Change has undoubtedly occurred in the legal sector in Africa over the last decade.
However, since March of this year we have seen changes at an increasing speed as the coronavirus has acted as an unexpected catalyst for tech adoption. In January, it would have been inconceivable that law firms across Africa would adapt to working remotely, yet many have managed to seamlessly. And critically, mindsets have changed too. Those who doubted the potential of technology to significantly ease business and improve productivity are now convinced of the necessity to change the way they work and digitise. We are certainly living in an exciting time, where digital transformation has imminent potential to disrupt the legal sector in Africa.
At Afriwise, we are at the forefront of converting legal texts into structured data and marrying technology with law. We have seen first-hand how technology is enabling businesses to operate more efficiently – saving organisations time and money.
We know that this sort of tech tool is no longer a “nice to have” but an essential for businesses who wish to work quickly and remain competitive on the continent.
Over the last few months we have held a series of events, run a survey and spoken with in-house counsel and lawyers from across Africa. As we work with close to 100 law firms on the continent to serve already hundreds of inhouse counsel and compliance officers, we are well placed to have these discussions. It has been really interesting for us to build a comprehensive picture of what is already being done and the challenges that need to be addressed in order to do more.
Everyone we spoke to agreed that the continent is still behind in terms of legal tech and innovative alternative legal solutions. They also agreed that COVID-19 has presented a real opportunity to turn this around, with many believing the continent could leapfrog countries globally in its adoption of technology to improve legal services. Our survey indicated overwhelmingly, that all respondents, both in-house counsel and law firms, expect COVID-19 to prompt some form of tech transformation.
Interestingly, law firms were under the impression this tech transformation would be internally led and was not being demanded by in-house counsel. Yet, in the in-house counsel survey – the majority of respondents indicated that they wanted their law firms to adopt new technology. This is something we have also gauged from conversations with in- house counsel who all suggested they would like to see the law firms they engage with using more technology. In the in-house counsel survey, 64% felt that prior to COVID-19 the legal sector was in need of transformation, with not one respondent specifying they thought it was fine as it was.
On the other hand, some law firms were clearly already making moves to digitise their operations. Indeed, a number of firms we have spoken to noted that they had multiple tech platforms in place, they just were not utilising them properly; COVID-19 has impelled them to now do so. Given that more often than not, getting people to start using new systems is the greatest challenge, there will already be discernible shifts in the way departments are operating.
There were great variances in how each country was prepared; in Kenya for example court proceedings went ahead via video conferencing whereas in many jurisdictions, courts closed altogether for 3 months. Knowledge sharing between sectors and regions will be imperative.
We summarised some of our findings in a report, which is available for free download. The aim of our report is to provoke conversation and debate; to act as a catalyst whereby new partnerships can be forged and to be part of a growing body of literature which shapes policy in the legal tech field.