Insights

ALT Network members come from across the African legal and technology sectors. Share your story, raise your profile and find new collaborators and providers of products and services.

 

 

 

 

 

Does regulation hinder the take-up of technology in the legal sector?

The idea that technology might have a disruptive impact on the provision of legal services is not new. Concerns were raised about the impact on legal practice of fax machines in the 1980s, the internet in the 1990s and the Cloud in the 2000s. Technology offers the potential to crack seemingly intractable problems in the legal sector and although Professor Richard Susskind’s seminal work “The End of Lawyers: Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services” published in 2008 began to focus minds in earnest; technology has so far had an uneven impact on the legal sector.

As the application of technology to legal services processes and to service delivery increases, so too do new and perceived regulatory risks. This coupled with the development of an increasing range of tools, underlines the need for regulators to keep an open mind on technology. It is, however, apparent that one of the main impediments to the uptake of technology in the legal sector is, in fact, the regulatory frameworks underpinning the provision of legal services.

Most jurisdictions restrict the growth of legal technology through rules that prohibit non-lawyer investment in law firms and even in some cases, lawyer involvement in non-legal businesses. This means that a lawyer who wishes to use legal tech to solve a problem for their poor clients may not be able to raise the capital to invest in an idea, and even if they have the money, they may be prevented from partnering with others to deliver on their ideas. With the sole exception of England and Wales, which passed legislation in 2007 to permit non-lawyers to invest in and manage businesses in the legal sector, most consumer and SME driven tech developments in law in most parts of the world are happening outside of the regulated legal sector.

In a recent consultation, the oversight legal services regulator for England and Wales, the Legal Services Board, proposed that technology neutral regulation was a concept worth exploring. This is a useful starting point, since regulators should be encouraged to ensure that their rules do not hinder innovation and the development of technologically driven solutions. There is much to be learnt on this topic from other sectors, notably the financial services sector, which has attempted to address some of the risks of regulatory neutrality through the introduction of sandboxes.

However, the sandbox approach only deals with circumstances in which innovators have a proposition which needs to be tested against the existing rulebook. It does not help regulators to positively encourage innovation at a conceptual stage. There are even risks in a ‘neutral’ approach, in that it can promote inaction as an antidote to making the wrong choices.

Regulators therefore have a role to play in setting positive innovation challenges for the sector, which will encourage more radical thinking over a longer period of time than permitted by, for example, the current vogue for legal hackathons.

So how are the regulators of the legal profession responding to the challenge of technology? There are four generic types of response:

Hands-Off – do nothing. This is probably the most common approach. There are plenty of other pressing tasks for regulators and knowing little of technology, they are often a bit scared by it. So, this is the easy option. But doing nothing allows the prevailing professional code of conduct to have a chilling effect.

Resistance. Some bar associations have been actively obstructive to the entry of new technology-based service providers into the market. Between 2016-18, for example, the Bar Associations of eight US states issued ethics opinions which determined that participation by lawyers in the services of the online legal services provider, Avvo, represented an ethics violation. As a result, Avvo ceased providing legal services in July 2018 and relaunched purely as a lawyer search and ranking service.

In April 2016, the French Conseil National des Barreaux and the Montpellier bar association obtained a judgement from the Court of Appeal in Aix-en-Provence against the online legal service provider, www.divorce-discount.com for having provided unauthorised legal advice. This led to the closure of the site. It had offered a fixed price for an uncontested divorce of €300, compared to €2000 on average charged by licensed lawyers.

Control. This school of thought can broadly be categorised as “if you can’t beat them, join them”. The regulators adopting this approach are attempting to find ways to adapt new technology to fit existing rules. For example, the Dutch supervisor of lawyers issued a notice in 2016, informing lawyers of their intention to act on breaches of the referral fees provision in the lawyers’ code of conduct. The College of Supervisors permits lawyers to be involved in online platforms which have fee arrangements that are based on reasonable fixed fees paid by the lawyers or payment per click, but prohibits participation in online services which are based on payment by referral, payment per case or payment as a percentage of the fee.

Enabling. Lastly, there are a very few examples where the legal regulator has taken an enabling approach. The Solicitors Regulation Authority in England and Wales has set up a kind of sandbox, whilst the Singaporean Authorities have indicated their willingness to discuss any new business model in the legal sector that an entrepreneur might wish to put forward. These are the exception rather than the rule, however.

These examples further demonstrate how counterproductive it is to attempt to pour new business models driven by technology into old regulatory structures. The challenge for regulators is to understand the changing environment, ensure regulation keeps pace and effectively manages these risks without stifling innovation.  Regulators should cast their net widely when looking at other sectors which may offer insights for the legal market. There are a wide range of other sectors which are heavily influenced by technology, so tracking developments in regtech, insurtech, healthtech and proptech, as well as fintech, may well offer lessons in how legal tech can be supported and propagated appropriately by regulators.

Regulators should start thinking about other areas of technology which could impact on their internal functions, such as enforcement, credentialing etc. Whilst some technologies are already being experimented with by regulators (e.g. the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s experiments with neural networks), others may not yet have appeared on the horizon (e.g. quantum key distribution) but may offer significant long-term potential for regulatory activity.

There are also applications which could promote the take-up of technology in the legal sector once they are further developed because they could potentially overcome a regulatory/insurance concern – for example, who is liable for AI advice? More research on these topics both by universities and practical research organisations is required and there is much to be learnt from other sectors on these topics.

Regulators must also consider the client perspective and changing consumer preferences for obtaining information and advice. On the supply side, tech is likely to drive a growing need for different types of legal professionals who are able to accommodate the need for new STEM related skills in the legal sector and to diversify the means by which they deliver services to their clients.

The legal sector is not alone in adjusting to the world of technology. There are therefore many opportunities for legal regulators to learn from other sectors. This may, however, require regulators to take a much wider view of the market for policy ideas than they traditionally might have done.

Regulation is not only about managing market failure and securing the public interest and other public policy goals. Industries will often autonomously seek to establish rules to help them function and develop their markets. At their best, such industry-driven rules create clarity, interoperability between players, standards to guide choices by customers and a reduction of duplicated effort. On the negative side, they can be used to distort competition and create barriers to entry which then requires public policy intervention.

Finally, legal regulators should not assume that standing aside from legaltech to avoid interfering unhelpfully in a world of which they are uncertain, is necessarily the right answer. Be brave, be bold!

Tell us a little bit about your organisation/company/product and why you set it up.

Having been active as lawyers in several parts of Africa for almost two decades, we know how hard it can be to obtain critical local insight and reliable information on the continent. And this, in environments where the unknown and unexpected can be particularly tough.

