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Legal evolution…

The changing face of the legal business is something that has me thinking quite a bit. Regardless of which countries you go to, law is becoming so complex that even lawyers struggle to understand it.  

Every country has its own rules and regulations, some are similar to each other and others could not be farther apart, either way, the duty to perform law related tasks often rest on lawyers from that particular country. The way our systems are developing, it is essential to have legal advice or even a have a lawyer as part of the team whenever one decides to do anything from starting a business to buying property.  

Legal service comes in all shapes and sizes. A lot of countries allow what is usually referred to as “partnership structure” which many of us know has law firms with a lot of partners. Other countries are focused towards building “sole practitioner” structure which means that lawyers practice on their own. In addition to regulatory limitations, there are many other reasons for the size of practice in a country. Some of the main factors are the type of cases, the caseload, what the client expects and the development/expectation of the court.

In Ethiopia, there are many cases related to family law, these do not usually require a large number of lawyers. Very few court cases require hundreds of pages of statement of claim or defense, a.k.a. submissions; courts are not used to receiving such large submissions either. This was also the case for commercial law, where the companies that existed were domestic ones, had simple transactions and smaller valuations. Now all of this is changing, companies are bigger, there is more wealth, there are new areas that need laws such as e-commerce and internet privacy, thus the law books are getting bigger and so are the cases.  

Foreign companies are acquiring domestic ones, domestic companies are merging to create larger companies, financing is coming from different parts of the world, and disputes are becoming equally more complex. The result of all of this is that the amount of legal research to be done, documents to be sifted through and reviewed have exponentially increased. Therefore, the sole practitioner may not be able to take this work on by herself needing a few more heads and hands to help.

In addition, the more complex specialized the law becomes, the more specialists it requires. It is no longer enough for a lawyer to have a general idea of how law works, she would have to learn the specifics and get the most up to date information so as to service her clients’ demands in the right way. And as much as we all would like to think we can do it, being a jack of all trades in the legal business in 2017 is no easy feat. And in many instances, sifting through documents, what is generally known as “document review” is not something that one can do on her own neither does it require a law degree.

So what does this all mean? It means that the legal business is evolving and technology is playing a big part in helping lawyers cope with the continuously growing demand. There are now specialized data storage units for the thousands of pages of documents from clients, software programs that help law firms in the document review process as well as provide data security for client information, websites that collect and provide research and data analysis on a specialized area of law and so much more.

Regardless of the size of the law firm, the way that lawyers stay informed or service their clients is being digitized and bringing about a whole new set of challenges and opportunities. Lawyers cannot opt to stay in the analog days. It is only a matter of time before our courts digitize their documents and charge us for accessing them.

The digitization process is happening quite swiftly, leaving me to wonder if maybe one day lawyers too will be replaced by computers…