Earlier in the year, tabloids were riddled with the devastating news of toy giant, Toys ‘ Us and its closing of shop outlets across the globe. For many who grew up as Toys R Us kids, walking the aisles of the popular toy store, mouth agape in awe of the resplendence of colorful fun, the reaction was an emotional one, many expressing nostalgia at the unexpected end of the reign of one of the world’s biggest toy stores.
The dismal toy story of this toy emporium of Charles Lazarus began when a chunk of the toy market started going online, and a culture of purchase from online stores was budding and they failed to keep up. Admittedly, in some form, they tried to jump on the train with their ten year deal with Amazon, which favoured them for a while, before their exclusivity of that space was no longer guaranteed. They failed eventually though, and found themselves at the starting point of a ten-year old race track in online sales. Fundamentally, the retail toy store refused to evolve.
This is the case with many law firms today, believing the fib that the law practice remains ancient, archaic, and rooted in the traditions of parchments and dusty books filled with the dicta of Lord Denning. It is a sad reality that very few law firms will survive the coming age for this reason. As a sector being built on tradition and labor-heavy, no sector will feel the impact of technology like the legal profession. Social media, for instance, has brought up issues of data protection and privacy laws, concerns that did not exist half a decade ago. The Cambridge
Analytica saga with Facebook is a case in point. Keyword searches have obsoleted the need for big libraries with indexes, so law publishers who want to remain only offline will undoubtedly soon be out of business, as tech innovators are already compressing their decades of law reporting into very accessible click-of-a-button applications. With the rise of virtual law practices, online bot assistants and cyber communities for legal advisory, the 21 st century lawyer has to be extremely savvy, with in-depth knowledge that beats whatever can be gotten from Artificial Intelligence. Also with information being mainstream, the average person can find a legal solution to their problems, just a click away. Precedents for contractual documents and agreements can easily be found too, dispensing with the urgent need for legal practitioners in preparing these agreements. On the bright side, this age creates a vista of opportunities in new areas of law where lawyers can cash in on, gain expertise and carve a niche for themselves in the market, but this is only if the lawyer of today will innovate and evolve, and stop viewing law through a 19th century lens. The universities and Law School too have a lot to grapple with in order to prepare the young lawyer entering the world of work, for relevance. Sadly, a lot of traditional, often obsolete and archaic law is taught, with little or no place for technology and how it is disrupting the world.
With technology is an increased demand for speed and efficiency; the turnaround time for jobs from clients is reducing by the day, and with the world becoming a global village and shrinking constantly, these clients have various alternatives across the globe for their legal problems, thus, a law firm that refuses to innovate will likely not get a second contract after delaying extensively on the first. Dispute resolution too, is becoming faster, because much more disputes are arising from commercial relationships than before. The value chain is lengthening,
silos of service providers who did not exist before exist now, investment opportunities across borders are opening up and so commerce is constantly on the rise, thus the courts are no longer as attractive as they used to be. Arbitration and other ADR forms are taking the lead; virtual dispute resolution practices have even been adopted in some instances. Thus, a law practice that has no knowledge or expertise beyond courtroom practice, will be entitled to only a very small, and quickly diminishing share of the global legal market. The new age also means that the practice of law should be more industry knowledge-driven, so that the law firm can be a one-stop shop for the client, who wants advise on a range of issues regarding their business.
So before we too close shop and go and start selling stationery or hawking legal agreements in traffic, the bus of technology just pulled up in our driveway. We could either jump on it and progress, or stick with the law practice as it was in the days of the courts of Chancery. I must also say, in concluding on this, that the laws guiding the profession are a fundamental hurdle to the progress of the legal progression, keeping us stuck in the past and providing no significant value for the lawyer or his practice. If the law is for the people, then it is a grave error when the law does not evolve to aid the people’s development.
Caleb Adebayo is a lawyer with the law firm of S.P.A Ajibade & Co. His interest lies at the intersection of Energy, Finance and Environmental Law.