With companies the world over becoming more data driven and continuously driving down costs, existing solutions are clearly failing to meet needs and expectations.

Existing legal-information providers don’t focus on Africa and where they do offer information, it is very patchy and not properly maintained.

The only way to source trustworthy information is by instructing top local counsel, but then the elements of time and cost come into play (and that’s if you already know who to instruct in which country).

Afriwise solves this huge problem by offering businesses  all the legal know-how, contacts and tools to help them move forward with confidence in Africa. This is done through an online, cloud-based solution. On our platform, businesses can instantly find up-to-date answers to critical legal questions they have in selected countries in Africa and find the right local expert for their specific requirements. We work with the best lawyers and law firms in Africa to make this possible.

What has been your greatest success/are you most proud of so far?

Our greatest achievement relates to what we thought would be our greatest challenge in this venture: convincing Africa’s top law firms to participate.

Without the participation of local law firms, we would not have been able to compile and maintain such a comprehensive legal-intelligence solution.

We thought that this would be the trickiest part of our journey. But, when we approached the legal sector in Africa, we quickly found that African law firms were generally open to collaborate with us and explore innovative ways to deliver value to businesses. Obviously, there was also an element of mutual respect because of the work we had done with them in the past.

Through our collaboration with over 100 top law firms in Africa, Afriwise is now effectively the largest collaborative effort ever undertaken by the legal fraternity in Africa. This is something we are extremely proud of.

What is the greatest challenge you have faced?

In establishing and growing a business, you always face a range of challenges.

The greatest challenge at the outset was finding the funding. We knew we needed significant capital to develop the platform and it took us over a year to find the required funding, although we didn’t find it in Africa, but in Europe. While a challenge initially, we are grateful to have found investors with a long-term view.

Later on, the editing and maintenance of the content on our platform turned out to be a challenge. Keeping the answers to 10,000 questions up to date in only six countries is not an easy task, but is critical to what we do. Proper structures, technology and top human resources play an important role in tackling this challenge, especially as we will be growing our offering to over 15 countries this year alone.

Finally, as with every new product, we need to educate the market about the benefits of our platform. This is an ongoing process and takes time. However, once companies have seen our platform at work, they see the benefits it offers them.

What are the top challenges facing African lawyers today, in terms of data and technology?

The main challenge that African lawyers face is no different from the one that lawyers all over the world have been facing for years, namely a future of change. Business as usual is not an option anymore. Innovation in services and service delivery is a key differentiating factor.

Where the legal sector in Africa was probably somehow still protected from technological competition and peer pressure until recently, things are now also changing on the continent. Not just due to the increased presence of international law firms in Africa, but even more so because small local law firms are taking the large  firms head on through the use of technology.

When we speak of technology in the legal space, we immediately think of AI, smart contracts, blockchain, etc., but technology also impacts simpler things such as marketing. On the internet, anyone can now be anything. With smart SEO optimisation and by consistently pushing out content, some of the younger, less-experienced lawyers are already getting ahead of the more senior lawyers in terms of visibility to the outside world.

What legal tech innovation do you think will be most widely adopted in Africa in the next decade?

While Afriwise is active in the B2B space, we believe that the most significant innovation in the African legal-tech space will evolve around consumer access to justice, moving the scales of justice in favour of the common man. Impact investing in this space is also becoming more prevalent.

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

While we don’t see a need for major legal or regulatory changes, local law societies should definitely step up and play a more active role in driving legal-tech innovation in their jurisdictions, and this should be done sooner rather than later. The Law Society of Zambia, for example, only recently relaxed their Legal Practitioners’ Publicity Rules, giving firms the opportunity to engage with digital forms of promotion and advertisement. This was long overdue.

If you could do one thing to facilitate the growth of legal tech in Africa, what would that be?

Start an authentic and deep collaboration between in-house departments, local and international law firms, local law societies and universities active in Africa. The legal sector is famous for its failure to deliver successful profession-wide solutions, but we strongly believe that just one well-targeted initiative, involving several of these stakeholders, could have a contagious effect. You need to start somewhere!

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

There is a growing need for continuously evolving regulatory and legislative frameworks within which technology can operate and thrive, while consumers remain properly protected. Data protection, e-commerce and e-contracting are just a few areas of great need across the continent. Lawyers have the skills and expertise to shape and influence public policy and regulation and create a facilitating environment for tech entrepreneurism to flourish.

Who or what is your greatest inspiration?

People that are willing to challenge habitual thinking, dare to be different, take risks and lead by doing, not talking. We strongly believe that leading by doing has a contagious effect. We ourselves have taken a significant risk, leaving partner positions in top law firms and investing in something than no-one has ever done before. We hope that when others see us working for change, they too may feel that change is possible.

Tell us a little bit about your organisation/company/product and why you set it up.

Wakili-AI is a brand covering legal innovation and access to justice. It means ‘Lawyer-AI’ in Swahili. I set it up to collate my interests in SheriaSoft and Nomeon Apps, both legal tech projects as well as my penchants in media monitoring, market data, cyber-awareness and general productivity.

I started experimenting with legal technology simply to stay productive. I had worked at a law firm where a bulk of the work was repetitive, but no useful automation existed. As a result, I would be burnt out most of the time. I sought to change that.

On the one hand, you have SheriaSoft’s legal practice management system which handles the locking and tackling of running a law firm through the cloud including Client Relationship Management, Matter/Case Management, Billing, Reporting and HR, and on the other, you have Nomeon Apps which is a personal collection of desktop applications that aid in my legal delivery process. It encompasses an AI Professional Support Lawyer for my legal queries, a news curator with an added ability to detect objectivity and flag unreliable (fake) news, a stock market monitor (because I’m into stocks) and a simple to-do list app to manage my tasks.

I created these tools to autonomously handle my day to day administration leaving me with more time to think about the substantive areas of the law, which in my case is legal research. I’m now sharing them with the world.

What has been your greatest success/are you most proud of so far?

My success is in helping accelerate the advent of legal technology and useful automation. Africa’s legal industry is ripe for innovation and I’m just proud to be a part of it.

What is the greatest challenge you have faced?

Rejection. I’ve had the door shut on me more times than I can remember, and now I’ve gotten used to it.

What are the top challenges facing African lawyers today, in terms of data and technology?

Luddism comes to mind. The legal industry is centered on process. People don’t like to talk about it, but that’s how lawyers make money. Automate the process and you’ll be met with heavy resistance. A good example is with digitization of the Kenya’s companies registry. Lawyers used to make tidy sums out of incorporating a company, but once eCitizen came in, and at a fraction of the cost, many of them felt short changed. Another one is with the lands registry. For a while lawyers have been profiting from a slow and mundane process. But all that will be digitized soon.

