WEALTH CREATION FOR THE LAWYER IN THE 21ST CENTURY POWERED BY TECHNOLOGY
WEALTH CREATION FOR THE LAWYER IN THE 21ST CENTURY POWERED BY TECHNOLOGY
By: LEO STAN EKEH, OFR, FNCS
Chairman, Zinox Technologies Group
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Bench and Bar (or is it simply Gentlemen of the Bench and Bar! (because I just learnt that there are no females at the Bar!), first let me congratulate you on your recent election which was digitally driven. By deploying e-voting, you have undoubtedly saved huge costs that would ordinarily have been expended on transportation and hotel accommodation, while also avoiding accidents and time-wasting at this tough time. Three months ago, I had made a similar case for Digital/Electronic voting for Nigeria as guest speaker at a conference organized by the House of Representatives' Committee on Electoral Matters in partnership with some international agencies which had the Honourable Speaker, Distinguished Senators, Honourable members of the House and the INEC Chairman in attendance. Consider today how much we have saved and the advancements witnessed since 2006 when Zinox Technologies worked with INEC in capturing the biometric registration of voters. Though not perfect, but we have moved to the next level and if we eventually alter the nation's constitution to accommodate electronic voting, we would have achieved sanity with our democracy. May I welcome you to the 21st Century, a knowledge-driven, auditable and predictable century powered by digital technology.
We are in a changing world of unprecedented innovations leading to versatility in service delivery and consequential wealth creation. A century of defined rights, obligations and privileges; a century that has disrupted the old way of making money and defined wealth as a right to be achieved without godfathers if you are willing take a little pain before pleasure. This is a century in which brilliant kids from poor families shall lead both in government and in the corporate market place. A century in which people shall live longer and healthier and shall creatively continue to sustain wealth. It is a century in which the old order of making money will be disrupted. The days of citing the richest men in the world as belonging to the circle of owners of oil blocs or chain of companies are gone. We are in a world of virtual wealth; where wealth can simply be created legitimately overnight out of nothing. The days of the Rockefellers are seemingly over! Today, we are in the era of wealth creation through technology.
Who are some of the world's richest men that readily come to our minds now? We hear of Bill Gates of Microsoft, Michael Bloomberg of Bloomberg, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Larry Ellison of Oracle; Jack Ma of Alibaba, just to mention but a few. What do these men have in common? They all made and are still making their money on the platform of technology!
Today, we hear of big companies such as:
Uber: the world's largest taxi company, yet it does not own vehicles.
Facebook: arguably the world's most popular media owner, yet it creates no content of its own.
Alibaba: The world's most valuable retailer, yet it has no inventory (stock).
Airbnb: The world's biggest accommodation provider, yet it owns no real estate.
What do these companies have in common? They are technology-driven!
The simple ideas of their founders are continuously being translated into mega monies using technology as a backbone. It is important to note that you do not need a degree in Computer science to be any of the above or to take advantage of technology to reign. It is all about ambition and the determination to lead and be relevant in a new order. This century demands a completely new attitude and mindset. You must be creatively positive in your personal life and in your relationship with others to receive the blessings of this century mostly in the second quarter when no government, individual and family have the capacity to stop you from leading in your field of greater authority. I have attempted this with all the prevailing deficiencies of our country in the technology sector from last quarter of last century till date and I can confirm it is possible. Remember, no one here knows my father, possibly the village I come from, all you know is I am a Nigerian of Igbo extraction. In a few years time, who your parents are and the country you come from would be irrelevant.
In our present society, technology has permeated almost all sectors, industries and several human undertakings. Many sectors have been overtaken by the internet, mobile phone apps and people's ability to find free information as against situations they used to pay for. Music has gone digital, as you can make music in the comfort of your own home studio using technology; surgeries can now be done by robots, or performed remotely; architects today use digital tools to design buildings and other structures, translating to less time and efforts, but increased earnings. We all are witnesses as to how technology has revolutionized the banking industry in terms of service delivery. We are now in an age of cost cutting, more efficient delivery and huge wealth creation and not wealth allocation like we have all witnessed in our nation's oil sector. We are finally in an age where money talks while real wealth whispers.
How then does technology impact on the legal profession to create new and greater wealth for the lawyer in this century?
This is what I've been called upon today to share and discuss with you at this conference. I am sure not all qualified lawyers are practicing lawyers; I therefore classify you into three:
- Practicing Lawyers and in full practice
- Lawyers in full practice with extended interest in other businesses
- Lawyers who qualified but in businesses other than law practice
This paper discusses how technology is becoming more and more important as a way to develop innovative ways to deliver legal services and put more money in the pockets of lawyers.
