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An Interview with Sheria Online

Sheria Online Founders

  • Brian Maera Mabeya – Chief Executive Officer
  • Robert Muoka Salim – Head of Business Development and Strategic Partnerships
  • Theophilus Matundura – Head of Legislative Writing and Legal Aid
  • William Bill Mathenge – Chief Operations Officer

Tell us a little bit about your company and why you set it up – what was the problem you were trying to solve?

The World Justice Project General Population Poll revealed that 43% of Kenyans (approximately 21,500,000 Kenyans) do not know where to gain access to legal information and solutions.

 Sheria Online is an interactive online legal platform that seeks to bridge the access to Justice and Legal Information Gap in Kenya. We plan on bridging the access to justice and legal information gap by leveraging the power of technology in offering legal services.

Our platform also serves as an edu-tech platform as our users can access a pool of curated knowledge for guidance in matters related to Kenyan law catering to both the general public and legal practitioners.  Our users can also access our vast network of verified Advocates of the High Court of Kenya, Certified Arbitrators and Certified Professional Mediators dubbed the “Sheria Online Network” whereby legal professionals can interact amongst themselves and also with prospective clients.

What are the top challenges facing African lawyers and businesses today, in terms of data and technology and how can they be addressed?

The top challenges facing African lawyers and businesses today, in terms of data and technology are as follows:

Low level of E-literacy – With the witnessed increase in the uptake and use of technology within the legal profession, it has become evident that certain stakeholders in the legal profession, lack the required skills and knowledge to use technological infrastructure. This challenge can be addressed by enhanced e-literacy training on the efficient use of technology. The training should target all stakeholders in the legal profession, in collaboration with experts in ICT.

Data security and privacy risks – Data security concerns are posed by advancements in technology and the manner in which lawyers and businesses are increasingly using technology in their daily operations. This can be witnessed by increased virtual hearings and the automation of filing processes in Kenyan courts. This challenge can be addressed by strengthening data protection regulation and infrastructure and also educating lawyers and businesses on best practices for data protection and privacy such as data encryption.

Legislative Drafting is a service that Sheria Online offers, how do you intend to impact the legislative drafting sphere in Kenya?

We aim to do so by actively participating in the bill drafting process in Kenya. We also plan on enlightening our fellow Kenyans on the lawmaking process in Kenya. Our head of legislative writing has been fortunate enough to gain experience in drafting various legislations in the agricultural sector, such as the Food Policy 2021, Fertilizer Regulations, Agriculture Mechanization Regulations, Aquaculture Regulations et cetera. Therefore, we have the insight to disseminate this information to the general public, for the greater good of our nation.

What regulatory and legislative environment is required to facilitate greater use of technology in the African legal sector?

There has to be effective regulation regarding the issue of data privacy and protection in the African continent. It is a step in the right direction that some countries such as Kenya (Data Protection Act 2020), Ghana, Rwanda and South Africa among others, have enacted national data protection legislation. However, many African states still lack Data protection legislation in force to regulate the data driven digital economy growing in Africa.

The regulatory and legislative environment around legal-tech startup growth and funding should also be developed, to promote legal-tech startups.  Comprehensive national AI strategies can also foster investment and the development of new technologies on the continent.

The legislative environment around issues of Cloud policy, A.I governance and internet geopolitics should also be developed because they are key to aligning Africa’s digitalization policies with those of the rest of the world.

What measures will Sheria Online take in regard to civic education and legal aid exercises in the community?

We at Sheria Online plan to partner with the Judiciary, State Department of the President – Office of the Chief, County Governments and relevant government agencies to promote basic civic literacy.  Through doing so, we will be able to access the normal citizen and disseminate information through training and communication prompts.

We also plan to leverage technology to conduct civic education by launching a mobile application, and USSD system to supplement our web-based platform as well curating content on the same through podcasts.

How best can lawyers influence and shape the legislative and policy environment to enable the growth of the African technology sector?

Some of the ways that lawyers can influence and shape the legislative and policy environment to enable the growth of the African Technology Sector is by:

  1. Participating actively in discussions and forums on tech policy.
  2. Sensitizing the general public on the importance of developing robust regulatory framework on tech and digital policy.
  3. Offering legal consultancy services to start-ups and stakeholders in the African tech space.

Do you see an opportunity to scale your business outside of your home jurisdiction – and if so, where next?

We definitely see an opportunity to scale up the operations of Sheria Online across the Kenyan borders. This is inspired by various initiatives such as the African Union’s plan for a secured Digital Single Market for Africa by 2030. The A.U aims to implement existing and future digital policies and strategies to support networked digital economies for intra-national and global e-commerce and trade.

We plan on scaling Sheria Online to the larger East African region more specifically Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda.  We at Sheria Online aim to do this by automating legal processes such as contract drafting and business registration on our platform.

Who or what is your greatest inspiration?

We at Sheria Online are inspired by individuals who go against established norms and ideals to carve out a niche and space for themselves in human existence. In the words of Arthur C. Clarke: “The only way to discover the limits of the possible, is to go beyond them into the impossible.”

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