The certainty of legal technology in South African legal practice

September 1st, 2020
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The year 2020 will forever be remembered as representing the epitome of uncertainty and extraordinary times, and has seen the rapid market integration of legal technology across various industries, including the legal profession. In 2016, LexisNexis and the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) Attorneys’ Profession in South Africa survey confirmed that the improved use of technology was considered a priority for business growth in South Africa (SA) with the majority of surveyed members regarding the same as ‘very important’ (see www.LSSA.org.za). The prominent role of technology in today’s legal practice was also highlighted in the 2019 LSSA’s Young Lawyers Survey, which found that 74,3% of legal practitioners, aged 35 or younger, made use of some form of electronic communication, online research, website updates and developments, social media, online training and/or mobile applications (see www.LSSA.org.za).

Despite the recognition of the importance of technology in conducting business today, the adoption of technology within the South African legal arena remains slow and stagnant among the smaller to medium sized legal firms. There are various debates as to why legal practitioners are hesitant to invest and embrace technology in their practice, with costs and a mistaken belief that one should have at least a Master’s level understanding of technology, programming and coding, often cited as the primary barriers to the integration of technology.

However, hidden in the South African legal landscape is an abundant network of easy to use and cost-effective legal technology, which is easily accessible through a stable Internet connection and the mere click of a button. Although not possible to applaud and reference all available legal technology in SA, this article will focus on legal technology categorised as ‘business-to-business’ or ‘business to lawyers’. Some of the key providers of legal technology in SA will be identified and described herein, in no particular order or ranking.

Practice management tools

Baobab Connect, powered by Legal Connection, provides a centralised platform on which all correspondence regarding a client’s matter can be monitored and controlled, ensuring that all communication relevant to a client’s matter, whether consisting of e-mails, WhatsApp messages or traditional letters, are secured and easily accessible by authorised users. It further provides accurate reports on work performed, ensuring that all resources, human or otherwise, are being used as effectively and efficiently as possible, making it easy to identify where resources need to be reallocated or additional team players need to be incorporated. In terms of securing the payment for services to be provided, Baobab Connect provides for the setup of paid memberships or online selling of legal services at fixed prices with quick quotes provided in chat and a wide range of integrated payment options, which ensure that fees can be discussed, settled and paid within a few minutes, promising receipt of payment prior to proceeding with a client’s legal matter. Supported by the Hague Institute for Innovation of Law (HiiL) and the Children’s Institute, Baobab Connect ensures a centralised approach to legal practice, providing easy access via desktop or mobile, with packages ranging from R 250 per user per month to customisable payment options depending on the user’s needs. A small price to pay for convenience, security and management ease (see https://baobab.law).

Libryo provides regulatory and compliance solutions to professionals, including environmental health and safety (EHS) managers or legal practitioners, ensuring the easy management of legal obligations and compliance. Libryo provides up-to-date regulatory tracking, which ensures that a legal practitioner is never behind nor reading irrelevant, out of date regulatory material or updates. With new laws added to its platform on a daily basis, their regulatory coverage provides regulatory and compliance law across 75 jurisdictions, with more than 13 000 users across the globe. The online platform offers various regulatory management services, including translations for multi-jurisdictional businesses, the secure storage of compliance documents for easy access and referencing, as well as control and oversight on compliance status of all operations. Additionally, users also have the ability to create tasks for themselves or teammates to help keep on top of their legal requirements and to do lists. Libryo technology is based on stable, secure and data rich foundations, with each Libryo product created from the ‘ground up’. It is scalable to suit a specific legal firm’s needs and is ISO aligned. The greatest part of the Libryo solution is the fact that it is freely available to law firms and its legal practitioners, with the primary aim to establish a unique partnership with the law firm, so that the law firm can itself, through Libryo services and technology, offer the best services to its clients in resolving their legal matters, which has the added benefit of the law firm itself incorporating a new revenue stream into the firm based on client demands for solutions offered by Libryo (see https://libryo.com/products/).