As an industry, there is a general lack of knowledge on matters data privacy and security. We understand cyber laws, but we do very little as an industry to safeguard ourselves against cyber threats. Lawyers handle extremely sensitive data and when a cyber breach occurs, it can spell a lot of trouble and stress. You will recall DLA Piper’s cyber attack that left its lawyers stranded.

Technology competence is also a challenge. It’s very rare to find an African lawyer with a technology background and vice-versa. However there is a growing number of young lawyers now enrolling for coding classes and some like myself who are self-taught. When I started practice, I thought that the basic computer skills I developed after high school was sufficient, but now practice delivery now is much more than just Microsoft word and Email.

How do you think lawyers can make use of legal tech to address those challenges?

Like any other industry, technology is just an enabler. It is not, and should not be the main thing that drives a business. People drive businesses. Also, I don’t think there’s a cure to ignorance, however I do see even the hardcore luddite appreciating the benefits of automating a certain task in his day to day to save a couple of hours, and then channeling those hours into something more substantive. And speaking of hours, the bread and butter of a lawyer is in time. Legal-tech should aim at turning time saved into legal fees. Spending a bulk of your time on routine tasks and administrative isn’t helpful to anyone.

Law firm partners should also be open to investing in technology that safeguards their data. Cyber security and awareness is all about preparation. That’s what the $150 billion industry is about- preparation because it’s not a matter of if it can happen, but when it will happen. Facebook was hacked, NASA was hacked, DLA Piper hacked, we hear of banks suffering cyber breaches all the time. A law firm is no exception. So managing partners need to take data security very seriously.

Whichever category of legal-tech you choose to invest in depends on your motivations. Some law firms are now investing in their own in-house tech-hubs to develop systems specific to their practice while others are content in buying licenses from providers. Whatever the case, the solution should aim at solving a clear problem, with little to no human input and learning curves.

On technology competence, lawyers at every level should undertake a tech-related course to prepare them for the digital work place. Some countries have made it mandatory. In the African context, Law Societies are yet to embrace tech-trainings as part of the CLE. And I don’t mean sessions where cyber/tech laws are regurgitated for the umpteenth time, I mean hands-on approach sessions where lawyers learn to code and how to run their businesses safely in the cloud.

Still on practice improvement, front-end law firm operations are now handled by automated agents such as chat bots. With SheriaSoft for example, we took the whole front-end process and automated it. We sensed reluctance after claims were made that we would make certain positions redundant, so we now position it as a law firm productivity tool where the same people who risked losing their jobs through automation, are the same ones using these solutions for their day to day, and giving us helpful feedback.

What are the top challenges facing African companies/institutions/governments today, in terms of data and technology?

Local technology apathy: There have been a few technology unicorns from Africa, but that number should be bigger. Apathy for local technology is not unusual. An African institution would rather buy a technology licence from another country, built by someone they have never met and entrusting them with their (often) sensitive data.

Corruption & mistrust in Government: The playing field is never level for a start-up looking to work with government. Business opportunities are usually skewed in favor of people with well known contacts. Except for a few examples, corruption remains a challenge among government and large corporates.

IP theft: Still on corruption, another challenge is in stealing IP. Over the past year, there have been events masked as tech-fairs/events where innovators showcase their prototypes/projects and ideas only for a big corporate or a government agency to launch a similar product a few months later to the dismay of the originator.

What legal tech innovation do you think will be most widely adopted in Africa in the next decade?

I predict AI in Legal Research, Document Automation, Practice Management and Evidence Management will be most widely adopted.

I am not particularly confident with block chain at the moment because the learning curve is still too steep.

What regulatory and legislative environment is required to facilitate greater use of legal tech on the continent? 

Africa’s legal industry needs to appreciate that innovation and transformation starts at the individual level ability and mindset. As players, we need to invest in the education and training for the lawyers of the future. We need to rethink legal education and redesign it to tackle the industry’s apparent tech skills gap.

Singapore recognized this and recently adjudicated for legal innovation to be part of a lawyer’s development. Singapore realized the lack of collaboration between the industry’s stake holders including its Ministry of Law, its Law Society and its law schools and came up with a 3 pronged vision for legal tech and transformation:

  1. Fostering global perspective; 
  2. Adaptation of technology to advance and democratize legal service delivery; and 
  3. Human centered capability building through education and training. 

I believe all African states have this sort of structure, but our willingness to collaborate is worse than Singapore’s. 

And yes, we are capable of formulating plans towards a similar vision. We can channel resources, establish PPPs, set up vehicles for transformation and have a clear strategic vision however, the true test will be in our ability to execute against those plans. That’s what sets countries like Singapore and others apart – the zeal to execute.

If you could change one thing to facilitate the growth of legal tech in Africa, what would that be? 

Regulation. I would make technology competence a requirement towards a lawyer’s development. And while regulating, we should not close the door to even more competent players such as computer and data scientists. The regulation should center around the exchange of knowledge between ICT professionals and lawyers for legal-tech to truly grow.

Who or what is your greatest inspiration?

I am inspired by Elon Musk – the founder of electric vehicle company Tesla and rocket manufacturer and launcher, SpaceX. He’s helping save the environment, while at the same time building, launching and landing rockets. Now that’s a CV…

Tell us a little bit about your organisation and why you set it up

The cTLD was set up by three lawyers namely, Otto Saki, Tafadzwa Mugabe and Kudakwashe Hove. Mugabe runs his own law firm while Saki and Hove are programme officers at not-for-profit organisations with an interest in promoting online rights in the Southern African region. This trio was brought together by their interest in digital rights and the policies relating to digital rights. CTLD provides a convenient platform to conduct and publish research on issues that lie at the intersection of the law and ICT. The organisation was set up in 2016 and has so far mainly been providing research support on rights such as the right to privacy, the impact of GDPR on Zimbabwean based entities and the possible impact the Cybercrimes Bill will have on Zimbabwean online users.

 What has been your greatest success/are you most proud of so far?

Our greatest success so far has been successfully consulting for the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Zimbabwe chapter) and for Welthungerhilfe, a UN agency with operations in Zimbabwe.

What is the greatest challenge you have faced in setting up the organisation and how have you managed it?

One of the greatest challenges has been trying to balance the research work under CTLD with the daily routine day jobs each of the three founding members have.

The second greatest challenge has been trying to be taken seriously in this field, because many people still do not understand the issues that lie at the intersection of technology and law. Most people believe that these are two abstract areas that are distant from each other.

