In our last three outings, we dealt extensively with some definitions and contexts as they pertain to the legal profession, schools of thought, origin and makeup of the Nigerian and English legal systems, who can enter the legal profession, rights and duties of lawyers, who can practice in Nigeria, rights of foreign lawyers, the challenges faced by the legal profession in Nigeria today, some of the solutions to the challenges, saving the legal profession from adulteration and infiltration, and the policy in NBA stamp and seal.
Today, we shall conclude our luminous series on the need to safeguard the legal profession from extinction, adulteration and infiltration. Kindly read on.
Saving the legal profession from going extinct in the ever-changing world
‘The robots are coming’. This is fast becoming the mantra of our age. And it comes with more than a hint of threat. It can be seen that, some years now, the phrase has become the go-to headline in the legal news pages when they report on technology in the legal profession.
For our profession – where for thousands of years, trust, diligence and ‘good judgement’ have been watchwords – the idea of Artificial Intelligence ‘replacing’ lawyers continues to be controversial. From law school and all through our careers, we are taught that the “trusted adviser” is what all good lawyers aspire to become.
The most enduring relationships in the legal profession are the ones where the client feels and believes the lawyer has their back.
The world is speeding up. Globalisation, technological advances, and the Internet of Things all mean there is huge pressure to be quicker, smarter, more productive.
So, if machines can do the learning, will lawyers become extinct?
The Artificial Intelligence (AI for short) that we are seeing on the market now and for the foreseeable future – which one is not naïve enough to put as any longer than 3 to 5 years – will enable us to deliver better legal services, quicker, more efficiently and sometimes cheaper. But it does not fundamentally change the game, yet.
Change is happening and being simply a good lawyer is no longer enough. Let’s be clear, this is not new. The financial services industry is going through similar challenges, but there will need to be an evolution in law and regulation to allow the true potential of technology in the legal sector.
If you look at document review, about 30 years ago, a client would pay so much to have thousands of documents manually reviewed. Thanks to technology, much of that work is now done by machines. Many other legal processes can be automated. AI and the tools that ‘bring it to life’ are more of an opportunity than a threat: a chance to focus on the valuable work for clients; a chance to have more information to empower lawyers to make better decisions more quickly; a chance to offer young lawyers more than spending their first two years in a data room.
This revolution impacts not only how we practise law but also how the law applies to whole new sectors. Our global aviation group’s first-of-its-kind Specialist Drone Team is a good example of how we are adapting as the world changes. Drones are revolutionising industries, while simultaneously pushing aviation law’s boundaries because they don’t fit into the standard aviation framework, and many companies entering this space for the first time need industry-specific advice to navigate this rapidly evolving legal landscape and use drones to their fullest capabilities.
Driverless cars are another example. When they knock someone over, who’s to blame? Who’s going to pay? Where are the liabilities? That’s a fascinating area for a lawyer.
In the growing age of technological advancements and the era of the credit crunch, the demand for some professions is decreasing. Some wonder whether the same can be said of the legal profession.
Some analysts have argued that the current market is increasingly unlikely to tolerate expensive [legal professionals] for tasks that can equally or better be discharged, directly or indirectly, by smart systems and processes. They argue further that the jobs of many traditional lawyers will be substantially eroded and often eliminated. With the increasing number of alternative methods available to those needing legal advice, the constant influx of graduates choosing to enter the legal profession, the declining demand for applicants and the increased constraints on our finances, “the market will determine that the legal world is over-resourced.” It will “increasingly drive out inefficiencies and unnecessary friction and, in so doing, we will indeed witness the end of outdated legal practice and the end of outdated lawyers.”
Consequently, for those within the legal profession to safeguard their jobs, they must focus less on maintaining their ‘fat cat’ status and focus more on providing the services that people need at a reasonable price.
How do we prevent the legal profession from extinction? How can we practice law in a more innovative way?
Communication and innovation
Some examples come to mind. A lawyer who communicates with a client by letters and a lawyer who communicates with email cannot be the same. It is easy to tell which category of lawyer will get to the potential client first. The lawyer who fails to embrace this new innovation will fade out of practice – he becomes extinct. A lawyer who is innovative can move from being financially challenged to becoming adequately remunerated for the legal services rendered.
Continuing legal education
To prevent the legal profession from going into extinction, lawyers should take advantage of the continuing legal education programmes organised by various branches of the Nigerian Bar Association and update their libraries to modern standards. Law Pavilion is a good example of moving with the trends. Internet services for easy access to information must be embraced because information is power. A lawyer who achieves all the above will find his practice grow from one strength to strength.
Root out fake lawyers
The legal profession like every profession has been adulterated and infiltrated by mischief makers. Over the last decades in Nigeria, societal interest in the ethical aspect of the legal profession has nose-dived. There has been a significant increase in the number of reported cases of fake lawyers parading as legal practitioners in Nigeria. There has been, lately, significant increase in the frequency with which litigants write petitions against lawyers, with a view to suing them, only to later discover that they are fake lawyers and their names are not on the roll of legal practitioners entitled to practise law in Nigeria.
This set of individuals parading themselves as lawyers are mostly found around court premises, under the tree, asking vulnerable and innocent passers-by whether they want to swear to an “Affidavit.” This set of individuals gives members of the legal profession a bad name. This set of individual even go as far as going to the Police stations as lawyers. They are derisively called “charge and bail lawyers.” Some even audaciously appear in court as advocates.
Deal squarely with the infiltrators – estate agents, accountants, surveyors, tax practitioners
Already, estate agents have taken over the whole sphere of landlord-and-tenant work. All that is left for lawyers is mere recovery of possession cases [litigation]. Agents are now drafting the tenancy agreements for individuals and negotiating the terms of commercial contracts for business clients. Surveyors now advise on building codes and building regulations [the interpretation of the Town Planning Laws]. Accountants and tax practitioners have also taken over the role of lawyers in taxation matters, which is the interpretation of tax laws. The activities of these individuals if not checked, will lead to the legal profession’s extinction and lawyers will have little or nothing to do.
The place of trust in the legal profession
One fundamental issue is trust. Our human instinct is to want to speak to a human. I would not think that will change. Trust is what we crave; it is what separates us from machines; empathy, human instinct, and ability to read nuances, shake hands, and build collaborative relationships.
As we see at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting every year, the world has changed more, and faster, in the last five years than in the last 50.
Businesses (our clients) demand that we not only understand the pace their sector is moving at, but that we as lawyers harness AI to make sure we can do more with less. We should not just talk the talk. We must talk and talk in the midst of the changes that are coming, and learning by doing.
Put simply, innovation is not about the business of law; it is about the business of business. So, how do we keep up? By having better conversations and by having a richer understanding of the world. To listen and learn, so we are better equipped.
Investment in technology must be in tandem with investment in talent. Because, to be very frank, the market will kill those who do not adapt. They are the ones who should be scared of the machines. For them, the robots are coming.
For those who can find ways to use AI to augment, not replace, judgement and empathy, I believe the future is very bright indeed.
Thought for the week
“Lawyers have their duties as citizens, but they also have special duties as lawyers. Their obligations go far deeper than earning a living as specialists in corporation or tax law. They have a continuing responsibility to uphold the fundamental principles of justice from which the law cannot depart.” (Robert Kennedy)