Innovation is the introduction of something new. It is an inevitable reaction to a perpetually changing world; converting an unexplored idea, or niche to tangible value. It is the driving force of any successful business venture.
We are currently in a tech-led landscape with constantly evolving markets. These markets need lawyers to draft contracts, negotiate deals, represent them in court, etc. There would be an obvious gap in communication, implementation and overall service if legal practitioners do not evolve along with these businesses.
Law firms are wrought with overworked legal practitioners, outdated filing systems, stale client relations, and a general fear of artificial intelligence. This interferes with legal practitioners delivering quality service in an efficient, straightforward manner.
The Nigerian Courts have made a few steps in the right direction with the adoption of Case Management System in 2015. However, there is still room for more innovation. The Courts must not get comfortable but look for other ways to innovate.
How can we not only overcome these challenges, but also turn these solutions into opportunities for an overall transformation in the legal profession?
This article will explore innovation in law firms and Nigerian courts.
The workplace culture in law firms leaves much to be desired. Long working hours, tight deadlines and almost no division of labour. Although legal professionals are able to handle all of these with grace and precision, there is vast room for improvement. Innovation in law firms includes delegating duties to legal service professionals, using a cloud database, improving employee/client engagement and introducing legal technologies.
The routine work of Legal practitioners is notorious for its volume, high technicality and tight deadlines. Hiring personnel who are not lawyers but have the required skills to optimise legal services (for example, a practice manager) to assist with planning, project management, research and development, strategy, innovation and performance will ease the burden and streamline operations in the law firm.
Physical files are expensive to print, tedious to maintain, bulky and uneasy to access.
Implementing a cloud database where files can be stored and accessed with the click of a button (with an encryption) is cheaper to maintain, easier to access and more environmentally friendly. It does not run the risk of being lost in a fire, flood, or any other element, and can be pre-emptively backed-up in case of a glitch in the system.
Receiving feedback from clients and even employees improves the quality of service in law firms. This can be achieved through distributing and collecting feedback forms after a client and employment engagement.
Feedback is crucial to personal and professional growth; it sets the expected standard of performance. Feedback shows clients and employees that their opinions matter and gives the firm suggestions and further insights on how to perform better. Listening to the voices of clients and employees also creates strong relations, resulting in a stronger attachment to the firm that may lead to future business dealings and/or referrals.
Anonymous submissions via an online polling system, social media channels and reviews/ratings on Google would not only engage people, but spread awareness to current and prospective clients on a local and global scale, ultimately enriching the global image of the Firm.
As data analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence continue to progress, it is just a matter of time before they arrive in law firms across the globe and become the norm. Legal technology would be used to perform tasks and facilitate optimal service delivery.
Case management system was introduced in Nigeria in 2015 to consolidate all information pertinent to a case. It is the coordination of court processes and resources to move cases in a timely manner from filing to disposition to ensure that justice is provided in a prompt and affordable manner. With this, the tools which may be necessary for the appropriate follow up of a matter are supplied.
It was designed to guide staff and enforce court procedures and rules resulting in a more just and equitable legal system for the nation. The overall aim was to preserve the sanctity of courts, timely disposal of cases, reduce stress of practice for lawyers and the cost of the judicial process.
The recent outbreak of COVID-19 halted all physical activity on a global scale. This led to the Nigerian Courts introducing and increasing the practice of utilising Remote Hearings and Electronic Filings (E-Filing) in their Rules and Practice Directions. The Remote Hearings take place either via Zoom, Skype, or any other audio-visual communication channel whilst all Court Processes are filed and served electronically. Contact information (email addresses and telephone numbers) of the counsel and parties to a case are required to be submitted.
Although a step in the right direction, it could be said that this move is quite belated; Remote Hearings should have been a reality before a global pandemic. The world bows down to the demanding, dynamic and fast paced needs of technology, and we ought not to wait for our walls to be pressed against the wall before we improve and innovate. This is a functional system, but there is room for more.
Virtual Reality (VR) is the use of computer technology to create a simulated environment. VR places the user inside an experience, instead of viewing a screen in front of them, users are immersed and able to interact with 3D worlds. With this, a witness or a lawyer may be placed in Court and interact with virtual reality.
Aforementioned in previous paragraphs, the COVID-19 outbreak halted all physical activity. For months, individuals were not allowed to go to the courts for matters regardless the severity. The future is hard to predict, but easy to prepare for. Introducing Virtual Reality technology (VR) would not only make cases not held in court possible but comfortable, convenient, and inexpensive as physical courts will not need to spend as much funds on running costs such as electricity, fuel and more. It does not have to be used at all times, but it would be handy in emergencies.
