Technological disruption in the Nigerian Legal System: a myth or possibility? The legal profession will have access to a myriad of new choices as technology improves. As exciting as technology is, it does not come without its own set of challenges. The legal and judicial professions have been sluggish to adopt modern technology because they are entrenched in tradition.
According to Robert Scroble ‘Change is inevitable and the disruption it brings often causes inconvenience and opportunities.’ Every profession, including our great legal profession, has been disrupted by disruptive technology. It’s clear that a new era in legal practise has arrived around the world.
Disruptive technology is an innovation that significantly alters the way that consumers, industries, or businesses operate. A disruptive technology sweeps away the systems or habits it replaces because it has attributes that are recognizably superior.
With the automation of legal services, the conventional practise of law by lawyers using papers and hard documents is giving way to paperless lawyering. Cloud computing, which provides critical advantages to lawyers; Blockchain, which is creating new areas of legal practise; Big data, which is making the process of discovery more complex while also making it simpler, and Artificial Intelligence, which can highlight pattern recognition from big data and thus offer predictions of future behaviour; virtual reality, online dispute resolution, and e-lexis are some of the technologies currently disrupting the legal system.
Automation of law practise, legal research, document management, contracts and litigation and predictive analytics are just a few of the areas where legal practise is currently being disrupted. As a result, future lawyers will need a deep and ongoing understanding of how to recognise and use technology to satisfy the needs of their clients while relying on their judgement, empathy, creativity, and adaptability.
Artificial intelligence and other technology breakthroughs have numerous advantages, including increased speed, efficiency, cost reduction, stress reduction, and increased creativity. From case administration, which is partly done electronically, to client interviewing, which has gone virtual, it appears that no field of law is unaffected by this trend. Judges may not be obliged to visit locus-in-quo and crime sites if virtual reality is used, and trials may be conducted without the use of a physical location.
The technological-legal upheaval is so well-known that certain jurisdictions’ courts have issued landmark ICT-related decisions. The Nigerian decision of Mohammad Awwaldanlami, Esq. v Governor of Taraba State & 24 Ors, which found that the originating process and other court proceedings should be served on the 3rd to 24th Defendants/Respondents by publishing and sharing on social media, is noteworthy.
The Court of Appeal Rules 2021, which took effect on November 1, 2021, marked a significant step forward in Nigeria’s usage of legal technology. First, Order 2 Rule 1 now stipulates that a notice of appeal may be delivered by electronic mail, particularly if the party provided an email address during the lower court proceedings. Order 21 Rule 1 of the Rules allows for virtual hearings of appeals. Because the Court of Appeal’s processes are almost usually based solely on documents, virtual hearings are ideal.
Virtual proceedings have also been implemented by the Federal High Court and the Lagos State High Court, using Zoom, Skype, and other audiovisual platforms approved by the court. The Practice Directions of the Federal High Court now state that if the parties and lawyers in a case agree to virtual proceedings, they must coordinate with the registrar to arrange the hearings.
While considering the legitimacy of virtual hearings in Attorney General of Lagos State v. Attorney General of the Federation & Anor, the judiciary reaffirmed its commitment to the creation of a remote judicial system. Following the Supreme Court’s reaction, the plaintiff abandoned the appeal, realising that the case was seen as speculative and preemptive. The Supreme Court, however, stated that “virtual sitting is not unlawful as of today” when dismissing the lawsuit.
Several applications have been created to assist and automate the work of Judges. Conducting legal research online and perusing an ever-increasing number of websites has become an increasingly common part of a judge’s daily routine. Search engines and text mining techniques have significantly improved the quality and efficiency of legal research.
The annual WIPO Intellectual Property Judges Forum, which aims to provide a platform for judges from around the world to exchange their expertise on the most pressing intellectual property (IP) challenges raised by accelerating innovation and the increasingly transnational use of IP, has been an important development all over the world.
The legal profession faces many issues as a result of technological disruption. There are certain ethical concerns because this is a fresh development that has not been addressed by regulation. The issue of data protection is prominent among them, as lawyers are increasingly invading social media accounts of parties to obtain material for litigation. Many have also raised concerns about the ethical and legal implications of utilising robots to conduct judicial and quasi-judicial activities.
Without a doubt, the future of legal practise in Nigeria is based on the use of legal technologies, as the legal landscape has radically changed as a result of the worldwide pandemic’s disruptions, and reliance on technological tools and appliances in the delivery of basic legal services has become the new norm.
The legal profession must continue to innovate and deploy these tools in the administration of justice and the provision of legal services to clients, as this will help citizens gain access to justice and legal services while also creating a viable legal technology sector that will provide more jobs for lawyers and reduce their workload.
The Council of Legal Education, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), and the Nigerian judiciary should rise to the occasion by pressing for revisions to law training curricula and developing a system to equip new law graduates with the skills they need to succeed, among other things. Young lawyers should also upskill, comprehend, and adopt technology, grasp those aspects of law that cannot be replaced by technology, and learn the commercial side of law.
Deducing from the above submission, it is my humble submission that technological disruption in the Nigerian legal system is not a myth as maybe believed by many but a possibility which has come to stay.