Interview With Africa Law & Tech Network About Lawyard

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Tell us a little bit about your company and why you set it up

Lawyard is a legal media and services platform that provides enlightenment and access to legal services to members of the public (individuals and businesses) while also availing lawyers of needed information on new trends and resources in various areas of practice. Whilst the platform started out with publishing legal essays contributed by lawyers within and outside Nigeria, Lawyard presently has various outputs such as the Lawyard Quarterly Journal (an electronic journal with top quality essays and interviews), the Lawyard Directory (a digital interface that provides connection services to members of the public seeking legal services), and the Lawyard Dialogue (an interactive show published on YouTube). Relatedly, Lawyard hosts offline engagements when necessary. Recently, the Lawyard Symposium on Privacy and Data Protection was organised in honour of recently demised Lawyard co-founder, Adavize Alao alongside a nationwide essay competition for young lawyers and law students.

I was inspired to establish Lawyard by an incident that occurred during my undergraduate studies at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife sometime in 2012. I served as the Editor-in-Chief of a press board which at the time operated as a wooden notice board placed at the Faculty of Law basement, like other press boards. At the beginning of a particular semester, the Faculty Dean decided to ban all press boards in his quest for a cleaner environment. Whilst the Dean’s decision sounded the death knell for other press boards, I saw it as an opportunity to set up a blog site and opened social media accounts for the operations of the press board until I handed over in 2013. Upon assessing the impact of the initiative on Law students, I began to consider the ways I could help the larger Nigerian society address the challenge of inadequate access to knowledge about laws, human rights and civic duties. That desire led me to set up Lawyard in 2015 with the assistance of my late friend, Adavize Alao (God bless his memory).

What has been your greatest success/are you most proud of so far?

We have recorded many successes as a platform and what I am most proud of us is the impact we have made in ensuring lawyers and non-lawyers have access to relevant information and legal resources. One of such moments of pride came when I attended a training facilitated by White & Case and the GIMPA Law School in Ghana in June 2018. One of the documents we were given contained the Rules of Professional Conduct from various African countries and the one for Nigeria was sourced from Lawyard with due credits given.

What is the greatest challenge you have faced?

The greatest challenge has been funding which impacts upon our ability to procure the technical capacity required to build and manage our solutions. To address the challenge, we scaled down the features of our website to reduce the cost payable to the web developers and also learnt how to manage some of the features ourselves. In subsequent years, we had to pay more to developers to introduce new features and occasionally found ourselves at the mercies of the developers. In one instance, the developer received up to fifty percent of agreed fees and refused to deliver the product for many months.

What are the top challenges facing African lawyers and businesses today, in terms of data and technology and how can they be addressed?

There is a growing adoption of technology for business operations across Africa and this inevitably raises concerns around cost and the management of data for operations that involve the collection and processing of data. The concerns around cost may be addressed by deploying technology in a cost-efficient manner, focusing on what is most necessary at any relevant time. In addition, keen attention needs to be paid to cybersecurity and deliberate efforts taken to protect data collected as well as comply with data protection regulations in jurisdictions where such regulations are in place. Altogether, African lawyers and businesses need to keep abreast of global practices in relation to data and technology with a view to adapt same to local contexts in the best obtainable manner.

What legal tech innovation do you think will be most widely adopted in Africa in the next decade?

The rapid adoption of technology in various facets of life will no doubt necessitate the use of online dispute resolution systems in the foreseeable future. We have for instance seen the conscious integration of robust internal dispute resolution algorithms into many technology platforms and mobile applications. With time, such models will extend to the resolution of disputes without having a significant interface with the traditional court system as we know it today. Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain technology hold some promise for the continent in this regard.

What regulatory and legislative environment is required to facilitate greater use of technology in the African legal sector?

There is a need to review the laws and regulations that prohibit advertisement and soliciting, where such laws and regulations still exist as they potentially restrict the creative freedom required for the commercialisation of some legal technology solutions. As more Africans use the internet for the procurement of various goods and services, the legal sector does itself a great disservice by restricting access to legal services. Presently, many of the restrictive laws and regulations are observed in their breach and whilst this indicates some desirable defiance, it is necessary to have more clearly enabling laws and regulations to attract adequate investment for the deployment and marketing of legal technology products in Africa.

If you could do one thing to facilitate the growth of legal tech in Africa, what would that be?

Enlightenment. We need to enlighten many stakeholders about the prospects of legal technology on the continent. These stakeholders cut across government, the gatekeepers in the legal services industry, judges, lawyers, investors and individuals. The positive impact of enlightenment has been seen in the adoption of technology in the design and sales of legal research tools and law reports in many African countries. Similar efforts now need to be directed towards the promotion and adoption of other legal technology solutions such as online dispute resolution tools and smart contracts, among others.

How best can lawyers influence and shape the legislative and policy environment to enable the growth of the African technology sector?

Lawyers need to pay more attention to the emerging trends in the global technology space and consciously review domestic legal and regulatory frameworks with the view of identifying and addressing inhibiting provisions. This awareness needs to permeate the various professional associations that lawyers belong to in various African countries and while some remarkable progress has been made in this regard, as reflected in the evolving themes of various conferences held by Bar associations on the continent in recent times, more needs to be done. Bar associations and related professional bodies within the African legal services industry can leverage on their access to legislators and policy makers to advise on relevant changes in laws and regulations to fully unlock the potentials of the technology space in Africa but they can only do so from a place of knowledge.

Who or what is your greatest inspiration?

My greatest inspiration is the prospect of solving problems. I am most happy when I am able to organise people and resources to address a challenge and that is what keeps me going. I hope to leave the world a place better than I met it, and to have contributed significantly to that change in the world’s reality.

This interview was first published in the Africa Law & Tech Network Newsletter of December 6, 2019.

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