Law  

Lawyers, judges, stakeholders tasked on ICT

Mark Slade (left); Barr. Alex Mouka, former chairman NBA Lagos branch, Azubuike Ezenwoke Barr. Tolu Aderemi, Mrs. Mobola Obileye, Director, thelearnefriends.com, Chief Bolaji Ayorinde (SAN), Dele Nedd and Barr. Femi Ojomu.

Mark Slade (left); Barr. Alex Mouka, former chairman NBA Lagos branch, Azubuike Ezenwoke Barr. Tolu Aderemi, Mrs. Mobola Obileye, Director, thelearnefriends.com, Chief Bolaji Ayorinde (SAN), Dele Nedd and Barr. Femi Ojomu.

To keep up to international best practices with the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) on the Legal Profession in Nigeria, stakeholders in the judiciary has been charged to incorporate technology and digital systems into their daily operations.

The charge was made by resource persons at the maiden edition of the E-Legal Conference, organized by Nigeria’s fastest growing online community for legal professionals, thelearnedfriend.com.

The theme of the conference was: “Tomorrow’s Legal”. It was held at Lagos Court of Arbitration, International Centre for Arbitration and ADR, Lagos.

Thelearnedfriends.com is an online news aggregator and social media platform focused on showcasing technological innovations in the legal sector. According to the Managing Director, Mrs. Mobola Obileye, the nature of legal services is changing as more legal businesses are incorporating technology and digital media into their daily operations.

Delivering the conference inauguration keynote address, the Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Lagos branch, Mr. Alex Mouka, said lawyers must begin to brace up towards the challenge posed by technology. He noted that the benefit of the conference is unquantifiable when juxtaposed with the cost of acquiring modern day technology.

“Let’s agree first that the whole world is moving in a particular direction – digital, and we lawyers cannot afford to be left behind. The idea about these conferences is to begin to prepare our minds as lawyers. I don’t expect that it will be an overnight change, but if we understand that someday we must operate in a completely online environment, then the sooner we begin to pull down the roadblocks, the better. We may not achieve a paperless office now, but we do appreciate that more of our work has to be done in an online mobile environment and then begin to set up the tools”, he advised.

On how realistic this fusion between the ICT and the legal profession will work out, he said: “Again, if something is bound to happen, it is going to happen. We should not only count the cost as it has been noted here. Most of the solutions are scalable. It is not as if you have to start with the most expensive solution, some of the solutions that has been suggested here can be tailored to the size or scope of your practice. If you have a small firm, there’s solution for you and if you have a large firm, there’s solution you can adopt.

“I have no fear about how technology will impact on the legal profession. On the contrary, my view has always been that IT is something we must embrace as lawyers, my joy now is that with conferences like this, we are disseminating information to a much larger audience of lawyers. I’m pleased to say that most of the people who attended this conference, especially the very young lawyers are people who are very savvy when it comes to technology. My concern has always been infrastructure. Technology must ride on the backbone of infrastructure, particularly power.”

Muoka explained that if we don’t get power right in the country, then it will be difficult for lawyers and others to have access to modern technology except. His words: “One of the things that are fallout from this conference is the fact that some of the solutions that are suggested here must ride on the back of a very robust internet connection. Now, internet connection again is tied to infrastructure, particularly power. There is also the fact that some of the solutions when it comes to internet connectivity, has to do with fiber of the cables and that entails laying fiber of the cables round Lagos. But it is available in few places. If it was to go round, there’s a cost for that. There is need for some government concessions, so infrastructure is key and it’s a thing the government should provide to lay the framework for private participation.”

Also, Chief Bolaji Ayorinde (SAN) reiterated the popular saying that the world is a global village and added that the legal profession must keep up with the international best practices. “All over the world, new trends are coming up and Nigeria cannot afford to lag behind when we have a country with so many lawyers, with so much intellectual capacit. We need to now combine that with technological advancement. That is the reason why this is going on and I think it’s a good innovation for the judiciary.

“This will help law firms to keep up with their international counterparts as well as help the law firms to keep up among themselves. Most of the work in the courts are now going digital, so, it’s a conference that is very helpful for lawyers.”

Other speakers at the conference included Mr. Femi Ojumu, who characterized ICT as a physical or web-based configuration, which facilitates the use, exploitation, mining, storage and transfer of data that’s underpinned by scientific expertise.

He harped on why ICT is so relevant in the 21st century legal practice in Nigeria and pointed out that it has started happening in other common law jurisdictions.

Ojomu noted that if a law firm can reduced its overhead “by operationalizing internal business processes by exploiting ICT, commercial logic, and practical economics would necessarily direct it to that pathway. He said that instances of how ICT is being deployed in businesses like law firms and organization responsible for the administration of justice abound. “Some of these include online reporting of case laws like The Lloyd’s List Maritime Reports; video conferencing facilities linking firms and clients across different time zones and jurisdictions; virtual law libraries; cloud –based databanks; 24hours x 365 days virtual business continuity suites; private and public websites of law firms and regulatory agencies, respectively; social media platforms e.g. Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook, electronic commerce and much more”, he stated.

He said government of United Kingdom announced plans in 2014 to fully digitize its court rooms by 2016 at a cost of $160 million (N51.2billion) and the aim is to ensure ICT interoperability of all the courtrooms whilst ensuring judges and lawyers can access, relevant papers, in encrypted format on hand-held devices which saves tax payers’ money.

Citing the American example, he noted that law firms are already exploiting the offerings afforded by secure and interactive online web portals with encoded attorney and client exchanges, legal invoicing, and cloud-based applications for credit or debit card payments.

He said: “Mergers and acquisitions transactions in Nigeria worth billions of naira are also witnessing the active deployment and use of cloud-based Virtual Data Rooms (VDR) in the forensic analysis of key documentation by corporate counsel and expert advisers. Other applications in the ICT space within the Nigerian legal industry include the Lagos state government of Nigeria’s e-filing methodology geared towards streamlining case management in courts. West Law (USA and UK) and The Learned Friends (Nigeria), and The Law Pavilion (Nigeria) are some commercial online ICT platforms for legal research and knowledge exchange.”

Azubuike Ezenwoke, a Dean, Student Affairs, Covenant Univeristy, Ota in his presentation said “problem solving requires specific skills and competencies dependent on access to accurate, timely, sufficient, reliable and relevant information (or facts). His words: “Current realities engenders much data rapid advancement in technologies and tools. A key competence to solving complex problem is the ability to navigate the sea of information and process knowledge intelligently. We are in the fast-paced digital/media age where Digital Content is created at an astronomical rate and Data travels at an intense velocity. Boundaries of knowledge/careers are constantly been erased in this age.”
One of the speakers, Mark Slade, the CEO of Ringier Digital Marketing painted a graphic picture of the growth on internet penetration in Africa and concluded that Nigeria has the highest number of Internet users, Facebook users and active mobile in the continent.

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