Contract management tools

Updraft is an Origin Systems Company. It is a proudly South African product, and provides what is described as a smart contract drafting tool and platform. Updraft uses algorithms and legal databases to mimic and automate contract drafting, which promises to cut the time and costs of drafting contracts by up to 90%. Its unique features include colour coded tracking of contract deadlines, analytic tools for real time reporting, infographics, and secure contract storage and retrieval. Additionally, there is a central repository of all signed contracts, their supporting documents and annexures, ensuring full knowledge and oversight over all contracts and the automatic exclusion of illegal, outdated or unapproved legal terms or precedents, all based on the completion of a simple questionnaire. The cost of R 591 per user, per month, is a minor expense in comparison to the time, costs and energy saved in drafting a contract, and includes the benefit of ensuring one avoids the inevitable and expensive human errors and mistakes incurred in manual contract review and drafting (see www.updraftsoftware.com).

Afriwise is an innovative online platform that provides instant, easy access to critical legal and business related legal intelligence in Africa and assists in identifying and connecting the right local legal counsel. Winner of the Innovation Award at the 2019 African Legal Awards, Afriwise hosts the largest collection of practical legal intelligence in Sub-Saharan Africa, having fully mapped the legal environments in 11 African countries to date, with new countries being added on a regular basis. With the combination of powerful technology and top in-country legal counsel knowledge and experience, Afriwise provides current, reliable and area specific answers to legal and regulatory questions in various African states anytime, anywhere. With various subscription options and custom solutions available, Afriwise offers fully tailored subscriptions that start from R 375 per month for a legal practice area. Afriwise is the ideal partner in accessing relevant legal information and overcoming compliance challenges when dealing with African clients or African business transactions (see https://afriwise.com/).

Epoq Legal has simplified the drafting of legal documents and contracts by way of technology that replicates the question and answer consultation between a legal practitioner and a client to create a bespoke legal document in real time. Questions have helpful explanations and searchable guidance notes, all written in plain English so that anyone can create a legal document. One underlying template can create thousands of permutations, which are designed to meet the unique needs of the end user’s requirements, based on their specific circumstances. Epoq Legal provides both family and business legal services, typically used by insurers, banks, law firms and other financial service providers to meet the legal needs of their clients. They are trusted by over 60 South African brands including companies in the United Kingdom and the United States. Epoq Legal’s services are priced according to the technological deployment required, as well as the volume of users who will access their service, typically under R 50 per year when made available to insurance policyholders, thus creating value for both their client and their end users at the fraction of traditional costs. Their JusDraft in-house legal document drafting tool, created in association with HiiL’s Innovating Justice Challenge, propelled Epoq Legal into the finals at the 2019 African Legal Awards (see www.epoqlegal.co.za/about).

Contracts Tech offers AI Smart Contract Creation, based on dynamic questionnaires that guide a user through a series of questions relevant to the contract itself. Contracts Tech ensures that all details are covered and that the necessary legal documents are assembled and are compliant with the applicable laws, creating a tailor made contract within minutes. Contracts Tech additionally offers electronic signature management that ensures that all the required signatures are obtained, with a complete audit report on relevant correspondence, which dates when same was sent and received, as well as when documents were viewed and signed, with all contracting parties receiving a final copy of the signed contract on completion. Contracts Tech ensures that important contact dates, lapses and renewals are never missed by providing a platform for the management of all contracts and documents in one place, setting reminders for important dates and saving document information with related parties and participant details. Through the collaboration and input by various legal experts across various fields, Contract Techs has also automated the most used contract templates, which are regularly updated and stored in a database together with other useful legal documents that can be retrieved by the mere click of a button, providing immediate search results for any phrase or word contained in the user’s legal documents, including scanned PDF documents. Given that Contracts Tech is cloud based, no additional software needs to be installed. All contracts are offered in a simple word.docx format that are real text researchable. Contract Techs offers a basic account for single users, which is free and includes access to common document templates that can be downloaded at a small fee, while subscription packages are offered from R 799 per month, which provides access to all document templates with ten downloadable documents per month, electronic signature of five transactions per month, full document management, 5GB of storage, team management services with access rights and full text searching (see https://contracts.tech/).