What are the top challenges facing African lawyers today, in terms of data and technology?

They face a dwindling client base, there is also the issue of overly expensive legal costs that further drive clients away from litigation and the engagement of lawyers. Technology is disrupting a lot of areas of law, for example, the way business is conducted, the way in which real estate is registered and contracts are concluded.

There is also the challenge of low digital literacy more so in lawyers that are above a certain age group.

How do you think lawyers can make use of technology to address those challenges?

Lawyers should make use of document processing/automating software to take care of repetitive, form based work. There is also need to adopt lawfirm management software that will keep track of billing, invoicing and archive needs of the lawfirm. Lastly, lawyers will need to let go of the billable hour mind-set as it is no longer sustainable in the face of current legal tech advancements. Lawyers can also get involved in the development of technological tools for example, by working in association with developers and IT experts.

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

Law societies have a role to play in encouraging lawyers to incorporate more technology into their work. This will ensure that legal practitioners become efficient and will cut down on the amount of time spent on each respective case. This will involve the revision of policies that guide lawyers and the way in which they deliver their services.

If you could do one thing to facilitate the growth of legal tech in Africa, what would that be?

Where possible, CTLD seeks to guide law firms in how they can incorporate technology into the way they deliver their services to the people. CTLD is also looking for opportunities to train lawyers in how to be technologically literate.

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

Lawyers cannot advocate for the use of technology unless they first start using and seeing the benefits of the technology themselves. It is therefore, important that lawyers begin by using the technology. Once they see the benefits of such technology, they can then call for the change of policies that regulate their field. Lawyers can shift policy by lobbying their respective law societies and other related regulatory bodies and government for the adoption of pro technology laws and policies.

Who or what is your greatest inspiration?

We are inspired by our desire to help create an efficient and affordable legal system that makes adequate use of legal technology tools.

ALT member, Carolyne Guya, shares her advice to African start-ups on the value of using legal services.

MANAGING COMPLIANCE IN THE DIGITAL ECONOMY: WHY START-UPS NEED TO INVEST IN LEGAL SERVICES

Early-stage start-ups, usually cash-strapped and running lean, often have trouble justifying the cost of quality legal personnel. Founders sometimes have a hard time understanding the value of their lawyer’s time. Sometimes start-ups will try to avoid the legal expenses altogether by taking on legal work themselves. This can often lead to negative consequences for the business.

Compliance in the digital economy is a necessary business obligation, and its importance and challenge continues to grow. Yet many businesses struggle to fully understand the cost of non-compliance and how to manage compliance as effectively as possible. Businesses ought to take their corporate responsibility seriously to ensure they are meeting regulatory, legal and ethical obligations. Customers and shareholders expect it, and regulators demand it. Beyond financial penalties, a compliance failure can cause havoc on an organisation’s reputation and customer relationships and negatively impact growth and profitability targets for the foreseeable future.

Regulations such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which took effect in May 2018, drive immediate compliance response at technology firms and others that digitally store customer information. This confirms that the need for compliance risk management will persist, and compliance cost and complexity will continue to rise. Businesses must meet a wide range of compliance requirements, both external and internal. The challenges involved in managing compliance and ethics-related risks are magnified by changes in business structure, dispersed operations, new or updated rules and regulations and increased enforcement.

There is therefore need for businesses to invest in compliance personnel who sit in business units to serve as a point of connection and coordination. Embedded business unit compliance and ethics officers help to enable their business units to take greater ownership and accountability for compliance and applicable requirements while also implementing enterprise-wide compliance initiatives.

Legal services providers play a critical role in such emerging issues. The benefits of investing in legal services as business entities seeking to remain on top of the changing dynamics are not limited to guidance but include:

  • Best practice on corporate management and governance systems – advising on corporate and directors’ liability;
  • Mitigation legal and reputational management mechanisms – i.e advising on compliant contractual terms and legal recourse in the event of breach including alternative resolution mechanisms;
  • Conducting and advising on legal compliance audits on internal policies, standards and practices to ensure alignment to required laws and regulations;
  • Offer continued awareness services on compliance requirements and general advisory roles;
  • Drafting essential terms of uses and policies – investing in legal skills plays a role in create policies that are specifically tailored to your needs and reduce liability;
  • Data management – collection, storage, access, third party contracts, information sharing, risks, threats and liability insurance, breach response and accountability.

Legal expertise is therefore pivotal in creating a successful high-growth company. From incorporation to exit, lawyers are there to help companies navigate and avoid the many pitfalls that can severely hinder the start-up’s chances of success. Lawyers’ expertise and experience, both with the laws, regulations and practices governing operations and with the process of taking investment, make it crucial for businesses to develop early relationships with lawyers to grow effectively. Additionally, lawyers specialize in navigating complexity in the regulatory framework and indeed where there isn’t one yet. These are processes that are not prudent to undertake without the assistance of an experienced professional. Therefore, the greatest value a lawyer will bring to a new company is a third-party, objective, strategic, and analytical thinker that can help give the business its best chance at long-term success.

 

ALT member, Ridwan Oloyede, shares insights into privacy and security issues arising from the digitisation of Nigeria’s healthcare sector.

Introduction

The increased digitalisation and rise of electronic health records (EHRs) is fast replacing the traditional paper records. In Nigeria, there remains a wide digital divide – health records are still largely recorded and stored in paper form. The adoption of healthcare technologies reliant on datafied records are growing and there is an urgent need for a stronger framework to protect the rights and freedom of Nigerians. An unlawful disclosure, illicit access or misuse of health records could reveal intimate and embarrassing details about patients that could result in infringements  of  individuals’  rights  to privacy (intrusion), commodification of health data, blackmail and other social discrimination, which weakens the fabric of  trust between healthcare providers and users.

Understanding health records, health technology and the intersection with privacy and security

Medical record or health data of a patient is regarded as sensitive personal data. Sensitive personal data requires special protection and usually specifically protected by law. They reveals accurate intrinsic details about an individual’s healthcare treatment and records. Medical records contain personal data some of which include genetic data, personal statistics such as  age and weight, demographics, medical diagnosis and allergies, immunization status, radiology images and medical research data.

Proliferation and advancement of technology has increased the generation, processing, storage, sharing and collection of health data including genetic, clinical, and behavioural data. Clearly, the advancement of Internet of Things connected devices, personalised medicine and genetic testing, cloud-based interoperable EHR, telemedicine, m-health and e-health, portal technology, sensors and wearables, remote monitoring tools  hold immense potential for improving healthcare delivery, but also portends niggling questions about privacy and security.