THE RISE OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
Artificial intelligence is already being applied to all major sectors of the economy. The legal sector will not be spared from this change. Currently there are numerous software for legal processes.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is defined by Investopedia as the simulation of human intelligence in machines that are programmed to think like humans and mimic their actions. The term may also be applied to any machine that exhibits traits associated with a human mind such as learning and problem-solving.
Incorporation of AI into a law firm’s systems and operations is happening gradually, and early adopters will have a major advantage over firms that lag behind in adopting the technology.
For lawyers and law firms who embrace artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies, legal work will become more efficient and effective. AI applied in the legal sector aims to streamline work processes by:
On the quest for due diligence, lawyers spend an overt amount of time reviewing, editing and exchanging red-lined documents, often by hand. This lengthy process often leads to common mistakes.
Developing and implementing AI systems will for example, assist in the search, highlight and extraction of relevant content in analysing contracts which are the subject of a review, using Natural Language Processing (NLP). Natural Language Processing is a branch of artificial intelligence that deals with the interaction between computers and humans using the natural language. The ultimate objective of NLP is to read, decipher, understand and make sense of the human languages in a manner that is valuable. Using NLP to carry out due diligence is cost and time-effective; all the legal professional has to do is to read through, for a final review.
At present, there is a software called KIRA systems, that is used to search, highlight and extract relevant information. The company asserts that its software is capable of completing the task up to 40 % (forty percent) faster for first time users, and up to 90% (ninety percent) for those with more experience.
There is also LEVERTON, a cloud-based tool capable of reading contracts at high speed, in up to twenty (20) languages.
In recent times, legal research has become digital. Computer programs such as LawPavillion and Westlaw have become second nature.
Recently, AI companies are expanding on this and companies like Casetext and ROSS Intelligence are building research platforms. These research platforms are being upgraded to understand the sophisticated semantics of the actual meaning of legal opinions, going beyond elementary key-word matching. These semantic models provide a more nuanced perspective on how cases relate to each other, providing lawyers optimum satisfaction and sleek results in the Courts.
Applying for patents is a long and arduous process. Trademark and patent searches require looking through countless results. Using Artificial Intelligence will not only reduce the amount of time spent, but detect document errors, circular claim references and formatting defects aside from automatically generating literal claims support.
TrademarkNow is a company known for its work with intellectual property application with AI. The system is said to shorten long searches for patents and trademark using the Trademark Clearance platform, which returns search results in less than fifteen (15) seconds and analyses the results, ranking them according to relevance.
There are concerns that “AI and Innovation” will automate the legal profession out of existence. Nonetheless, these will facilitate growth and productivity by increasing accuracy and driving efficiencies.
Most lawyers will be freed from the rigorous task of data gathering for the task of analysing results, critical thinking, and advising their clients. These are roles that will always require the human touch. The development of these new innovations and AI systems will just be a tool to help lawyers do all of this better, faster, and cost effectively.
Multiple aspects of legal work will be transformed, but it would not replace lawyers. Lawyers now have an opportunity to leverage their legal knowledge in new ways and the job market for lawyers would increase. There would be a demand for legal engineers, legal operations specialists, data analysts, legal product designers and others.
Another concern is cost. After all, what is good does not come cheap. Artificial Intelligence experts are able to charge a premium because of the steadily rising demand for their services. Law firms are not familiar with or experienced with investing copious amounts of funds in technology- the legal profession is still largely paper driven. Also, complete instalment and recouping on costs is not instantaneous- it might take years before one sees the full results or learns how to use the technology optimally.
However, the issue of costs can be solved through gradual expenditure; law firms and courts should consider paying for these in instalments. Incremental change is still change; legal professionals should invest in these proposed technologies within their means, but should still not be afraid to spend a little more than usual, because these changes are not only necessary but beneficial in the long run.
The above might serve as deterrents to implementing innovation and artificial intelligence, but they are not insurmountable. The best way to innovate is by taking incremental steps; introducing change in a sustainable manner that can be improved and expanded upon depending on the financial capabilities of the firms and courts. One can also set up training sessions by AI experts and innovators, to train the staff on newer infrastructure. Legal professionals should also be encouraged to take some time out of their schedules to regularly update themselves on the latest advancements. Also, in the vein of employing professionals who are not lawyers, data engineers should be employed to take care of the technological aspects, to track progress and conduct reports on, before and after technology introduction.
In order to retain relevance in a constantly evolving profession, in a global village where people of different countries and status interact, lawyers must embrace the possibilities that innovation and artificial intelligence lend to the legal profession and ultimately build a legal culture that prioritizes making legal professionals’ lives easier. When this is the filter through which a practice or court operates, lawyers will practice efficiently, cases will be made more accessible and clients will remain satisfied.