The benefits of technology to all walks of life are massive and the field of law is not exempt. Despite the conservative label of the legal profession and the cautious stance maintained by many legal professionals globally, the benefits derivable from modern technology have gradually been apprehended and accepted by even the most conservative members of the legal profession.
Generally, lawyers tend to adopt technology for personal use much more easily than they do on the job.1 In the past, the majority of technology resources and investment in legal teams was perceived to be focused on ensuring that email systems were up and running, ensuring availability of adequate storage and encouraging lawyers to word-process their documents.2
We have certainly come a long way from those days when lawyers were reluctant to embrace any technological change to their work tools for example change from manual to electric typewriters and then to computer word processing. The legal profession has embraced the use of technology in critical areas such as digitalization and storage of case laws3, legislations and regulations, litigation management, law reporting, eDiscovery, virtual offices, virtual hearings, recording of legal proceedings, legal education and training, legal research databases and IP telephony.
The delay in embracing technological advancements was not unconnected to the historically conservative nature of the legal profession. This disposition may be due to the role that the legal profession plays in society: the custodian and watchdog of the legal system as well as operator of all things legal. This responsibility comes with the burden of exercising caution before taking any key step, as errors could be costly.
Why the Caution
Traditionally, the average person in any society would feel safer to take opinion from a lawyer before taking any serious business or legal steps. This, naturally, means that lawyers have a responsibility to act prudently in advising clients in any given set of circumstances. Any frivolous or negligent advice could have devastating consequences for the client and the lawyer’s reputation. This backdrop to a large extent accounts for any perceived reticence previously shown by lawyers in embracing modern technological tools.
Limitations and Innovations
The very nature of legal knowledge and skills makes it a little difficult to rely completely on technology to perform legal work. For example, in reviewing a document, a lawyer reads and processes it by identifying the issues and applying relevant legal principles and consulting relevant precedents for details. A key intervention here is that modern technology that will enable lawyers to transfer the task of reviewing contracts and other legal documents to computers is being developed4. There has even been talks of firms developing smart contracts capable of self-alteration if a variable set of information is imputed to it5.
The new and young generation of legal professionals to whom technology is second nature consider it as an essential component in legal service delivery, adapt easily to new technology and engage with techie professionals and paraprofessionals6. The solutions delivered by technology is a key contributory factor towards this
the change in attitude in the legal industry.
The technological advancement made in international companies and the saddling of inhouse information technology teams with the responsibility of identifying the technological needs of various corporate departments has also contributed greatly to the acceptance of modern technological tools by the legal teams. The emergence of tech start ups and their need for legal services whether in-house or otherwise also accounts for this change in attitude.
Having overcome the initial hesitancy towards technological advancement, lawyers and the legal profession in general have since embraced the convenience brought to the profession by modern technology, ranging from contract data bases, eDiscovery, data, conducting proceedings virtually either by telephone or by internet video conferencing facilities (to mention but a few).
by Irene A. Osamor