Further, the sharing of patient’s health data between health professionals,  healthcare providers and facilities, and cross-border data transfer poses privacy and security concerns. Modern technology sweeping the healthcare industry births new challenges that the law must keep abreast with. However, protecting privacy should not be allowed to muscle out the much needed life-saving innovation in the industry. We must understand that health data is important for the growth and overall improvement of healthcare.

Confidentiality and Privacy

Traditionally, there is a professional obligation in medical practice to ensure the confidentiality of a patient’s personal health information, unless consent to release the information is provided by the patient or on any other recognised legal basis. This flows from the Hippocratic oath that imposes confidentiality obligation on healthcare providers. Confidentiality forms part of the pillars of medical practice and it is recognised by law as a privileged communication between two parties in a professional relationship. According to Vivienne Nathanson ”protecting the private details of a patient is not just a matter of moral respect, it is essential in retaining the important bond of trust between the doctor and the individual.”

Privacy in healthcare context refers to the patient’s right to have control and keep his or her health information private. It also entails the circumstances in which a patient’s protected health information may be used or disclosed. Right to privacy is a fundamental right recognised by the Nigerian Constitution. Beyond the constitutional provision and professional obligation, privacy law adds another layer of legal obligation and protection.

Security

Security of both electronic and paper health record is an essential thread in  healthcare fabric. Security entails the protection of both the online and physical facilities housing health records. A security breach affects both medical devices and health records. Security breach in the healthcare sector exposes providers to innumerable risk that can cause disruption of services, economic loss, reputational damage, reduced patient’s confidence, and penalty under regulation.

With increased digitisation of records, the healthcare sector is witnessing increase in cyber attacks. According to Nass S.J. et. al. “protecting the security of data in health research is important because health research requires the collection, storage, and use of large amounts of personally identifiable health information, much of which may be sensitive and potentially embarrassing.” According to PwC’s Health Research Institute 2018 annual report, “there is 525 percent increase in medical device cybersecurity vulnerabilities reported by the government.”

According to Deloitte’s 2018 Global health care outlook report, “globally, the average total cost of a healthcare data breach to an organization reached USD $3.62 million per incident in 2017.”

The Risk Landscape

A patient’s health record could reveal the medical condition, treatment plan or medications, and could be commercialised for targeted advertisementhealth insurance fraud and abuse ( by raising premiums for “at-risk patients”),  exposure  of  patient  to  loss of  privacy, social discrimination, blackmail and other dangers which weaken the fabric of  trust between healthcare providers and users.

A patient’s privacy rights can be violated when there is an accidental loss of data, unauthorised or abusive privilege access, cyber attack, or unlawful disclosure. According to Verizon’s 2018 Protected Health Information Data Breach Report, 58% of all healthcare breaches are initiated by insiders. In July 2018, it was reported that there was a major cyber attack on Singapore’s health sector affecting the personal data of over 1.5 million people, including the country’s Prime Minister. The healthcare sector was seriously affected by the Wannacry ransomware attack in 2017and shows how vulnerable the sector is. In Nigeria, the purported health record of a gubernatorial aspirant was a subject of negative politics in the run-up to 2019 general elections.

The pivot toward a national health insurance regime has birthed the rise of health maintenance organisations (HMO’s) created for the purpose of managing and providing healthcare services through healthcare facilities accredited by the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS). According to BusinessDay, there are currently about 60 HMO’s operating in the country. These organisations process the health data of users. Without a transparent oversight on their operations, such data could be abused and misused – as we have seen with social discrimination and commodification of health records in other climes; this is capable of undermining the public’s confidence.

According to Reuters, health data is increasingly more desirable than financial data – “health data, unlike financial data that becomes worthless after the victim discovers the fraud, has a longer shelf life for exploitation”. Treatment and prescription records are permanent. Medical and insurance records provide insights about where people live, what medical treatments they had, who their family members are, demographic information and employment details. Health record has also been employed as a tool for extortion and blackmail.

Legal Framework for Privacy & Security in Nigeria’s Healthcare Sector

The right to privacy of Nigerians is guaranteed by Section 37 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999. Though, Nigeria currently lacks a general data protection and cybersecurity legislation, there are sector specific frameworks and ongoing legislative efforts to enact one.

National Health Act (NHA) 2014

The NHA is the principal legislation regulating the Nigerian healthcare sector. It also makes adequate provisions for the privacy rights of patients. Section 26 (1) of the NHA provides that “all information concerning a user, including information relating to his or her health status, treatment or stay in a health establishment is confidential”. The provision imposes the legal obligation of confidentiality. The right is subject to certain derogations imposed under Section 26(2) of the Act. Health information can be disclosed when there is a court order or any law prescribes such disclosure with the consent of the owner in writing, and when non-disclosure will pose a serious threat to public health. Similarly, Section 25 of NHA imposes the obligation to keep health records available to patients. This is right to access.

Section 27 of the Act provides the two legal basis when disclosure of health record of a user can be made available to a third party, another healthcare provider or professional, which include if the disclosure is necessary for any legitimate purpose within the ordinary course and scope of his or her duties; and when such access or disclosure is in the interest of the user. This latter is similar to using vital interest as the legal basis.

Section 28 (1) provides that a healthcare provider can access the health record of a patient with the consent of the patient. This provides for consent as a legal basis. The section also allows health records to be used for research with the consent of the patient. Section 28 (2) provides that the authorisation of the patient or any other authority can be dispensed with for the purposes of research, teaching and studying if the research data does not contain any personally identifiable information.

Section 29 mandates the head of a healthcare facility to put in place “control measures to prevent unauthorised access to those records and to the storage facility in which, or system by which, records are kept”. This implies a good data governance and management policy to prevent unauthorised access, unlawful disclosure, data loss, and data theft – both online and offline. The section prescribes offences and the punishment of two (2) years imprisonment or fine of N250,000 ($816) or both. The offences include falsification or alteration of records, destruction of records without authority, re-identifying de-identified records, unlawful access or interception of records.

Cybercrimes (Prohibition and Prevention) Act

Section 5 of Cybercrimes (Prohibition & Prevention) Act 2015 designates certain sectors of the economy as Critical National Information Infrastructure (CNII). Part 7.5 of the National Cybersecurity Policy designates the healthcare sector as a National Critical Information Infrastructure. The Act criminalises attack on sectors designated as critical national infrastructure and this is punishable by imprisonment term not less than 15 years without an option of fine. The Act also includes other offences that could affect the sector.

