Disrupting the law

As developing countries continue to gain access to technology and begin to innovate existing systems, it has become clear that technology has stopped being an end in itself but an instrumental tool and means to accelerate growth and development.

For more than a decade, African economies have exceeded the global average for growth and this acceleration has been mirrored by the advancement of innovation on the continent. But what has been particularly interesting about these technological advancements is that they exemplify a rejection of “growth for growth’s sake” – innovators in Africa have been developing systems that talk specifically to African particularities and key challenges.

The internet has played a major role in the democratisation of technology and knowledge. If the cultural impact of this has been the challenging of conceptions of expertise, what implications does this have for the legal industry? At Hogan Lovells, a firm that prides itself in its dedication to promoting access to legal services for all, we believe that technology can be instrumental in improving systems to ensure that justice is accessible to everyone.

The Hackathon

This is why we partnered with The Hague Institute for the Internationalisation of Law (HiiL) that brought its prestigious event for legal and justice innovators, Global Legal Hackathon (globallegalhackathon.com), to South Africa for the first time this February. The event will see local innovators compete for a place at a New York showcase of the best law-tech innovations in the world. Global Legal Hackathon took place over three days, from 23-25 February at the Tshimologong Precinct in Johannesburg, South Africa, and teams developed technology-led solutions to pressing justice problems. Whether it’s improving the business and practice of law with blockchain and AI, or helping with good government, legal systems and access to justice, this is an opportunity for justice entrepreneurs to build on existing ideas, or to create a team around an entirely new concept for justice innovation.

Innovating the law

Innovations can range from improvements to contracting and supply chains, to solutions to social justice issues. Two South African entrepreneurs took top honours in the 2017 Innovating Justice Challenge (IJC), impressing a 300-strong crowd of lawyers, politicians and activists at the Innovating Justice Forum at Peace Palace in The Hague last December. With new initiatives such as Global Legal Hackathon, HiiL Southern Africa, in association with Hogan Lovells, plans to help even more start-ups in the justice sector to achieve success.

According to Connor Sattely, Business Accelerator Agent at HiiL, “having quantifiable, measurable, and verifiable data about justice needs and the challenges in a justice system is essential for the legal profession to move into the 21st century.

”Justice systems and legal services have been accused of being regressive, hierarchical and elitist. Billions of people risk becoming powerless when faced with land disputes, crime, divorce, consumer problems, unfair dismissal, disagreements with a neighbour or landlord, grievance with a public authority, or a business/contractual conflict.” (http://www.hiil.org/about-us).

Even when people can afford legal services, their issues may be left unresolved for a multitude of reasons including a lack of responsiveness of legal providers to the ever-changing environments in which legal systems exist.

Access to justice for all

In South Africa alone, nearly a million people access legal services through legal aid, a number which excludes the pro bono efforts of the countries law firms. “It’s simply not enough to have protective laws, functional institutions or progressive constitutions. Accessing justice is fundamental to enacting the rule of law and legal aid is a precondition for effecting it, by providing assistance to people otherwise unable to afford legal representation,” says Justice Mlambo, Chairperson of Legal Aid South Africa.

Legal issues are seldom isolated and are often informed by or resultant of various other factors ranging from socio-economic constraints to mental-health concerns. It is vital that justice systems, the legal industry and its providers be committed to mitigating these challenges through innovative thinking. But limiting this innovation to those already with the industry would be tantamount to the elitism the field has been charged with. That is why initiatives like Global Legal Hackathon are so important. Justice systems are there to serve and protect the citizens of the world – who better to navigate its innovation than the ordinary people that are its main constituents?

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