The advent of the 21st Century and the changes it brought about has virtually affected all facets of human existence including the practice of law. The world is now a global village, accessible via the click of a button. No innovation has affected human existence after the creation of nuclear technology like Information and Communication Technology (ICT).
All professions and professionals have taken advantage of the many benefits of the IT boom. Although known for its conservatism and slow response to change, legal practice has not been left behind by the fast moving IT train.
However, Nigerian lawyers are yet to fully rise up to neither the challenges of the 21st century nor taken full advantage of the benefits offered by ICT.
The practice of law has had a very chequered history in from the period of the emergence of the first indigenous Nigerian Lawyer Christopher Sapara Williams in 1879 till date.
Chief Richard Akinjide SAN in 1996 had classified legal practitioners in Nigeria as follows;
• The City Practitioner
• The High Street Practitioner and
• The Country Practitioner
According to the learned silk, the City Practitioners are the “super elites of the profession” and are at par with their counterparts in the US and Europe. The High Street Practitioners are in between the City Practitioner and the Country Practitioner, while the Country Practitioners are described as those “satisfied with their bread and butter practice”.
The classification may not be entirely true today, considering the impact of ICT on the practice of law. ICT may have reduced the gap between each class of legal practitioners.
Having a well stocked and regularly updated library, attending international law conferences, a very classy law office and a good clientele would qualify one as City Practitioner under the learned silk’s yardstick for same. However, the internet is now the biggest market for all businesses including legal practice.
A business without a website is as good as non-existent in this period and the cost of a website is not as prohibitive as the cost of maintaining a classy law office. The internet is also a leveler in terms of visibility and access to potential clients. The clients are attracted to a law firm based on what services are rendered as can be gleaned from the law firm’s website.
Again the advent of ICT has brought with it the era of E-books and digital libraries. Books and legal materials are available at the click of a button, law reports and statutes are available online many a time for free, but even when they come at a price, they are not as prohibitive as hard copies and come with minimal or no space requirements. We are witnessing the birth of Law Pavilion, Legalpedia and other internet law reporting service providers through which authorities can be accessed from anywhere at any point.
The law reporting business is now open for more participation as ICT has eliminated the prohibitive cost of publishing, storing and transporting law reports in hard copies to would be buyers.
Attendance to conferences can be done now at the click of a button. How would the learned silk had known in 1996 that in less than 2 decades after, one could register and participate in international conferences through his or her mobile device from the comfort of his home? So with the prohibitive cost of travel and accommodation eliminated, many lawyers can participate in conferences and meetings through teleconferencing and video calls or even get conference materials through email.
The networking opportunities such conferences with enormous travel and accommodation cost would afford would be participants are now available at the click of a button. There are many networking sites for lawyers in different areas of practice.
The Nigerian courts have woken up too albeit too late with many state High Courts introducing e-filing.
So the question is what is expected of the 21st century Nigerian lawyer in the advent of these changes. These changes have also come with their challenges which every lawyer must be aware of and prepared for.
ICT and globalization are the major drivers of change in legal practice. A good knowledge and application of ICT in the various areas of legal services is a must for any lawyer. That effectively puts the new wigs in a good stead for the purpose of harnessing of all the benefits offered by the ICT and globalization.
In other words, the young lawyers (the generation I call the Naija lawyers) who can handle a tablet, I-pad, are internet savvy, and social media responsive would have the legal world at their feet. ICT has offered us the current generation of lawyers, what the older generation never had. The Naija Lawyer must step up his game to the challenges of the 21st century and also tap into its benefits especially in the areas of ICT.