Section 21 of the Cybercrimes (Prevention and Prohibition) Act mandates that a cyber attack or threat must be reported to the Nigeria Computer Emergency Response Team (NgCERT) – the government’s coordination centre responsible for managing cyber incidents in Nigeria. Failure to report within seven days is punishable with a fine of N2,000,000 ($6,535) and denial of internet service. Underreporting remains a debilitating factor for estimating the cost and extent of cybercrime and deprives the industry of shared common knowledge. The NgCERT has created an online platform to report incidence either as an individual or a corporation.

National Health Insurance Scheme Act (NHIS Act)

Section 38 of the Act creates a secrecy obligation binding the officials and other employees of the scheme. The officials are mandated to treat all information obtained in the exercise of their powers or in the ordinary course of duty as confidential.

The confidential information can only be disclosed to an arbitration board or the court. Section 38 (2) prescribes a fine not less than  N20,000 ($65) or imprisonment for a term of two years or both.

Freedom of Information Act (FOI Act)

Section 16 of the FOI Act provides that a public institution may deny an application for information that is subject to health workers – client privilege. The section recognises and provides a legal backing for the professional confidentiality obligation.

Patients Bill of Rights (PBoR)

The Consumer Protection Council (CPC) recently released the Patients Bill of Rights (PBoR). The Bill is aimed at ensuring easy access to quality health care service in the country. The PBoR is a list of rights already contained in extant laws but recently reduced into a document to sensitise the members of the public.

Interestingly, the bill recognised the rights to privacy of patients, and confidentiality of medical records. While there is a professional obligation of secrecy in the medical profession, a legal obligation further protects the freedom and rights to privacy of patients.

Recommendation

The Federal Ministry of Health can take a cue from the United State’s Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) by enacting a national privacy and security rule that defines the privacy and security standards for the protection, storage and transfer of health data held in electronic or physical form. This includes administrative, technical, online and physical safeguards. The privacy rule should clearly define other legal basis for processing and derogations, mechanism for cross-border transfer of health data (patients are becoming more mobile with medical tourism), storage and retention period, other rights should be defined (right to be informed and access is already established under the NHA), framework for reporting breach and notification of users, and put in place stronger transparency and accountability mechanism.

Section 2 of the NHA gives the Federal Ministry of Health the mandate to make a guideline for the development of the health sector which will include addressing emerging privacy and security concerns with new technologies. There is an urgent need to sensitize health practitioners and members of the public on privacy and security, and how it affects them.

The NHIS should issue a guideline to regulate the activities of HMO’s and other health insurance players to prevent insurance fraud, possible discrimination, and other abuse of health record. Section 6 of the NHIS Act empowers the scheme to “issue appropriate guideline to maintain the viability of the scheme.” A major breach could erode the scarce trust in the nation’s health insurance scheme.

The heads of health institution and facilities should put in place appropriate safeguards and framework to ensure the privacy and security of patient’s records and information. They should administer measures to comply with the law which include training and sentisation of its staff, designing a privacy and security policy, implementation of the right technology and training of staff on its use and the possible privacy and security implications of the technology.

According to Deloitte’s 2018 Global health care outlook report “many employees at hospitals, health plans, life sciences companies, and governments lack awareness of and training to manage financial, operational, compliance, and cyber risks. Led by senior management, organizations should perform a thorough assessment to understand how recent and upcoming policy changes will impact organizational priorities and explore strategies to build second-line defenses to reduce their administrative, financial, and reputational exposure.”

Conclusion

The provision of the NHA is a bold sector-specific regulation in a country where there is big clamour for general data protection and cybersecurity framework. It is the opinion of the writer that the privacy and cybersecurity framework in Nigeria will be led by sector driven regulations since it appears a legislative framework has dragged on for too long. Further, the penal sanction appears inadequate, especially the financial sanction in the face of immeasurable loss, erosion of reputation, advancement of technology and emergence of sophisticated security and privacy issues. The NHA creates an enforcement regime and remedy for breach. A general data protection and cybersecurity statute will strengthen the privacy and security concerns in the health sector. In addition, healthcare providers must take quick, decisive action to maintain data privacy and security of medical devices and protect patient’s record.

According to Tomiwa Ilori, a policy analyst, “the National Health Act, in its sections 25, 26, 29 and 30 provides a viable template for safeguarding privacy concerns in Nigeria. Though limited to the health sector, it offers a dual balance of protection of data and enforcement against infringement of privacy rights of a patient within the control of a health institution. Due to the sensitive nature of health information of patients, the Act recognizes the dynamic nature of data protection in the digital age and therefore provides safeguards for its use while placing the patient’s consent as most important. It provides exceptions for where the consent of patients might not be sought but these exceptions may be said to be fair. One recommendation in the event of a review of the provision of the Act in the nearest future with respect to the protection of patients’ data is that where institutions have to derogate from seeking patient’s consent, reasonable proof must be provided for bypassing such consent”.

This article was first published by the African Academic Network of Internet Policy

Strand Sahara is a pan-African online legal documents service

Tell us a little bit about your organisation and why you set it up

Strand Sahara is a pan-African online legal documents service.

Founded by international lawyers of African heritage, we leverage technology to provide world-class, easily accessible contracts and corporate governance solutions to ambitious business owners across sub-Saharan Africa.

Our services are designed to prepare our members for investment and growth, a path which depends on robust business structures and a documented track-record. In doing so, we seek to help bridge the legal gap between African entrepreneurs in search of investment and investors in search of investment-ready African businesses.

The Strand Sahara Legal Platform will be available at www.strandsahara.com, which will launch for users based in Nigeria and the UK on 20 September 2018 and for users in Kenya and Uganda by the end of 2018.

What has been your greatest success/are you most proud of so far?

We have worked hard to create solutions on our platform which combine best international legal practice with cutting edge technology and design thinking principles. We believe we have a truly remarkable and unique offering which will transform the way our members think about contracts and their ability to use them to achieve greater commercial success.

What is the greatest challenge you have faced?

We started Strand Sahara because we strongly believe that there is great power at the intersection of law and technology: the power to make legal services more accessible and affordable for all. But our journey has not been without its challenges; from navigating regulatory constraints, to concerns from fellow lawyers that we are “killing legal employment” at the more extreme end.

The sad truth is that many business owners have to run the risk of doing business without legal support because they cannot afford lawyers. We believe that it is incumbent on our profession to continually strive to find new, innovative ways to make legal services more affordable and accessible for all members of society.

What are the top challenges facing African lawyers today, in terms of data and technology?

The list of legal challenges in Africa posed by data and technology is long, from vast regulatory gaps to the potential complete circumvention of lawyers altogether through developments such as smart contracts using blockchain technology.

