IP) challenges raised by accelerating innovation and the increasingly transnational use of IP.
- Technologies for the administrative component
The administrative component of the court plays a crucial role in performing various tasks. They handle case-tracking, maintain official records of all court matters and send out official court notifications. Their work is essential in ensuring that the court operates smoothly and efficiently. Furthermore, court personnel carry out an important role as an interface, and subsequently buffer between the judge and the other actors that participate in the judicial process. As lawyers know, judicial proceedings start long before a case reaches the courtroom. The administrative staff of the courts are responsible for filing and maintaining registers and documents in accordance with codes of procedure, laws and regulations. For instance, in a civil action, the plaintiff or their attorney files a summons or complaint with the court clerk, documenting the collection, registering the event on the court register and issuing a receipt. It is all part of ensuring proper documentation and compliance with legal procedures. In supporting the clerks’ activities, technology can play an important role in saving much needed resources at the earliest stage of the trial.
Traditional court dockets and registers are important for court activities, but they can be quite bulky and have limitations. However, having all that data in electronic format opens a ton of possibilities to make the court even more efficient. It lightens the workload for court staff and reduces the chances of mistakes. In European courts, they have developed some applications that use automated register data. Some of these applications have a strategic focus, like providing management information and statistics, which really helps with organizing and running court offices.
- Official Electronic Communication
In judicial proceedings, the communication between the court and parties has traditionally relied on paper-based methods and complex formal rules. It is often used strategically by parties to gain an advantage in the trial. However, in the past decade, judicial administration in Europe and around the world has been exploring the possibility of providing court services electronically. The shift towards electronic court services has brought about significant benefits. Parties can now conveniently file claims, pay fines, access case information, receive court notifications, and download electronic documents anywhere using their computers. These digital transformations aim to revolutionize the paper-based infrastructure, making justice more accessible, convenient and cost-effective for parties and their legal representatives. With these advancements, lawyers can file claims, access case information, receive court notifications and download electronic documents from anywhere using a computer. It is an exciting development that makes the legal process more efficient and user-friendly.
2.1 THE ADOPTION OF LEGAL TECHNOLOGY IN NIGERIA
The Court of Appeal Rules 2021 which became effective on November 1, 2021, have introduced several innovative provisions aimed at modernizing the Rules of the Court of Appeal in Nigeria and promoting the adoption of legal technology. One of the notable changes is contained in Order 2 rule 1, which now allows a notice of appeal to be served by electronic mail, especially if the party involved provided an email address during the proceedings of the lower court. This provision is a welcome development as it promotes the use of electronic communication and makes the process of serving notices of appeal more efficient. “Every Notice of Appeal shall, subject to the provisions of Order 2 Rule 8, be served on the Respondent personally or by electronic mail to the electronic mail address of the Respondent: provided that if the Court is satisfied that the Notice of Appeal has in fact been communicated to the Respondent, no objection to the hearing of the appeal shall lie on the ground that the Notice of Appeal was not served in accordance with this Rule”.
Order 20 of the Court of Appeal Rules now provides that electronic filing to run parallel with manual filing. Order 20 Rule 1 stipulates: “There shall be established a 24-hour electronic filing system in the Registry of the Court, functional in all the Judicial Division of the Court, for the electronic filing of Court processes and documents by parties”.
Order 21 Rule 1 of the Rules permits virtual hearing of appeals at the discretion of the Court. The rule states as follows: “The Court may conduct its proceedings virtually where it deems fit”.
Order 21 Rule 2 provides that: “The virtual hearing shall be by means of any audio-visual platform approved by the Court and a link will be provided to enable the public to observe the virtual proceedings”.
The Federal High Court and the Lagos State High Court have adopted virtual proceedings via Zoom, Skype and other audiovisual platforms approved by the court. The Federal High Court’s Practice Directions now provides that, where parties and lawyers in a case agree to virtual proceedings, they shall liaise with the register to schedule the hearings.
The judiciary pronounced its commitment to the development of a remote justice system while considering the legal challenge to the constitutionality of virtual hearings in Attorney General of Lagos State v. Attorney General of The Federation & Anor. The plaintiff subsequently withdrew the appeal when it realized from the reaction of the Supreme Court that the case was speculative and preemptive. However, while striking out the case, the Supreme Court stated that ‘as of today virtual sitting is not unconstitutional.
Legal practice in Nigeria is set to undergo a technological revolution as the legal landscape has changed significantly due to the disruptions caused by the pandemic. The use of technological tools and appliances in the delivery of basic legal services is now the new norm, and the legal profession must continue to innovate and deploy these tools to increase access to justice and legal services for citizens. This will create a viable legal technology sector, providing more jobs for lawyers and easing the burden of work done by them.