ICT PRESSURES ON THE LEGAL PROFESSION
The legal profession is one of the oldest conservative professions and has for long been notoriously averse to change. Law has been something of a protected industry spared from some of the general business realities applicable to almost all other industries. Lawyers occupy a unique place with monopoly of access to legal knowledge, and no real competition. For instance, the relationship with the client is controlled by the law firm which decides almost entirely by itself how the services are to be delivered, and dictating the costs, pricing, and strategic direction. Hence, as long as the status quo served the lawyer, there is no need to innovate or provide cost-efficient services. It is a closed market. But whereas, the seller (the lawyer) appears comfortable with the status quo, he fails to realise that his earnings can greatly be increased by innovation and technology which invariably would cause a disruption of the status quo in the legal marketplace.
But now, there are strong and compelling circumstances necessitating changes in the legal market place and forcing it out of its protective cocoon. It is a fact that the survival of any sector, profession or business organisation is directly dependent on its ability to innovate and align itself with the present digital revolution that has disrupted, positively, all aspects of our lives and activities. Any organization or sector that refuses to innovate and embrace new technological realities will eventually die. The law profession must embrace this change and properly align itself to the benefit maximally from the present digital revolution.
FACTORS AND DETERMINANTS OF A LAWYER'S PRODUCTIVITY AND WEALTH CREATION AND HOW TECHNOLOGY CAN OPTIMIZE THESE
In my view, there are three critical determinants of a lawyer's productivity:
- Resource Materials/Tools
Time relates to the hours spent in attending to clients' briefs, sourcing of materials, preparation of cases, court appearances, meetings etc. Is the lawyer's earnings commensurate with energy expended over time on any certain brief? For instance, a lawyer can accept a litigation brief and receive the initial monetary deposit, but the case drags for years. How then can the time spent on the case be bridged to be in consonance with money received? Technology will address this as we go on with the paper.
Resource Materials/Tools relate to information and tangible equipment available to the lawyer to deliver on his services and carry out his obligation to his clients. These include books, work tools like office equipment, office space, human capital, facilities maintenance etc. Even though these are critical factors of a lawyer's daily work, they are costly liabilities that impinge on the earning/profit of the lawyer.
How then do we reduce the costs of these factors, reduce over-dependence on them, and adopt more efficient and less costly materials/tools, to achieve better and faster results? This is also what technology sets out to do for the lawyer.
Knowledge relates to the lawyer's ability to apply given laws and materials to a set of facts to achieve a desired result. This is both intellectual and physical realities. The lawyer's knowledge is limited to the extent of information he has with regards to laws, their interpretation, precedents, and application to new set of facts. No lawyer can claim knowledge of all laws so as to be able to effectively deal with any given situation. Yet, he has to rely on an efficient information system to go about with his work. The lawyer cannot operate beyond the limit of his knowledge acquired through information. As the saying goes "You cannot give what you do not have."
Limited information gives rise to limited knowledge which translates to limited earnings. How then do we increase the lawyer's access to information thereby increasing his knowledge capacity and versatility, and in order to open up his earning capacities? This, technology, will also set out to achieve.
THE ROLES OF ICT IN WEALTH CREATION FOR THE LAWYER
Generally, the real change in communication in recent years has been the switch to email as the default method of communication; telephone calls seem to have become the new face-to-face meeting with clients, whilst actual face-to-face meetings are increasingly being reduced, except when absolutely necessary. But is this the end of the role of ICT in the lawyer's work? Having a plethora of phones, internet access, emails, and word-processing computers and other devices does not mean that the lawyer is ICT-compliant, in terms of specific needs in today's world to efficiently deliver on his services.
Now, let us look at the various areas of ICT pertaining to the legal profession:
1. Computer Literacy & ICT-Compliance
The first stepping stone into technology and its benefits for the lawyer is to be computer literate and ICT-compliant. The lawyer does not have to be an IT guru or too savvy in applications. But at least, he should be conversant with the basic applications for the purposes of his own work requirements, like word processing, Excel etc. Imagine having to get a secretary to type a letter over and over again following numerous corrections, whereas this is what a lawyer can do on his laptop with minimal time and material and human costs. It is interesting to know that ICT education is becoming compulsory in the universities for many courses. I hope law is one of them. If so, it means the new lawyers have an edge over the older lawyers in this respect. So, it is for the older lawyers to reinvent themselves in the light of these technological realities. Lawyers are deal brokers and the clients they service, pressed by exigencies of time, require their deals brokered online. Hence, a lawyer who today is not ICT-complaint is destined to have limited opportunities and income.