At Strand Sahara we have been most focused on addressing the challenges of providing effective, valuable legal and legal support services in the digital age, where people are now accustomed to receiving instant, easily accessible information and solutions through the internet at minimal cost. The traditional legal business model, under which lawyers charge for their time on a one-to-one, print-based, consultative basis, is looking less and less fit for purpose in today’s high-tech global economy.

 How do you think lawyers can make use of technology to address those challenges?

Lawyers will need to adopt new technologies and adapt to the changing needs of their clients in order to stay relevant and valuable, and to address the distribution/access to justice problem and high-degree of consumer dissatisfaction we currently face.

The opportunities are endless, from creating tools of predictive justice using the power of data analytics, to using machine learning to automate processes which are currently carried out manually in order to create greater efficiency and provide more value to clients.

The world needs more lawyerpreneurs, and there has never been a better time to become one.

 What legal tech innovation do you think will be most widely adopted in Africa in the next decade?

We believe that online legal platforms such as Strand Sahara will take off in Africa in the next decade. Technological advances and the digital economy have made it possible for us to create systems that can provide legal solutions across the internet, allowing people to tap into our legal insight and services in a more convenient, transparent and less costly manner that meets them “where they are”. But then again, we would say that!

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

The legal sector is heavily regulated in Africa and all around the world, with good reason. But there is a real risk that outdated regulations which do not reflect the realities of modern life will hinder innovation to the detriment of both African lawyers and those we seek to serve.

We would encourage all stakeholders in our profession to move quickly to: (1) embrace the opportunities to improve the delivery and practice of law that technological advancements bring; (2) encourage more innovation from African lawyers, and (2) encourage more collaboration between legal and other professional service providers.

 If you could do one thing to facilitate the growth of legal tech in Africa, what would that be?

Start an accelerator program for African legal tech entrepreneurs.

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

Lawyers are well placed to help shape legislative and policy environments across Africa. Creating a legal forum for sharing ideas, insights, research and recommendations and for collaboration amongst lawyers, techies and government officials across the continent would be a great help.

 Who or what is your greatest inspiration?

We are continually inspired by African entrepreneurs both on the continent and all around the world: entrepreneurs who are willing to take risks to bring new products and services to life, transforming lives and economies worldwide in the process. Strand Sahara exists to support these African entrepreneurs, so that they can grow and create more livelihoods and prosperity for Africa’s people.

 

Spindlar Cyberlaw Centre, a pioneer organization in the field of Information Technology & Telecommunications Law.

Tell us a little bit about your organisation and why you set it up.

Spindlar Cyberlaw Centre (www.spindlar.com.ng) is a pioneer organization in the field of Information Technology & Telecommunications Law which is collectively referred to as Cyberlaw and/or Internet Law & Policy and Advanced ICT Services in Nigeria and globally. It is a member of the Spindlar International Group having other group members – Spindlar Consulting Services, Spindlar Technologies and Spindlar Geospatial Services Group.

The Cyberlaw Group (TCG) was established due to the gaps in this area in our nation’s law practices and also worldwide in the 21st Century now being defined by emergence of disruptive technologies and vagaries of innovations that policy, law and regulations have to pursue, follow and invariably govern the space for orderliness and development – economic, social, education, business etc.

What has been your greatest success/are you most proud of so far?

We are proud of being the pioneer, premier and leader in the cyber field generally and cyberlaw specifically in Nigeria, Africa and worldwide with strength in the intellectual intercourse of the fields and disciplines of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, law, cybersecurity, policy and regulations  and their standard practice and professionalism.

Spindlar Cyberlaw Centre has pioneered the design and development of quality and highly professional certificates programmes in this interesting area for quality assurance purpose in the cyberlaw domain. The certifications and levels are:

  • Level I: Associate Level Certification – the Spindlar Certified Cyberlaw Associate (with SCCa designation)
  • Level II: Professional Level Certification – the Spindlar Certified Cyberlaw Professional (with SCCp designation)
  • Level III: Expert Level Certification – the Spindlar Certified Cyberlaw Expert (with SCCe designation)

In addition, we have signed memorandum of understanding with a number of universities and institutions and designed cyberlaw education curriculum framework, which has been adopted by leading universities and institutions in Nigeria. We also have set up successfully the cyberlaw certification board programme and constituted the board.

What is the greatest challenge you have faced?

One of our greatest challenges is communicating and informing various demographic groups that require training, education and quality certifications in this new area of law. A major challenge is disrespect for intellectuals properties of Spindlar Cyberlaw Centre by some Law Training Institutions and universities faculties of law disposed to taking our intellectuals works and unwilling to pay for them. Another major challenge is lack of sufficient human resources in the cyberlaw, information technology and telecommunications law field and areas.

What are the top challenges facing African lawyers today, in terms of data and technology?

The top challenges are inadequate training and education in the areas of ICT, IT, Internet, Cyberlaw and Technology law. This has issue from the philosophical foundations of law being seen as a profession in the humanities. Unfortunately today and postmodern world, law is now mathematics – crypto law, law is now science and technology – cyberlaw, Internet law, cybersecurity law, technology law etc.

In the past a pass grade (not a credit pass) is sufficient to study law at least in Africa universities environment. Today in a crypto economy driven by crypto society where crypto currencies and Blockchain technologies, Internet of Things (IoTs) and robotics, artificial intelligence and other biotechnology phenomenon are shaping our world calls for new legal regime with advancement and sophistication in digital forensic technologies, cryptographic technologies & protocols and cyberspace developmental issues.

African lawyers must mandatorily become technology savvy, exposed and sophisticated. Being specialist cyberlaw certified  is a main step in the right direction to become cyberlaw or ICT Attorneys with opportunity to be Cyber Judges at the bench/judiciary and cyber legislators and cyber regulators (inhouse counsels/attorneys) etc.

How do you think lawyers can make use of legal tech to address those challenges?

Use of legal tech is exactly what lawyers need now to be digital-world relevant and digital-economy compliant. Legal tech will position lawyers to perform adequately well in a digital world and more importantly in a disruptive technologies driven world – IoTs, robotics, driverless cars etc; distributed ledger technology environment/Blockchain etc.

What legal tech innovation do you think will be most widely adopted in Africa in the next decade?

Many (if not all) legal tech innovations will be adopted as listed above once their use cases have been brought forward and made operational for example Blockchain powered e-voting, land title administration, self-executing contracts (smart contracts), crypto powered cross boarder remittances, Crypto ATMs (eg Bitcoin ATMs – Cash to crypto currencies for financial inclusion services), IoTs/Sensors for E-Health applications and use case, for logistics & supply chain management, in port administration etc.

What regulatory and legislative environment is required to facilitate greater use of legal tech on the continent?

