What is in store for technology and the law in 2019 for Africa?

At the beginning of each year we all think about what we would wish to achieve in the coming year and/or what we hope for. Here in SA our list of hopes, wishes and aspirations revolves around technology and the legal profession. Simply, we at LexTrado, want more people using eDiscovery technology. However, it goes much further than that because 2019 could see the whole concept of the use of technology within the legal world assume its highest level of importance to date. That being the case, we decided to extend this article to include the musings of thought leaders, for 2019. These are people who care about technology; who care about the law and the legal profession; and who care about South Africa and the wider Africa, as we do at LexTrado.

Below are the thoughts of some of the people that we approached.

Kathy Colman – Knowledge & Learning Head and Warren Hero – Chief Information Officer at Webber Wentzel

Webber Wentzel’s 2019 digital transformation journey applies human-centred design thinking to platform development, as well as technology augmented legal services and new solutions for our clients. Focus areas will include cognitive and conversational commerce, including machine learning and artificial intelligence; as well as providing business insights and decision support approaching real time. With an eye on the future, we are also collaborating with our global alliance partners to ensure that our lawyers have the technology and skills to thrive in this world of unprecedented and fast-moving change.

Steven Powell – Director Forensics at ENS

Enhanced awareness/education of the value of digital evidence in proving White Collar Crime offences coupled to ensuring adherence to due process in the gathering and collation thereof. (Many cases are never solved because clients don’t know of processes and tools that are available to them or evidence that has been obtained cannot be utilized because it wasn’t lawfully extracted). My second wish is for someone to come up with an enhanced filtering system to eradicate the increasing volume of spam emails. I frequently add to spam lists but the spammers seem to find their way around those.
Terry Harrison – eDiscovery Consultant

“It almost goes without saying that my greatest hope and wish for 2019 would be the incorporation of eDiscovery into our Uniform Rules but that may well be a forlorn hope. Therefore, I hope and wish for something that is most definitely “doable” – the best year yet for education for lawyers and their clients on the use of technology, particularly eDiscovery technology.”

Scott Cowan – Co-Founder & CEO and Wendy Bampton Co-Founder and COO at Africa Legal

Africa Professional Service Group co-founders, Wendy Bampton and Scott Cowan, have developed the continent’s first fully integrated careers, insight and digital learning platform – launched in April 2018 with Africa Legal – which is focused on the African legal profession.

In Africa, especially, there is a surge of leapfrog technology with most young people now connected to the global community through their mobile phones. They are not afraid to network and hungry to learn, said Bampton.

“Working with the youth, I have learned that there is a great deal to feel upbeat about on the continent in 2019,” Cowan added.

“We are especially interested to see the increasing use of Chatbots to help people understand legal issues; the increasing use of smart contracts; and there are some really exciting projects taking place in conveyancing which could significantly improve governance and reduce corruption in the property market,” he added.

By embracing integrated technology solutions, legal professionals in Africa now have an opportunity to create significant cost efficiencies but this is reliant on law firm leaders being serious about change and being prepared to dedicate time and resources to essential communication and change management planning, Bampton said.

“Senior lawyers need to embrace working with technologists and they need to listen and learn from their associate population,” she said.

Celia Pienaar – Legal Service Improvement Manager at Bowmans

I’ll be kicking off further studies with a Conversion Masters in Information Technology through UCT this year! My hopes for 2019 would be that future years would bring a wider array of (affordable) options of such conversion and part-time courses to non-IT specialists, in order to diversify and equip ourselves with new skills.  I also hope more legal professionals develop an interest in information systems and technology so that those who promote it are no longer in the minority.

Ismail Hussain –High Court Judge and Senior Counsel (Retired)

For decades a common complaint by clients about their lawyers was that they “did not know what was happening with their matter”. Couple this with another common complaint “it takes too long and I don’t know what it will cost me”. In the 21st century these complaints still remain; except three factors have now entered the picture:

  1. Clients are now used to getting immediate answers from Google; they expect the same from their attorneys;
  2. Clients are becoming increasingly aware of alternative legal services providers other than a traditional law firm; and
  3. Lawyers are having to contend with disruptive technologies.

To cope with this attorneys have to be innovative. Innovation does not mean going out and purchasing the newest and shiniest technology. Innovation for lawyers is about looking at our services from client perspective and designing the way we practice around what they want and need. Clients want our services to be quicker and cheaper.

Technology is the enabler. Legislation now takes care of clients needing to know the cost in advance, this in itself improves our relationship with clients; the onus is on the lawyer to deliver within the quoted fee or fee estimate. Using technology will provide the tools. We already know that practice management software can reduce the time we spend on administration, legal process work and routine research. The time freed up in this way must be spent on improving client relationships. Clients like having a productive and friendly relationship with their lawyer. Client must feel that “they have their own lawyer” to rely on and access to services and indeed the lawyer is seamless, convenient and cost effective.

Technology currently provides us with the tools to carry out document reviews, document preparation and quicker and more effective research. How about spending the time we win on “great customer experience”. If this is not the client experience; why go to a lawyer? You simply drive clients towards alternative legal services providers.

Clients now want to see technology at work in their lawyers firm. The firm must come across as modern and keeping with the latest technology; but at the same time clients want to be comfortable and be given access to services at a reasonable price. Lawyers have to be aware that today clients have a better understanding and knowledge of what we do. Expectations are more informed and the onus is on the lawyer to remain relevant to the client.

In this regard no law firm can afford to become complacent. We have to continuously work on improving our services to clients. This culture must be instilled in all employees and directors of the law firm. Lawyers must be on the lookout for where and how client relations can be improved and be able to identify where the weaknesses are. Often enough this emerges from a complaint. You ignore these at your peril.

To achieve the object of better client experience, technology is the chief enabler. To achieve this you do not have to engage an expensive consultant or IT geek. First look within your own firm, consult all the stakeholders, they usually come up with a solution that works and will not deplete the budget. Try using what you already have, only smarter.

Streamlining our processes will make it easier for clients to deal with us and will keep us relevant. Technology is the tool. Embrace technology in this way and your firm will attract more clients. This is still a “word of mouth” profession; more satisfied clients will result in more clients.

We are extremely grateful for these contributions and hope that they give our readers food-for-thought. What is clear is that if all, or most, of our hopes and wishes come to fruition, 2019 could be a special year for SA and the African continent.


Authored by: Waseema Harrison

Head of Litigation Support Services

LexTrado EDS