The Law and Technology; A Quick Look
- Featured article by LAWYERS-ONLINE.CO.ZA - July 2019
“We are currently experiencing a fourth industrial revolution”. These words may mean nothing or a lot to you depending on your industry, but the fact remains that there is a surge in technology happening all around us and it is having a huge impact on more than just the industrial sector – this time the revolution will come into our homes, our places of work and the services we receive. And this includes legal services. With that in mind, we thought it important to highlight the impact of technology on legal services in South Africa, while also casting an eye to the future. After all, we can only progress by accepting change, and that includes rewiring the way we think of legal services in the future.
A Virtual Existence
Technology has had a huge impact on the way we communicate with service providers and this includes lawyers and attorneys. A good lawyer needs to be aware of the potential that exists in the digital and virtual world. We like to call these individuals “cyber lawyers” – professionals who have mastered the use of the internet and digital communication trends to engage with clients. Let’s look at a few examples:
- E-mail is by this point almost outdated, but it was the first step in revolutionizing the way a lawyer and client can communicate. Valuable time is saved by simply sending a query via email vs a phone call or meeting face to face
- Skype and other programs: These technologies elevated the digital communication sphere to new heights and these days it is easy for anyone to join a meeting via Video Call. This means that lawyers can consult from anywhere with anyone and are bound by geographical boundaries (though this does not mean you can Skype your lawyer on his annual leave, they need to rest at some point)
- Digital advertising: Through services such as www.lawyersonline.co.za, clients are able to find a legal representative quickly and hassle-free. Lawyers are also able to advertise their services online through Google Adwords, Display Ads and even Social Media.
- Speaking of Social Media, this deserves a mention in its own right. These days it is essential for a business to have a strong online presence, especially where Social Media is concerned, as consumers are increasingly relying on their peers and the comments from peers to make an informed decision on a business. A good lawyer will have a page on every platform that is regularly updated with a quick response time. It is essential to moving forward.
- Legal research: Gone are the days of bookshelves packed with dusty volumes and hours pouring over case law filed away in basements. These days lawyers have a legal library at their fingertips and as these digital legal libraries fill up, cross-referencing and fact-checking will be the least cumbersome duty of a legal professional.
While many may think that South African lawyers lag behind in embracing the digital revolution, they are sorely mistaken. Many leading law firms and lawyers have begun implanting digital services, though not on the level of international firms. Of course this means that we get to learn from their mistakes and offer an improved digital legal service with all kinks ironed out by our international neighbours. Let’s look at some of the legal digital services currently offered in South Africa:
- Online contracts: Though there are exceptions to the rule, many legal professionals save time and effort through the use of virtual contracts. Let’s look at this practically: Have you ever clicked “I accept” or “Agree” on an online payment or registration form? Congratulations you have just signed a digital contract
- Virtual deeds: Through the promulgation of the Electronic Communications and Transactions (ECT) Act and using technology such as Lexis Sign, South Africa is set to transform the deeds registry process in the future. Test cases, such as that of Zelda Lendon in Bloemfontein have proven that this is a workable technology that could speed up and enhance the process of registering and transferring deeds in the future.
- E-discovery: Because most communication is now digital, and most records can be stored virtually, e-discovery is a vital step in embracing technology. This means that documentation related to the case may be stored in electronic format and accessed that way. Though the legislation in South Africa still has to make a final determination on the validity of e-discovery, the argument for access to digitized documents is very strong.
Lastly, let’s look to the future and discuss the potential impact of artificial intelligence on legal services in South Africa. Already many legal websites, including www.lawyersonline.co.za are making use of chat bot technology. These AI chat programs can vary in their range of sophistication, from answering simple questions to pointing website visitors to valuable articles on their query.
Of course, that is just the beginning and the possibility of an artificial intelligence dispensing legal advice is on the cusp of our technological revolution. Imagine logging onto a website and having a real-time conversation about your current legal problem without the time delay related to human intervention? Or even the mistakes that are so human to make.
Now before we panic, no robot or artificial intelligence system could ever replace a lawyer, so hopefully, no legal professionals are planning to hang up their robes. A robot may be able to expertly answer questions and cite case history with pinpoint accuracy, but lacking an understanding of the human condition, they will not know which questions to ask to get to the heart of the matter.
The Middle Point
Hopefully, in the future, lawyers and technology create a symbiotic relationship that benefits their clients overall. And of course, let’s not overlook the fact that the more lawyers embrace technology and champion for the digitization of discovery, it will not only save valuable billable hours, relieve the backlog on the courts and hopefully save a few trees too in the process.
Somewhere in the middle between robot lawyers and old-school legal eagles, the law and technology come together to embrace industry 4.0 and provide you with more up to date services.