First is the need for education, training and advocacy to get people informed. Regulators need to know and understand what they want to regulate. Members of the public needed to be enlightened on digital living and activities around it on which regulations and legislation will be based. For example most discussion on cyber activities is on cyber crime. What about tort issues? In talks about crypto assets such as trading, taxation etc and crypto currencies (terrorism financing, money laundering etc) why are there no talk and policy/legislation on inheritance of digital assets where/when original owners die or become inactive. So what and which regulatory and legislative environment are we talking about? These are issues for the legal tech practitioners to deal with.

If you could change one thing to facilitate the growth of legal tech in Africa, what would that be?

Advocacy, Education, Training and Certifications of lawyers in legal tech and human capital formation of attorneys in school (lawyers in training) and their utilization in the private sector, nonprofits sector, public sector/government (executive – as policy makers/regulators, legislature – as law makers, judiciary – as magistrates & judges and judicial officers) and also in security and intelligence agencies.

Who or what is your greatest inspiration?

Our greatest inspiration at Spindlar Cyberlaw Centre is to make the world a better place than we met it, contribute to a peaceful and orderly digital world and prosperous cyberspace & digital economy for all of mankind.

A Double Take on Tech

In our first article on the interface of technology and law, we considered the different ways in which technology could be deployed to deliver greater value to clients, to implement cybersecurity measures and to increase innovation and efficiency in processes.

In 2018 – 2019, we expect the impact of technology to continue to grow and drive ongoing changes to the way that consumers engage with legal services.

Technological advances, even in the more limited forms currently being rolled out, will pose great challenges for existing players in the market. Legaltech will remove the need for some areas of legal work and create new areas of demand, in areas such as privacy law.

This suggests that the impact of technology on the legal sector ought to be significant, but whilst there are many interesting applications being developed, these are not necessarily yielding the predicted outcomes of innovative disruption across the sector. For example, most start-up activity in the legal sector is currently focused on helping law firms better manage their processes, or deal with problems like cybersecurity.

The relatively slow rollout of technology in the legal sector is not unexpected. As a regulated sector, it is conservative and off-putting for non-incumbents and slow to attract outsiders. Legal Geek surveys suggest that the current crop of legal tech innovation is being led by former lawyers, rather than technologists. Whilst this means that applications are designed by people who understand the problems at hand, it also means that such businesses are less likely to challenge the fundamental premises on which the sector is built.

Developments in legaltech are also held back by the absence of data. This suggests that there are some key players who ought to be brought into the conversation about technology and legal services who might not be immediately obvious. 

The wider market suggests there may be some even more interesting developments on the horizon which may well be increasingly deployed in the delivery of legal services:

Robotic process automation (RPA) – a relatively low cost and very deployable tech solution. It is already being used by some firms to replace repetitive tasks that would previously have used administrators, paralegals or trainees. Whilst RPA may not reverse the trend towards the creation of law firm regional ‘service centres’ handling lower value work outside large centres such as London, it will reduce the demand for human labour in these centres.

Chatbots – The expanding role and sophistication of these tools will make them increasingly powerful mechanisms to help people understand their legal problems and find further sources of advice, or even solutions.

Initial coin offerings (ICOs) – The use of ICOs in the funding of litigation is a possibility that has been noticed though not yet exploited. There are also other fintech applications which could be used in litigation funding and which are worth keeping an eye on (e.g. various types of crowdfunding and P2P lending).

Blockchain – Applications of blockchain in the property sector, which could reduce the need for lawyers or licensed conveyancers to be involved in the process.

Smart Contracts – The use of smart contracts executed on a blockchain could also remove the lawyer’s role in handling client money in conveyancing, which in turn has implications for regulation and indemnity insurance.

Whilst the technologies mentioned above are already in use, their deployment and application within the legal sectors has yet to be fully developed. Nonetheless, the pace of innovation is such that new technologies, previously perceived as the stuff of science fiction, such as quantum computing, now have a commercial timescale and even foreseeable applications in the legal sector.

Augmented reality – predicted to shape how we will all shop online in future. Such technology could have a use in training or testing environments, or even in courtrooms as a tool for litigants-in-person.

Voice Search –  Studies suggest that around a third of our interaction with the internet will be driven by voice search by 2020 – people will be asking ‘Alexa’ or ‘Siri’ for help with their problems, whether they have identified them as legal or not. Voice activated technology, coupled with ever-improving AI, has the potential to improve how consumers find legal solutions or assistance.

Behavioural algorithms – expected to be used to influence behaviour and could, for example, be used to encourage more people to make wills.

Taking up some of the opportunities and challenges posed by new tech may be held back in its use in the legal sector by skills’ shortages and the need for incentives to be created at entry points into the profession (or at least blockages removed) and to cross-fertilisation between law and other disciplines. Innovation in legal education and training will be critical to maintaining the pace of change and development.

Our Take on Tech

At Hook Tangaza we are interested in the interface of law and technology and how this impacts on the delivery of legal services globally.  Technology is facilitating the trade in cross-border legal services, helping firms reach a larger client base and providing consumers with a broader market of legal specialists and tools with which to access legal advice and information. Strategic collaboration between the legal and tech communities is presenting new opportunities, services and products and enabling the traditional practice of law and law firms to better protect themselves and clients, provide services more efficiently and innovate across their service sectors. However, it is important to note that for all the talk of robot lawyers and articifial intelligence, technology remains an important enabler and tool, but not a strategy in itself.

Efficiency 

As clients demand better value, firms are now considering how to use technology to deliver elements of their business strategy that in turn deliver greater value and reduced costs to their clients.  Smaller firms are now capable of competing with larger, better resourced firms by automating tasks that were previously time and resource consuming.  For institutions and regulators, technology can enable better communication and facilitate the provision of services to members including continuing education and management tools which lead to a stronger sector.

Innovation

Institutions and firms can utilise technology to reach and engage with their members and clients in a way that was not conceivable even five years ago.  Law firms are developing new types of products and services as a result of the range of new possibilities that technology is introducing to the legal sector.  Just as law firms are adapting, regulatory bodies and institutions are starting to understand this brave new world of technological potential and leverage these tools to keep pace with – and stay ahead of – the individuals and firms they regulate and represent.

Protection

Of course, technology can also bring risk to those operating within the legal services environment.  For instance, the rise of cybercrime and targeting of law firms as the repositories of client information has galvanised the tech sector to develop tools that firms can use to implement their internal policies and systems to protect themselves and their clients and mitigate against the unfortunate consequences of operating in a technology-driven world.

 

**We first published this article on our company page, Hook Tangaza.