Young lawyers are eager to embrace technology – and so are our clients, Alice Namuli Blazevic
09 December 2021

Young lawyers are eager to embrace technology – and so are our clients, Alice Namuli Blazevic

Published on 09 December 2021

With LegalTech sweeping the profession, lawyers are responding differently. Some with trepidation, others with enthusiasm. Alice Blazevic Namuli, Head of Technology and Innovation at Katende, Ssempebwa & Co. Advocates, belongs firmly in the latter group.

Uganda-based Alice knew from the outset that she needed to stay up to speed with these emerging technologies. Not just for her own benefit, but for the benefit of her clients too.

No time to waste

When Alice first ventured into technology, she was Vice President of the Uganda Law Society. As part of her leadership role, she needed to stay abreast of trends in the profession and keep an eye on the direction of the legal world.

“At the time I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, are we ready? Am I ready? What do we need to do to prepare?’” she said.

Since then, LegalTech has become a recurring discussion point, and she urges all practitioners to be active in understanding its impact on the legal sector.

The LegalTech language barrier

LegalTech has its own language. And it’s one Alice believes lawyers need to become fluent in.

“We need to embrace new technologies and bring them into our processes. The first step toward making this happen is accepting that we, the lawyers, are not the ones deciding to disrupt our sector. Our clients are driving the change. Because their needs have changed.

“Clients are already operating, communicating, transacting and signing contracts online – using the latest technologies.

“So, how can you represent them if you don’t embrace new technologies yourself? How can you insist on an in-person meeting, or in-person contract signing, when their operations are so much more advanced?

“While I was studying AI and blockchain, I met many people who were frustrated with poor lawyer-client communication when it comes to technology.

“Lawyers need to understand technology better so that they can speak the same language as their clients.”

She hopes lawyers everywhere will embrace LegalTech – but she recognises that it can be especially challenging for senior lawyers to move away from what they’ve always known.

The advantage for young lawyers

“Lawyers have been very successful for many decades operating in a very specific way,” says Alice. “So it’s not a matter of just telling them to pick up this technology.

“Slowly, very slowly, we are getting more lawyers on board, but it’s the younger lawyers who are really enthusiastic.”

Having grown up with an iPhone in one hand a mouse in the other, junior lawyers are tech savvy.

“Although they have been trained in the traditional way at law school, their brains are wired to understand the smooth processes of technology.”

Gone are the days of spending hours in the library each day. Now, as Alice reminds us, libraries can be accessed entirely online. The same goes for the way lawyers interact with each other.

“I used to have to phone a lawyer in Australia if I needed a document from them… and have them fax it to me. Now, we can work collaboratively online on the same document.

“If I told a young lawyer to use a fax machine, they’d think I’m crazy.”

Even though the up-and-coming younger lawyers find it easier to adapt to technology, their mentors must be up to speed as well.

The benefits of a digitalised practice

Though senior lawyers haven’t always adopted technology easily, the pandemic has meant that, when it comes to online work, many haven’t been left with much of a choice.

Alice predicts that this will lead to more virtual offices in the future.

“Having client meetings and the like online used to be very foreign. But thanks to COVID-19, lawyers are finally listening and trying to understand what LegalTech is all about,” she says.

“We now have online court hearings on Zoom. Seriously, if our ancestors could see this they’d say, ‘You’re joking’.

“I see a more digitalised practice in the future, where pretty much everything is online. You meet clients online, you hold hearings online, you mediate online, everything.”

But, particularly in Africa where Alice lives and works, this has meant that court hearings are far more accessible to those who need to attend them – and cheaper.

“Very few people in Africa have access to justice. Poverty levels and corruption are high, and legal services are expensive.

“People find it very difficult to move from remote areas to where the courts are, so they end up missing their court date.

“But with virtual courts, I can now file documents online and appear at hearings online. This means I don’t have to charge my clients for travel costs anymore. And that also means that clients don’t have to spend as much.”

Collaboration and innovation

Alice sees collaboration as the key to successful uptake of new technology.

“I know The Centre for Legal Innovation (CLI) has worked with many different forms of innovation around the world. They’re creating a global platform where we can learn from each other and come up with solutions together.

“Right now we are living in a global village where I have access to the kinds of technologies that are also being used in Australia,” she continues.

“Global events, like the ones CLI hosts, are making it possible for us to test and respond to new technologies, and help lawyers understand the impact on the legal profession.

“These events make global collaborations and partnerships possible – that’s exactly what the CLI does. And in the process, it’s created, a global learning community.”