15 Jul Legal Tech Innovation in Africa
by Kuda Hove
Technology driven innovation is the rage of the decade, so much so that even government has caught the bug and has generously pledged to finance local tech startups. This is great news for geeks working and innovating in the Science, Technology, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. At first glance it would seem that the tech innovation boat (or is it gravy train?) is not for people who like myself, are in the Arts and Humanities. However, a closer look will show that there is hope for us none techies too!
Law has largely remained unchanged; law professionals have looked upon innovation and technological advances with either scepticism at best or at worst, total indifference. This is beginning to change with a number of legal tech startups now setting up shop in various parts of Africa. In this short article, I look at some African legal tech startups that are at the forefront of bringing change to how lawyers and other legal practitioners deliver their services to their clients.
So far, the most common service provided by online legal service providers is online forms and other simple documents used to create or regulate a legal relationship between parties. Think about the simple standardised forms we buy from Kingstons and other stationery shops, these forms include affidavit forms, and standard lease agreement forms. Kenyan startup Uwakili helps its clients fill in such forms online or over the phone with assistance from Uwakili staff. The idea is to do away with the inconvenience of travelling to physically meet a lawyer just to fill in a standard form. Not to be outdone, Nigerian startup LegalForms also provides a similar service, but their service is specialised for online company registrations.
In Malawi, a local startup has done away with the legal jargon and Latin terms that make law so hard to understand for nonlawyers. The startup called Ufulu Wanga provides simplified explanations of what the law is and how it functions, or looks like in daily Malawian life. Nigerian startup DIYLaw also seeks to simplify the law and help people become more actively involved in standing up for their rights. They deliver this vital service via their website, and SMS. Barefoot Law, a Ugandan startup also uses an almost similar model to take law to the people that are usually not resourced enough to afford legal consultation fees.
Access to justice remains an expensive exercise even in developed countries such as the United States of America, and this is why startups such as South Africa’s LexNove, and Nigeria’s LawPadi are providing an important service. Both startups offer clients a onestop website based service with wide range of pricing options for the client to consider; these “online legal markets” have the effect of helping clients secure the most affordable service. A Zimbabwean startup Citizens Justiceuses crowdfunding online platforms to help clients raise money for their legal fees, donations to fund these cases are via mobile money transfers, along with traditional online payment systems.
This is not a comprehensive list of the legal tech innovations currently happening in Africa. The advent of Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, and Blockchain technology will definitely affect how law service providers interact with their clients and I hope that more efficient and more convenient ways of taking legal services to the people will help bring down access to justice costs. It will be interesting to watch how these emerging legal tech trends will affect Zimbabwe’s own legal landscape. Is Zimbabwe ready for a legal tech revolution? Share your thoughts below.