Creating a Sustainable Law Practice in Nigeria using Artificial Intelligence

Creating a Sustainable Law Practice in Nigeria using Artificial Intelligence

The typical image of a lawyer in the 20th century brings up the image of a person sitting at a desk from 9am to 5pm surrounded by paper files, documents to be faxed, dictating correspondence, and recording time on paper sheets. This is far-flung from the modern day lawyer, plugged into their smartphones, using their laptop or phone for research, video conferencing with colleagues and clients all over the world, recording time on excel sheets all the while moving from one place to the other – some ease of technology on law practice.

The Nigerian law practice remains profoundly under digitized, tradition-bound and slow to adopt new technologies and tools, yet technological changes abound, more so, artificial intelligence.

The term Artificial Intelligence was coined by McCarthy in the mid-1950s and refers to the simulated intelligence in machines that enables them to replicate, mimic and act like humans. It is any device that can perceive its environment and take actions that maximize its chances of successfully achieving its goals. AI like humans has the ability to perceive and interpret information from its environment in the form of data and act on it.

The nature of AI systems is set to disrupt economies, and law practice and its practitioners are not exempted. It is capable of significantly transforming how the business of law is carried out and what it means to be a lawyer and it behooves law firms and lawyers to adopt AI into their practice or risk the consequences of competitiveness and a fall in the economy of law practice domestically and internationally.

Artificial intelligence plays a pivotal role in innovating legal services, ensuring the future competitiveness of the sector and the long-term sustainability of law practice. Its true benefit in the legal profession may be realized only once lawyers completely rethink the provision of legal services.

One of the most recognized benefits of AI in law practice is that it improves efficiency in the practice of law. As a result, clients expect speed in service delivery and response. AI can play a role in creating a sustainable legal practice, which is one that brings value to the clients it serves and profits to the law firms that provide the services in each case.

Artificial intelligence can help law practice to be more client-centric, data driven, and tech-enabled. It has been identified that creating true client loyalty is one of the most powerful and reliable ways to build a strategic, sustainable law practice and this can be done through improved business processes and technological solutions like the type AI offers. This means that AI plays a role in creating a law practice that remains competitive and financially lucrative.

In creating something sustainable, the Nigerian law practice must leverage on the opportunities that Artificial Intelligence has to offer, by adopting AI in these areas:

One, in reviewing documents and conducting due diligence, Nigerian lawyers can employ Artificial Intelligence to use specific search words and set parameters. The advantage of AI here is that it reduces the volume of irrelevant documents attorneys must wade through. As a result, lawyers spend less than 5% of their time on basic document review. It produces statistically valid results, improves performance, increases efficiency and reduces the time taken to perform previously labour-intensive activities. AI is expected to allow lawyers to do more in the same amount of time, thereby enabling them to broaden rather than narrow their areas of specialization. For example, LawGeex’s software validates contracts and the AI provides suggestions for editing and approval. It does this by combining machine learning, text analytics, statistical benchmarks and legal knowledge by lawyers according to the company.

Secondly, when analyzing contracts, which is a lawyers’ every day task, AI can be used in identifying risks in the contract, advising clients on such contracts and of course helping them to negotiate better terms. For example, an AI system called COIN has been used since June 2017 at JP Morgan to interpret commercial loan agreements; a task that previously took 360,000 lawyer-hours can now be done in seconds.

Also, because traditional billing systems are not able to ensure that invoices are compliant with calculation of professional fees under the rules, AI is able to solve this problem, flag anomalies and deal with rejected bills less frequently. For example, the Uniformed Task-Based Management System (UTBMS) is a legal billing methodology that uses codes to organize and classify legal work and any expenses. It is often used with the Legal Electronic Data Exchange Standard (LEDES). Here, invoices in the system provide an easy way to analyze legal bills using the UTBMS. Artificial Intelligence billing applications can drastically increase law firm’s profits, improve billing efficiency, accuracy and allow a practice to focus on core billable work.

The UTBMS billing codes allows for more extensive data analysis, providing attorneys, law firms, and clients with the ability to more precisely course-correct to improve efficiency and productivity. For clients, it provides a detailed account of exactly what they are paying.  It also allows them to seamlessly compare the billing efficiencies of one law firm to the next.

Thirdly, AI can hasten the pace of legal research. Nigeria’s Lawpavilion is setting the pace for AI and automated legal services in Africa in the aspect of legal research. The electronic law report and research software is used by judges, magistrates and lawyers. It makes conducting legal research easier and puts at your fingertips in seconds what might have otherwise taken days or weeks via traditional search. Also, the Lawpavilion product ‘TIMI’ an AI chatbot makes accessible civil procedures rules in most states, assists with precedent forms and agreement templates and provides a step by step guide on how to file Court processes. Similarly, Ross Intelligence was used to find a case in an instant what it took a lawyer to find in 10 hours. According to the company, lawyers can ask Ross questions in plain English such as “what is the Freedom of Information Act?” and the software will respond with references and citations.

Lastly, although lawyers often after years of experience become good at predicting the outcome of cases, there is a limit to the lawyers’ ability to do so.  AI can access and handle large pools of relevant data and predict the outcomes of legal disputes and proceedings. For example, an AI system trained and fed with all the records of the Court of Appeal in Nigeria and the Supreme Court can be better at predicting the outcomes of future disputes coming before these Courts. Ravel Law, an AI tool is said to be able to identify outcomes based on relevant case law, judge rulings and referenced language from more than 400 courts. The product’s Judge Dashboard feature contains cases, citations, circuits and decisions of a specific judge that is said to aid lawyers in understanding how a judge is likely to rule on a case.

Conclusively, AI offers lawyers the opportunity to carve a niche and to focus on areas of ‘lawyering’ where they are indispensable and are irreplaceable by machines. A successful legal practice in the nearest future will be that which has adjusted itself to changes in AI as well as delivers the parts of legal services machines cannot provide. According to Deloitte, about 100,000 legal sector jobs are likely to be automated in the next twenty years and Global Institute estimates that 23% of a lawyer’s job could be automated. As such, its practitioners must develop skills in data analysis, become legal software experts, legal engineers and learn how to design and write algorithms, etc.

In many ways, AI provides sustainable ways for law practice especially in the decision making process and can be beneficial and cost effective for growing law firms, improving transparency, efficiency in dispute resolution and improved access to justice.

These are competitive times ahead and a lawyer’s time will soon become a competitive business, aimed at saving client’s money and preventing risks as much as possible. More than ever, lawyers in Nigeria must prepare and support the use of AI for their client’s sake, to meet international standards and for overall sustainability.

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