Tech and the lawyer of the future

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In a fast-changing world, the legal industry has been struggling to keep up. Brick and mortar firms of yesterday are being replaced by online legal services, often provided through artificial intelligence systems such as Facebook chat bots. Therefore, as lawyers where do we stand and how will we survive?

Earlier this year, Lawgeex – an artificial intelligence site that helps automate, review and approve legal contracts – pitted 20 experienced US attorneys against an algorithm. Guess who won?

Not only was the algorithm 94% accurate at reviewing contracts (while experienced lawyers had an average of 85% accuracy), but it took 26 seconds to review 5 non-disclosure agreements, as opposed to the average 92 minutes a lawyer takes. In those 26 seconds, the artificial intelligence system analysed 30 legal issues spread across 153 paragraphs.

The rise of legal tech is not the worst thing in the world for lawyers. In fact, it helps the modern lawyer avoid the more tedious aspects of his, or her, job. Better yet, it allows lawyers to have a much wider reach. Access to legal help in Kenya is not only inaccessible (with lawyers concentrated in urban areas but the majority of Kenyan in the countryside) but it’s also too expensive for the average Kenyan. Where most see a dilemma therein, through tech, this is an opportunity.

Ever heard of Legal Zoom? It is an American company that provides quality legal solutions online. Through the platform, clients can get legal help for a wide range of products, including wills, business formation documents, copyright registrations and the like. It’s fast and convenient, allowing a client to incorporate her business from the comfort of her home, without worrying as to the competence of the lawyer she’s using. With a revenue of $200 million (Sh20 billion), LegalZoom is proof that there’s a market in legal tech. Here in Kenya, you may have noticed the rise of start-ups like Uwakili, Loyasoft or Haki, all using technology to provide access to legal services. And while their revenues are much smaller, their growth over the past few years shows that there’s a growing demand.

An ecosystem is developing around giving lawyers the building blocks they need to develop solutions to the underserved legal market. With over 4 billion people worldwide lacking access to justice and this need being especially prevalent in the developing world, the Hague Institute for Innovation of Law funds and accelerates businesses using innovation to provide access to justice. From dispute resolution start-ups to rights awareness initiatives, the HiiL Justice Accelerator provides business development support and up to Sh2 million in grant funding per application. The key requirements in accessing such an opportunity is being able to demonstrate a business model (i.e. that your application can bring in revenue) and being able to show the impact of your solution. Previous winners have developed apps that connect you to a lawyer, corruption-reporting mechanisms, a Facebook bot that allows one to register a trademark and an SMS-based system for checking up on one’s court case (this was piloted in a Kiambu court).