I understand that the legal profession in Nigeria is one industry where advertising is not allowed. Possession of an active website by a law firm serves many purposes, critical amongst which are these two: it indirectly circumvents the rule against advertising, and secondly it allows for a robust information flow between the firm and its clients with increased patronage.
3. Digital (Virtual) Law Library, Legal Research Sites and Cloud-computing
A law firm's strength in not only in its human capital but in its library as books are the essential part of law practice. But this comes at a huge cost and retrieval of information from books can be time-consuming and clumsy. This thus impacts on the lawyer's time and costs. A digital library on the other hand is cheap and convenient. A digital library is simply a managed collection of information where the information is stored in digital format and accessible over a network. It has numerous advantages over the conventional paper-based library which you find in most law firms in Nigeria. Amongst its numerous advantages is its cost-efficiency - the cost of maintaining a digital library is much lower than that of a traditional library, as the overhead costs of running a physical library are dispensed with.
Legal research sites like LexisNexis and WestlawNext affords the lawyer cheaper and faster access to information and knowledge.
Cloud- computing enables the lawyer to have virtual storage of information and then access to the files from the web using any connected device.
4. Electronic Forms and Drafting Template
A lawyer's work absolutely requires use of legal forms and drafting template as a guide in preparing agreements and other legal documents. Technology has made it possible for millions of Legal forms and drafting template to be stored in an electronic format and easily accessible on our smart devices such as desktops, laptops, phones and other smart devices. These can be deployed to achieve results within a shorter time, than having to do manual new drafting for similar briefs.
An adjunct to the above is the e-form (electronic form) - a computer programme version of a paper form. Aside eliminating the cost of printing, storing and distributing pre-printed forms and the wastage of obsolete forms, e-forms can be filled out faster because the programming associated with them can automatically format, calculate, look up, and validate information for the user.
5. Law Office Management Tools
Office management has also gone digital. There are accounting software and Client Relationship Management (CRM) Software that assist law firms in managing their accounts and clients. Some of these software provide a platform that handles document management, case and client management, billing and takes care of the accounting need of the Law Firm. This ensures efficiency, integrity of the accounts, and rules out many human errors.
6. Digital Law Reporting
The first profound thing you notice in a law firm are the stack of law reports and laws of the states and the federation. These take up space and are quite expensive to acquire and update regularly. One can have the entire Law Reports from the colonial era to-date and the entire Laws of the Federation on a smart mobile device such as a laptop, smart phones and tablets, instead of stacking up conventional book law reports. This saves the lawyer time and costs. Even the publishers can do with selling the reports in a digital format.
7. Electronic Correspondence and Exchange of Documents
Generally, emails and other electronic modes of transmitting information has made communication and exchange of correspondence better and faster. Today, any lawyer without an email address is like a human being without an address. Nobody will take him serious. Agreements and other Legal Documents can be prepared and exchanged between two parties within seconds. The advantages include speed, cost effectiveness, instant feedback, convenience, easy to reference, free (once you are connected to the internet) security and privacy etc.
8. Networking & Social Media
Worthy of note is the impact of social media in our society today and its consequential impact on legal practice within the country. Through social media, a lawyer can network with other colleagues, clients and potential clients. Belonging to various social media online groups is advisable for the lawyer; Facebook, LinkedIn, WhatsApp, Twitter etc. Professional groups created within any of such social media provide the opportunity for professionals (including lawyers) to meet, exchange ideas and opinions, in addition to exposure to other realities across the globe. A lawyer who does not for any reason exploit the opportunities created by social media is losing out on free knowledge and information that would have translated to better service delivery and increased income.
For instance, a young lawyer can make easy money through blogging only. We have seen how Linda Ikeji is making huge wealth through her blog! I am not sure that there is any blog that is dedicated to legal topics and recent case laws. A young lawyer can exploit this opportunity with little or no funding. Imagine a blog that shows the Cause-Lists of the high courts and their judgments per week? Imagine what would be the amount of traffic to that blog.
E-conferencing connects people in real time through audio and video communication over the Internet, enabling virtual meetings and collaboration on digital documents and shared presentations. Many big law firms around the world are now embracing video conferencing as their daily communication tool for connecting with their clients, colleagues and partners in a convenient and effective way.
