Legal technology essentially means the use of technology and software to provide, aid and support legal services. Legal technology offers Judges, lawyers, and law firms the opportunity to improve their overall efficiency and to adapt to a progressively agile working environment.
Currently in the world, nearly every lawyer uses email and other electronic tools as staples in their daily practice. Reputable law firms make use of software applications for both internal and external affairs in ensuring speedy turnaround of work activities. Undeniably technology has also become an integral part of creating efficiency and promoting access to justice in the world currently. Hence technology has also revolutionized the way, ease, speed and time with which legal practitioners conduct their activities.
More notably, is the fact that unlike the age long practice of flipping through large number of heavy books to search for cases, practitioners and clients can now speedily, via access to the internet, get in touch with court cases and decisions from anywhere in the world just by logging into a website that keeps a legal database. Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the like, where legal related content are regularly posted makes it easy for citizens to gain legal knowledge and create awareness to legal related issues. With legal technology, students and masses alike can gain easy access to study materials and case files without having to sweat out in the poorly equipped libraries or resort to borrowing books from colleagues. Computer Assisted Legal Research (CALR) are innovations that aids legal education.
Technology including Information and Communication Technology (ICT) now plays a quintessential role in legal practice and education. It has become a prerequisite for effective and efficient legal practice, such that if lawyers in Nigeria continue to resist the need to incorporate technologies into the practice of law, they will likely lose their relevance in the fast-unfolding future.3
All of the foregoing points underscore the importance of legal technology to the legal profession and why there is a dire need to make it a viable sector in Nigeria.
One of the leading factors hindering the advancement of legal technology in Nigeria, is the high cost of technology or access to technology in Nigeria. A high amount of capital needs to be invested if a law firm is to be technology compliant. Computers and other ICT devices or hardware need to be purchased and constant maintenance of these equipment will be required from time to time. In addition to this, quality online legal research tools will also have to be subscribed to by law firms in ensuring accessibility to online information and materials.
The non-availability of fast high speed internet networks also poses a threat to the assimilation of legal technology in Nigeria. Access to internet services in many parts of Nigeria is unreliable and slow, this discourages users and lawyers and often times makes it impossible for them to perform some tasks which require a stable high speed internet connection. The high cost of internet services in Nigeria is another factor that must be taken into consideration, as access to internet services is beyond the reach of many Nigerians.
Furthermore, almost all technological devices require electricity to work effectively. However, a major problem Nigeria battles with is inadequate, erratic power supply. These situations make maximizing the potentials of technology to the legal sector unachievable. While the use of other alternative sources of power such as inverters, generators, solar panels etc., could be recommended, this adds a huge financial burden to the already expensive cost of using technology.
Recent studies have proven that trial technology can speed up trials by up to 50 percent. Most legal-focused technologies are user-friendly and can allow attorneys to use laptops, tablets, and other devices to seamlessly display evidence to jurors/judges in the courtroom. Space restrictions are no longer an issue when it comes to presenting evidence. Witnesses can also be called to the stand via teleconferencing software, which can make the court process more efficient, provided the technology is working correctly.4
The advancement of courtroom technology has allowed court records to become more accurate, secure, and accessible. This can help improve communication between attorneys, judges, and clients, and allow an easy flow of information between all relevant parties. It thus cannot be overemphasized that the use of information and communication technology (ICT) is considered one of the key elements to significantly improve the administration of justice in any country.
The availability of web services, the possibility of consulting on-line legislation and case law, the use of electronic filing, the electronic exchange of legal documents, are only some examples that are spurring the judicial administrations around the world to rethink their current functions and activities.
The role of the administrative component of the court is to perform a number of tasks that range from case-tracking and keeping official records of all court matters to official court notifications. Furthermore, court personnel carry out an important role as an interface, and at the same time a buffer between the judge and the other actors that participate in the judicial process. As lawyers very well know, the judicial proceeding starts long before a case reaches the courtroom.5 The administrative personnel of the courts file and keep registers and documents in compliance with codes of procedure, laws and regulations. For example, a civil action is commenced when a plaintiff (or a plaintiff's attorney) files a summons or a complaint with the clerk of court in any manner prescribed by law. A series of actions are linked to such procedures, such as the collection and formal control of the filed documents by the clerk, the documentation at the time of collection, the registration on a court register of the event and the issuance of a receipt. All these actions require time and resources. In supporting the clerks activities, technology can play an important role in saving much needed resources at the earliest stage of the trial.6
Traditional court dockets and other court registers are one of the pillars of the court activities. They are generally huge books, that need to be kept not only to formally comply with procedural rules, but also for the functions that such tools perform.
On the other hand, paper dockets and other register books are cumbersome tools and present many limitations, having all this data in electronic format opens up a number of options to further enhance the efficiency of the court. This reduces not only the workload of personnel but also the risk of mistakes. In courts across Europe, a number of other applications have been developed that use automated register data. Some of these applications have a more strategic focus. For example, the provision of management information and statistical reporting can play an important role in the organisation and administration of court offices.
Several applications have been designed to support and to automate Judges' activities. While many of the tools described in the previous section are 'organisational tools', most of the technology for supporting the Judges' activities are 'individual tools'. This is for a number of reasons, including the independence and nature of the task judges perform.7 Conducting online legal research and surfing the growing number of websites has become more and more a part of a judge's daily activity. The use of search engines and text mining techniques has highly increased both quality and efficiency of legal research. Forums and discussion groups in which judges can 'virtually' meet and discuss legislation, procedures and cases, have been an important development all around the world such as the annual WIPO Intellectual Property Judges Forum which aim to provide a platform for judges from across the globe to exchange their expertise on the most pressing intellectual property (IP) challenges raised by accelerating innovation and the increasingly transnational use of IP.8
In judicial proceedings, the formal communication between the court and parties is generally paper based and rooted on a complex set of formal rules, work practices and local adaptation and it is strategically used by the parties in an attempt to gain some advantage in the trial.
