Apr 9, 2020

The closure of businesses shows why Lawyers must embrace information technology in the workplace | Assumpta N. Nwaogwugwu


ABSTRACT

As part of measures put in place to contain the spread of the ongoing pandemic COVID-19, the Nigerian government has ordered the total shutdown of all businesses and organizations excluding those providing essential services for a period of two weeks in states such as Lagos, Ogun and also the Federal Capital Territory.  Although the government, in recognition of the financial hardship this lockdown is likely to cause has put in place steps such as the injection of one trillion naira into the economy, reduction in the price of petrol, and supply of foodstuffs etc.  all to be a form of relief to its citizens, it does not mitigate the hitch in the operations of private businesses and its attendant financial detriment.  One of the sectors particularly affected is the legal sector especially following the directive of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, to suspend all court hearings till further notice. Lawyers might be rendered incapable of attending to their clients, but not if they embrace Information Technology (IT).  This work aims to expose the concept of IT and mention a few of the ways in which it could be beneficial to the 21st century lawyer.

INTRODUCTION

“Information technology” was coined in 1958 by Harold J. Leavitt and Thomas L. Whisler in a Harvard Business Review article because the new technology did not have an established name  and comprised  several parts.[1] Even though, at that  time the  potentials of this technology was yet to be understood, there was however no doubt in the minds of the authors that it wielded a life-changing ability.[2] A cursory glance might misbelieve IT to be one with  computer science, however they differ in scope. For while computer science deals with the effective programming of computer hardware and software which in turn births subfields such as artificial intelligence (the programming of robots to act like humans), information technology is the application of technology to diverse sectors of the society.[3] It is described by Roger Carter to be ‘the use of technology to aid the capture, storage, retrieval, analysis, and communication of information whether in the form of data, text, image or voice.’[4] IT is in fact the collection of equipment that aid the organization and analysis of data.[5] It thus encompasses such things as televisions, smartphones, computers, printers and other computer peripherals. What is essential is that such device must be able to manipulate data.

Over the years, the significant impact of IT has become undeniable. IT has become an integral part of our lives that rarely, do we have to do anything manually anymore. For instance, it has aided the media sector in the transmitting and broadcasting of programs. We have access to news  across the globe 24hours each day and this wouldn’t have been feasible were it not for IT.[6]  The invention of  railways, aircrafts, and automobiles were largely promoted by IT and this has facilitated the transporting of people from even very remote places to any destination in the world, no matter the distance. Health care has also benefited by the discovery, improvement of vaccines and equipment to combat even the deadliest of ailments.  The banking system could not be so automated and tightly secured if IT did not lend its services.   What more of the business sector which can now manage data with ease, interact cordially with customer and even monitor returns. How about the legal sector?

LAW AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY

The relationship between IT and law may seem obscure  since the nature of IT is “fast, schematic and  futuristic” while that of lawyers are “cautious, verbose and old-fashioned.”[7] But it must be remembered  that law entails the processing of information.  It is thus intertwined with information. In fact, they’re both inseparable, they’re Siamese twins.[8]  As such, IT should play the important role of  managing and organizing such information to ensure availability and easy access. Fortunately, there has been a collaboration between these two disciplines.  An earliest example of this development can be traced to the transition from handwritten scrolls to typewritten documents via a typewriter.  This has also progressed now into the drafting of legal documents with software such as Microsoft Word and its printing with a printer.

 Legal research took on an electronic face when in the United States (US), the computer assisted legal research (CALR) promoted the development of websites such as Westlaw and Lexis which stores several judicial decisions, articles that in order to aid lawyers, jurists, professors and law student in carrying out quality research.[9] This move has been adopted in other jurisdictions, including Nigeria where here is the existence of websites such as LawPavillion and Legalpedia providing a similar service. Electronic casebooks have also been introduced by the storage of large volume of cases on a CD-ROM. Individually, Law firms have also utilized the internet by creating blogs where they write articles, commentaries etc. all to educate their clients. In fact firms like Aluko&Oyebode  and Banwo& Ighodalo, issue a newsletter monthly to educate the public.[10]  Law firms have also  created on their official websites,  online form by which their actual and potential clients can reach out to them, in order to eliminate the barrier of distance or time constraints.

Videoconferencing has also been applied effectively to bridge the problem of physical barrier and it has been found quite suitable for arbitration proceedings. In addition to this, many Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) platforms, simply put online form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) abound for the effective and efficient resolution of disputes. Social media applications such as Linkedln, Facebook, Whatsapp etc. and email also help lawyers network and share files even in a court sitting. The legal education is not entirely left out as now there exists in the Nigerian Law Schools an e-handbook to make studying easier for students.

With the presence of all of these, it might sound absurd to still pick it as a subject for discussion, however an investigation into how often IT is embraced by lawyers reveals that lawyers pose  somewhat resistant IT. Why? I’m not too sure but it might be because law as we all know is conservative and as such lawyers are encouraged to be sober members of the society. Perhaps this explains the preference for the old ways and reluctance to accept new trends. For instance, it is reported that  back in the mid-2000s, law firms opposed the idea of an email,[11] and even now that you could believe that every lawyer owns a smartphone,  the American Bar Association (ABA), reports that 98% of them do not use these phones to its full potential; usage for them does not extend beyond calls, texts and emails.[12]  There are even stories flying round about lawyers accusing colleagues patronizing e-libraries of lacking comprehensive understanding of the law. To the former, the presence of a printed material is an essential. Removal of that and there just isn’t commendable research.

