Godfrey Mutabazi, Executive Director, Uganda Communications Commission, April 4th, 2018

Now’s the time for the legal fraternity to embrace digital transformation. This is an abridged version of Mr Godfrey Mutabazi’s speech during the Uganda Law Society Annual Conference, presented by Mrs Julianne Mweheire the Director, Industry Affairs & Content Development at the Uganda Communications Commission.

Digital transformation is a holistic business paradigm shift that impacts a company’s people, activity, process, and culture. It is technology-enabled and data-driven, but those are the means-not the objective of the transformation. Digital transformation involves harnessing data to create business insight that changes the operations and delivery capability of a company. This enables companies to connect with consumers in different ways that include providing easier access, more choice, transparency, predictability, speed, and cost-effectiveness. 

A focus on the legal industry, globalisation is shrinking the trans-national boundaries; economic forces are re-defining traditional law practices; innovative in-house law departments are driving significant value creation; consumer demands are also changing with clients playing a more substantial role in managing their legal portfolios – the list is long!  This transformation of the industry is exerting pressure on lawyers, law firms, in-house legal teams, among others, to respond quickly to the changes. To ignore these would create a risk of being left behind.

Today, though, we are in an era where technology is pervading different aspects in our daily lives and the economy. This transformation is impacting people, processes and culture in numerous ways.  As a result, we find technology today being used everywhere we look from the simple mobile phone usage to more sophisticated deployments using advanced technologies like data analytics or Big Data and even robotics (Artificial Intelligence).  All this is innovation-driven, in a continuous bid to identify solutions to existing challenges, to drive efficiency or new ways to make things better. 

The legal industry has not been spared in this progression. The spread of the Internet and developments in smart devices, cloud services and other technologies have enabled increased access to legal information, bringing this closer to the user’s fingertips.  We now have legal research being done electronically and applications that address routine legal queries and generation of legal documents.

Software solutions characterise the main trends in the digital transformation of the legal practice. These include changing the practice of lawyers from using manual paperwork and data or records management to digital solutions in which research, drafting, managing records, billing, communication, to make savings in both time and cost.  Some of the solutions that have been adopted within the legal industry harness the Artificial Intelligence “AI” technology to facilitate for example contractual clauses being identified, analysed, and extracted for a range of transaction requirements.

However, Digital transformation is much more than platforms, AI, and data. The human element is paramount at all levels. To achieve digital transformation, a business must engage in cultural change that involves collaboration, new skills, a more holistic approach to problem-solving, diversity, cultural awareness, constant improvement, lifelong learning, and an agile workforce. Digital transformation also demands “soft skills” essential to complex problem solving, cultural change and the agility required to keep pace with the ever-accelerating speed of business and pace of change . End-to-end customer experience optimisation, operational flexibility, and innovation are key drivers and goals of digital transformation. Change management—convincing people to accept, adapt, and engage in constant improvement and training in anticipation of and response to change—is perhaps the biggest hurdle in the process.

With increased competition, the legal profession needs to innovate to respond to unfulfilled legal needs and enhance the delivery of legal services to clients in a bid to promote a responsive and modern legal profession that fosters the overall socio-economic spectrum. An efficiently executed digital transformation process can enable the delivery of these objectives.

In Uganda, possibly not yet at the same pace as other countries, technological advancements are increasingly affecting different sectors and businesses, including the legal sector.  Keeping pace with this technology and the demands of clients in an increasingly complex environment requires a change in mindset and approach; recognising today’s realities.

The impact of all these and many other technological developments cannot be underestimated.  This, though, is commonly associated with a fallacy that adopting this digital transformation poses a risk to jobs in the industry.   What is going to change is what man has to focus his skills and effort.  The legal sector is primarily built on people, and this position underpins the successful deployment of any new technology.  Legal services which depend on experience and judgement cannot be replaced by technology.  Experts believe that going forward; the profession will be “less fixated on forms and more passionate about knowledge management”.

Legal innovation through the use of technology is set to be a game changer for rendering legal services.  It’s important to note the challenges associated with the exciting opportunities brought about by the new technologies. There are various ethical considerations; for example, that “disruptive innovation” should not be a licence for breaking the law. These and other related issues arising from the adoption of these new technologies need to be carefully considered. Lawyers should, therefore, work closely with technologists to tackle any problems thereof. 

Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum, pointed out that the most critical challenge facing humanity today is how to understand and shape the new technology revolution.  The Uganda Law Society is commended for being proactive and choosing to bring to the forefront the crucial discussion of digital transformation in legal business.

However, it is evident that we are on the brink of global change, even in the legal sector. Some are already embracing the change, others are concerned about losing ground, and others are still concerned that the shift from the “practise of law” to the “business of law” might result in loss of the profession’s traditional and cultural values. It is, however, clear that lawyers with limited or no technology sense will soon find themselves in the minority.  Additionally, a career in the legal industry will, sooner rather than later, require an understanding of technology and business besides just the law.

As we position ourselves, therefore, as a country to reap from this 4th industrial revolution with its rapid confluence of technologies in the digital, biological and physical domains, let us not dismiss the opportunities that this digital transformation presents, thinking that these are only for the advanced economies.  Let us embrace change and think exponentially.  The legal profession needs to embrace change to be able to offer high-quality legal services that meet the demands of today’s clients. Those that are open to innovation and embracing technology will be the ones that lead the way.

The legal industry should put digital transformation on the front burner if for no other reason than that’s what’s cooking with legal consumers – Business is going digital.

Those that do not adopt and embrace the change will get left behind by an increasingly competitive market. Those that do will ultimately find themselves freed up to do the two things there always seems to be too little time for thinking and advising.

Julianne Mweheire the DIRECTOR, INDUSTRY AFFAIRS & CONTENT DEVELOPMENT at the Uganda Communications Commission

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