With the increasing cost and associated risk on travelling, many companies and Law Firms around the world now turn to e-Conferencing which is a cost effective alternative, especially for those big Law Firms who have many branches or offices across the Federation and in other countries.
Permit me to say that ZINOX Group, my company, has pioneered the deployment and installation of this tool to several government agencies and corporations. From my house in Ikoyi, I hold monthly Group Retreats with staff of all branches of the Group in Nigeria, Ghana, Dubai etc. We see each other live and they all make their presentations and we ask questions and agree on way forward for the next week without any hotel bills, transport and outstation allowances. It is time Law Firms in Nigeria took advantage of this opportunity and deployed this tool to leverage on the advantages it offers.
Now, turning a bit away from the ICT requirements within the law firms, let us focus on the general macro items, which ought to make the lawyer's work more efficient even though these tools are outside his control no matter the financial status of the law firm.
The modern nature of court proceedings and processes in most developed and developing countries through the use of appropriate courtroom technology is a major challenge to the Nigerian system of administration of justice. Here, the judicial system is still mostly analogue. In Nigeria, a lot of our Judges are still writing (in longhand) the entire court proceedings in their notebooks. This crude procedure is time-wasting to both counsel and judge and ultimate delivery of justice. This translates to the time a lawyer can waste on a brief for which a deposit has been made many years ago. Apart from few states like Lagos that had made some attempt in computerizing their systems, majority of the courts in Nigeria, from the customary court to the Supreme Court are largely analogue.
A modern courtroom should have ICT tools such as video display; evidence camera; Combo VCR/CD/DVD player; courtroom printing and electronic storage of exhibits; speakers etc.
Apart from courtroom procedures, the entire gamut of the justice system should be overhauled and made to be ICT-compliant.
May I advise here that the National Judicial Commission (NJC) should consider issuing a directive compelling all Judicial Commissions nationwide to implement the use of ICT in the running of their activities? It would further make for easy dissemination of information and dispensation of justice, thereby bridging the time for the lawyer and making him more efficient. Cause-Lists should be posted online on the website of the State's High Court; this medium should also be used to post adjournment dates, when the court would not sit. It would save counsel the stress and resources expended to attend court sessions only to be informed that the court would not sit.
11.E-Search and Electronic Registry
Apart from the litigation lawyer, the Solicitor's work with government agencies is greatly impacted upon by technology or the lack of it. Searches at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and other government agencies like the Lands Registry of the states can be made smarter and more robust by the deployment of technology. I understand that the CAC has instituted the e-Search mechanism. But this should be improved upon as I've also learnt that their process can be slow, time-consuming and restrictive, thereby defeating the whole essence of computerization of the system. Same also goes for the Lands Registry, where, like the case of Lagos State, searches can be done electronically to some extent. However, the failure to constantly update their portal has led to a situation where there are disparities between the content of the physical file and the electronic file. These short-comings impact on the lawyer's time for service delivery to his client and consequential loss of earning.
NEW 21ST CENTURY OPPORTUNITIES FOR LAWYERS
As we navigate in this century to strengthen lifestyle and personal and corporate values, few business opportunities shall continue to emerge. Because people are more knowledgeable in the 21st century and know when they are right or wrong, they are quick to resolve their issues with common sense instead of choosing litigations which may cost an arm and a leg. So the lawyer should focus on cost-effective solutions that bring more revenue and bond you for life with your clients. Businesses such as Family offices for successful clients who want global investment opportunities and want to be quiet about it is a good example. You should also take courses on Family Council which help resolve a lot of issues in civilized homes and create a sense of belonging in family members while sustaining the wealth of the family for generations. Also, today's lawyer must explore professional management of Trusts instead of Will which is the cause of unlimited litigations and wastage of saved resources in many families in Nigeria. In an emotional and religion-driven country like Nigeria, lawyers need to be more informed than their clients to be able to add unquantifiable value to their relationship with these clients in a century of few, but costly court cases. In a century in which knowledge is a right; the world needs your sense of direction and guidance in all spheres of our personal, corporate and political existence, so you have huge wealth generating opportunities.
In this century, a lawyer's wealth shall be determined by the application of digital technology to his work. It is either the lawyer reinvents himself to the technological realities of the 21st century and its impact on service delivery to clients or the lawyer would eventually disappear from the radar of the legal profession.'