WHY A LAWYER SHOULD EMBRACE IT IN WORKPLACE

With the present situation, ranging from closure of law firms to suspension of court-sittings, IT is one medium by which a lawyer can continue to offer her services. Here are a few reasons why IT should be embraced by every lawyer:

1.      Flexible working time: rather than complain about how exhausting, monotonous and boring a 9-5 job can be, IT affords a lawyer the opportunity to work from everywhere, including their homes on days they cannot be at the firm. This would even aid to reduce traffic on the roads and make movement easier for lawyers who must appear in court.

2.      Efficient and Speedy Research:  there is a whole lot of information on the internet that can be harnessed by the lawyer as he carries out his research. What’s even better is that there is no geographical boundary to the availability of this information and as such utilization of them produces a quality, time, energy and money saving research.  In addition to this, lawyers can create a blog or website where they can upload their well-researched opinions as this would also earn recognition.

3.      Client Satisfaction: when a lawyer can provide up-to-date information, maintain contact with clients and speedily execute tasks, it is only natural that clients would be pleased and of course a strong client-base would pull in more clients. IT applications such as Zoom can be used to hold meetings with clients in order to avoid the difficulty that cones with scheduling a physical meeting.

4.      An extra skill: In the midst of the intense competition out there amongst lawyers,  the “infotech conscious”  lawyer  definitely has an edge over the “infotech unconscious” lawyer.[13]  Russ Abney agrees with this by saying that : these technologies are a must for litigators. Whichever on the go solution you choose; you will have an edge over opponents who still lug their paper files into court[14]

5.      Networking: no man is an island of knowledge, and as such no lawyer can have every information at his/her disposal. There is always something to learn from a colleague or senor at the bar.  You never can tell, you might require a file urgently someday in court and then you would wish you had your fellow’s email address so you can easily text him for this.   Most importantly, lawyers we occupy a very prestigious position in the society, and so should be there for one another

6.      IT provides so many mediums through which a lawyer can store thousands of files, move them around conveniently and even access them. They include laptops, flash drives. Hard disks, CD-ROMs and even Cloud.

7.      Intellectual property lawyers can easily monitor the works of their clients in cyberspace and be informed of any infringement at once.

CONCLUSION

 As Paliwala puts it, ‘…The development of the global legal practice means that lawyers need to be globally aware in ways which are beyond the limits of traditional law libraries and books.’[15] As new areas of law continue to spring up, it necessitates a shift from the old ways in order to provide solution to the  new issues that arise in these areas. Only an informed lawyer can do this and IT offers a whole lot of information. Therefore, lawyers cannot continue to deny the relevance of IT especially where they live in a society propelled by technology. The yardstick for determining a well completed legal education and also a successful lawyer lies in how well he/she has been able to apply his legal education in addressing individual/societal problems. Lawyers must now take the pains of understanding IT and applying it lest they find themselves incompetent in face of situations such as the present closure of businesses.

 

 

 



*Assunpta is a student of the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos.

[1] Harold J. Leavitt and Thomas L. Whisler, ‘Management in the 1980’s’, Harvard Business Review, November, 1958, https://hbr.org/1958/11/management-in-the-1980s (accessed 1st April 2020).

[2] Ibid.

[3] ‘What is information technology or IT? Definition and examples,’ Market Business News https://marketbusinessnews.com/financial-glossary/information-technology/amp/amp (accessed 1st April 2020)

[4] CARTER, R., Students Guide to Information Technology, London: Heinemann Newner, 1990, pp. 2-3. Cited in Nwachukwu Chukwuma E., Application of information technology to legal practice: perspectives, problems and prospects www.academia.edu. (accessed 6th April 2020)

[5] Ecpi University ‘How do Information systems help organizations thrive?’ The ecpi blog, 3rd March 2018 https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.ecpi.edu/blog/how-do-information-systems-help-organizations-thrive% (accessed 5th April 2020)

[6] Priyanka Sharma ‘Information technology is the backbone to al sectors’, Scholarship Positions, 25th August 2012 https://www.google.com/amp/s/scholarship-positions.com/it-sector-is-the-backbone-to-all-industries/2012/08/25/amp/ (accessed 5th April 2020)

[7] Arno R. Lodder, Anja Oskamp, (eds.), Information Technology & Lawyers research.vu.ni

[8] Com. Ibrahim Babayidi Maikasuwa, ‘ICT and legal profession in Nigeria-an impact analysis’ Nigerian Law Claz blog, 24th June 2017, https://nigerianlawclaz.blogspot.com/2017/06/ict-and-legal-profession-in-nigeria.html?m=1

[9] Ifeoluwa A. Olubiyi, Ayobami J. Olaniyan, and Ngozi Odiaka, ‘The Role of Technology in the Advancement of Legal Education and Practice in Nigeria’

 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/280566346

[10] accessible at their websites

[11] Alex Heshmaty ‘Legal tech in 2018: threats and opportunities’ The Law Society blog, 13 June 2018 https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/news/blog/legal-tech-2018-threats-and-opportuinities/ (accessed 6th April 2020)

[12] ‘5 ways technology will change the legal industry this year’ JMARK blog https://www.jmark.com/5-ways-technology-will-change-the-legal-industry-this-year/ (accessed 6th April 2020)

[13] Bernard ’Femi Jemilohun, ‘The information communications technology revolution: Imperatives for the 21st century Nigerian lawyer’ www.academia,edu. (accessed 6th April 2020)

[14] Russ Abney ‘Take Your Data With You’ Texas Bar Journal Vol. 68 No 3 p.200 cited in Bernard ’Femi Jemilohun, ‘The information communications technology revolution: Imperatives for the 21st century Nigerian lawyer’ www.academia,edu. (accessed 6th April 2020)

[15] A Paliwala:  ‘Learning in Cyberspace’ The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT) cited in Bernard ’Femi Jemilohun, ‘The information communications technology revolution: Imperatives for the 21st century Nigerian lawyer’ www.academia,edu. (accessed 6th April 2020)

 


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