2.2 Challenges Associated with The Digital Transformation of Law
The digital transformation of law has the potential to bring significant benefits to the legal sector, such as improved efficiency, communication and collaboration, better access to data and more proactive approaches to business. However, there are also several challenges associated with this transformation that need to be addressed.
- Financial constraints: going digital can be expensive for law firms, especially smaller ones, due to upfront costs like software licenses, hardware upgrades and staff training. Performing a cost-benefit analysis is crucial for law firms during digital transformation. It helps allocate resources wisely, justify investments and manage risks. This analysis informs decision-making, aligns with strategic goals and optimizes resource utilization in the digital landscape.
- Legal firms have faced challenges with new technologies, primarily due to concerns about data security. Storing data on-site instead of using cloud storage goes against information security practices.
- The digital transformation of law firms can be challenging because law firms may resist change. They might be hesitant to adopt new technologies due to unfamiliarity or concerns on how it will affect their work. To overcome this, law firms should encourage innovative culture and provide thorough training and support.
To overcome these challenges, law firms should see digital transformation as an ongoing process to stay competitive in the long run. It is important to choose future-proof technologies. Partnering with IT service providers can help convince stakeholders of its value. Law firms should also align their purpose and integrate their functions to maximize impact.
Emerging trends in Legal Technology; Blockchain in contract management, Virtual courtrooms and Predictive analytics.
Blockchain in Contract Management. Blockchain has the potential to revolutionize contract management in the legal industry. By leveraging its decentralized and immutable nature, blockchain ensures security, integrity and transparency of contracts. Here is how it transforms the legal landscape:
- Enhanced Security: blockchain eliminates the need for intermediaries, reducing the risk of fraud and tampering. Smart contracts, powered by blockchain, automatically execute contractual terms, ensuring compliance and reducing disputes.
- Immutable Records: every transaction and modification made to a contract is recorded on the blockchain, creating an unalterable audit trail. This feature enhances transparency, trust and accountability in contract management.
- Streamlined Processes: blockchain enables the automation of contract execution, payment and enforcement. This streamlines processes, reduces administrative burdens and increases efficiency.
- Smart Contract Potential: smart contracts are self-executing agreements with predefined conditions. They automatically trigger actions when specific criteria are met. This eliminates the need for manual intervention, reducing costs and time.
Virtual Courtrooms: Virtual courtrooms leverage technology to conduct legal proceedings remotely. This innovation has transformative effects on the legal landscape.
- Increased accessibility: Virtual Courtrooms enable individuals to participate in legal proceedings from any location, eliminating the need for physical presence. This enhances access to justice, particularly for those in remote areas or with mobile constraints.
- Cost and Time Savings: Virtual Courtrooms eliminate the need for travel, reducing costs and saving time for all parties involved. This results in more efficient hearing and faster resolution of cases.
- Improved Efficiency: Virtual Courtrooms facilitate the digital exchange of documents, evidence and testimonies. This accelerates the legal process, reduces paperwork and enhances overall efficiency
Predictive Analytics: Predictive analysis utilizes data analysis and machine learning algorithms to make informed predictions about future outcomes. In the legal landscape, predictive analytics has several transformative effects.
- Data Driven Decision Making: By analyzing vast amounts of legal data, predictive analysis helps lawyers make informed decisions. It provides insights into case outcomes, settlement probabilities and potential risks, enabling lawyers to develop effective strategies and advise clients more accurately.
- Case Assessment: Predictive analytics can assess the strength of a case by analyzing past precedents, judge rulings and other relevant factors. This helps lawyers evaluate the potential success or challenges associated with a particular case.
- Resource Allocation: By predicting case outcomes and timelines, predictive analytics assist in resource allocation. Lawyers can better manage their time, allocate resources efficiently and prioritize cases based on their likelihood of success.
- Early Case Resolution: Predictive analytics can identify patterns and trends that indicate the potential for early case resolution. This allows lawyers to explore settlement options or alternative dispute resolution methods, saving time and costs associated with lengthy court proceedings.
The advancement of these emerging trends has a transformative impact on the legal landscape. It enhances security, transparency and efficiency in contract management, enables remote participation and accessibility in legal proceedings and empowers lawyers with data-driven insights for informed decision making. These technologies are revolutionizing the legal industry, improving access to justice and streamlining processes for the benefit of all stakeholders involved.
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 The 2020 Wipo Intellectual Property Judges Forum was held in virtual format from November 18 to 20, 2020. The Forum brought together 407 judges from 89 national and regional jurisdictions, to engage with their global peers on topical issues in copyright, trademarks and patents.
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