In the last decade, judicial administrations around Europe have examined the feasibility of providing court services electronically. Specific areas being considered include the electronic payment of fines, electronic filing, electronic means for notification and communication to attorneys and parties and full electronic trial. Many countries around the world have launched notable projects in this regard. The aim of these projects has been to radically change the paper-based infrastructure underlying the formal communication exchange within judicial proceedings; to improve and enhance access to justice, and to reduce inconvenience and the cost (in terms of time, resources, money) of justice to parties and their legal representatives. Where this is implemented, a lawyer, using a computer from work, home or even from a vacation location, can electronically file a claim, get information on a case, receive court e-notices, download electronic documents concerning the case.
Recently the Court of Appeal Rules 2021 which came into force on 1st November 2021 made some excellent advancement towards the adoption of legal technology in Nigeria. First, the Rules contained in Order 2 Rule 1 now provides that a notice of appeal may be served by electronic mail especially if the party gave email address during the proceedings at the lower court.
“Every Notice of Appeal shall, subject to the provisions of Order 2 Rule 8, be served on the Respondent personally or by electronic mail to the electronic mail address of the Respondent: provided that if the Court is satisfied that the Notice of Appeal has in fact been communicated to the Respondent, no objection to the hearing of the appeal shall lie on the ground that the Notice of Appeal was not served in accordance with this Rule“.
Also, Order 20 of the Court of Appeal Rules now provides that electronic filing is to run parallel with manual filing. Order 20 Rule 1 stipulates: “There shall be established a 24-hour electronic filing system in the Registry of the Court, functional in all the Judicial Division of the Court, for the electronic filing of Court processes and documents by parties”.
Lastly, Order 21 Rule 1 of the Rules permits virtual hearing of appeals at the discretion of the Court. Virtual hearing is very suitable at the Court of Appeal as the proceedings are almost always based on documents only. The rules state as follows: “The Court may conduct its proceedings virtually where it deems fit“.
Order 21 Rule 2 provides that: “The virtual hearing shall be by means of any audio-visual platform approved by the Court and a link will be provided to enable the public to observe the virtual proceedings“.
The Federal High Court and the Lagos State High Court have also adopted virtual proceedings via Zoom, Skype and other audiovisual platforms approved by the court. The Federal High Court's Practice Directions now specifically provides that, where parties and lawyers in a case agree to virtual proceedings, they shall liaise with the registrar to schedule the hearings.
The Judiciary affirmed its commitment to the development of a remote justice system while considering the legal challenge to the constitutionality of virtual hearings in Attorney General of Lagos State v. Attorney General of the Federation & Anor.9 The plaintiff subsequently withdrew the appeal when it realised from the reaction of the Supreme Court that the case was considered to be speculative and preemptive. However, while striking out the case, the Supreme Court stated that 'as of today virtual sitting is not unconstitutional'.
No doubt, the future of legal practice in Nigeria is anchored on the use of legal technologies as the legal landscape has radically changed with the disruptions engendered by the worldwide pandemic, and reliance on the use of technological tools and appliances in the delivery of basic legal services is now the new norm. The legal profession must continue to make efforts to innovate and deploy these tools in the administration of justice and rendering of legal services to clients as this will help increase access to justice and legal services for citizens as well as create a viable legal technology sector which will provide more jobs for lawyers and ease the burden of work done by them.
1 Uche Matthew, Associate, Corporate Finance & Capital Markets Department, SPA Ajibade & Co., Lagos, Nigeria.
2 Muyiwa Atoyebi, SAN 'Legal Technology in Nigeria: why lawyers need to keep abreast of the trend', available at: https://omaplex.com.ng/legal-technology-in-nigeria-and-why-lawyers-need-to-keep-abreast-of-the-trends/ accessed on 24 November 2021.
3 J.E. Owoeye, 'Information Communication Technology (ICT) Use as a Predictor of Lawyers' Productivity' (Library) Philosophy and Practice, Paper 662) available at https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/libphilprac/662/ accessed on 24 November 2021.
4 Brooks le Boeuf 'WAYS COURTROOM TECHNOLOGY CAN IMPACT COURT CASES', available at https://www.toomuchatstake.com/3-ways-courtroom-technology-can-impact-court-cases/ accessed on 24 November 2021.
5 A. Wallace, 'Australia', in A. Oskamp et al. (eds.), IT Support of the Judiciary, 2004, [T.M.C Asser Press] p. 40.
6 Marco Velicogna 'Justice systems and ICT: What can be learned from Europe?' 2007 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/26463184_Justice_systems_and_ICT_-What_can_be_learned_from_Europe. Accessed on 28th November 2021.
7 Marco Velicogna 'Justice systems and ICT: What can be learned from Europe?' 2007 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/26463184_Justice_systems_and_ICT_-_What_can_be_learned_from_Europe accessed 24 November 2021.
8 The 2020 WIPO Intellectual Property Judges Forum was held in a virtual format from November 18 to 20, 2020. The Forum brought together 407 judges from 89 national and regional jurisdictions, to engage with their global peers on topical issues in copyright, trademarks and patents.
9 Unrep. Appeal No. SC/CV/260/2020.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.
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