Security management tools

In a recent Legal Insurance Cover in South Africa Law For All survey (www.lawforall.co.za), Surveying the Legal Landscape in Lockdown (www.futurelawfaculty.online), 59% of the legal practitioners surveyed were concerned about online security and rightly so, given the increased risks and possibility of cybersecurity breaches and ‘the coronavirus-era phenomenon, Zoombombing’, as experienced by the programming committee of the National Assembly (Toby Shapshak ‘South Africa’s Parliamentarians Zoombombed with Porn Images’ www.forbes.com, accessed 31-7-2020). With the Protection of Personal Information Act 4 of 2013 (POPIA), sensitive information and data that legal practitioners inevitably deal with, namely protecting the confidentially of clients and their documents, correspondence and negotiations, is a major concern for many legal practitioners who have thought about incorporating web-based legal technology into their practice but shy away from the same given the risks of data leaks and accessibility by unauthorised persons. However, a block chain based solution is offered by Custos. As the first company in the world – with clients across four continents – to use block chain technology in protecting against and detecting sensitive data and information leaks. Custos uses patented block chain technology together with forensic watermarking, which ensures the safe keeping of confidential files and prohibits the online or offline sharing of same, offering decentralised leak detection across the globe, identification of leaks with precision and instant infringement reports with tiered detection for tamper proof incrimination, which document protection features can be integrated into any enterprise information management system. Service packages are tailor-made depending on the user’s needs, infrastructure and business type, with payment by way of instalments or by way of one flat rate based on enterprise pricing. Custos promises to safeguard sensitive and confidential client information and data at a price affordable to the user and their needs. This is a small price to pay for mitigating and preventing the extraordinary costs in damages and loss of reputation that could be incurred where confidential client data is leaked or hacked (see www.custostech.com).

Exigent Group Limited needs no formal introduction and has been a key player in legal technology service offerings for individuals, sole or small practitioners and big corporates for many years. Although exigent offers various legal tech products and services, two deserve specific mention. Exigent’s Contract Management Solution, Chameleon is an end-to-end contract and obligation management tool that provides insights throughout the contract lifecycle. It includes Scarlett, Exigent’s proprietary AI-based auto-extraction tool that has unlimited applications across many industries and departments. Scarlett is powered by machine learning trained by legal professionals, financial experts and data scientists, which ensures faster and more accurate extraction and input of contract data. Data that has been smartly selected is automatically placed in a data pool, providing around the clock accessibility to important data in a universal format to ensure consistency throughout one’s legal practice or business. Exigent’s impressive list of clients have already put Scarlett to work in contract review, London Inter-bank Offered Rate (LIBOR) transitions and compliance. Additionally, Scarlett provides searching features beyond traditional keyword searches by using pattern recognition and placing words in context. Scarlett promises to provide all phrases, sentences and paragraphs relevant to the user’s search within milliseconds, providing faster answers, minimised risks, and time effective searches, which eliminates human error and oversight mistakes.

Apart from Scarlett, Exigent also offers Chameleon DocBuilder, Exigent’s customised document automation tool. The solution is designed and built based on each client’s requirements and allows users to build a legal template, which is then filled in and completed based on the answers provided to simple, plain language questions, allowing for the automatic generation of contracts and legal documents that are fully customisable based on a user’s specific needs or requirements. One of the key features of Chameleon is the fact that it provides so called ‘quick data population’, capturing all information and data required to complete a contract and document, making it easily accessible should it be needed for another contract or legal document. Chameleon can be fully integrated with DocuSign, which allows for the signing, sending and receiving of fully executed contracts without using a printer, pen or manual scanner. Both Scarlett and Chameleon’s price is based on the user’s needs, with Exigent providing bespoke pricing based on individual firm and company needs, ensuring the provision of cost effective services of the highest legal quality possible (see www.exigent-group.com).

Conclusion

The cost and time saving benefits of the legal technology discussed above is a minimal amount to pay to reap the benefits and rewards in meeting the instant gratification expectations of clients, exceeding billable hour targets and utilising data to drive real actions and ensure the growth of one’s legal practice and service offerings.

The legal technology mentioned herein is only representative of a few of the many key players that are shaking up the traditional practice of law, saving time and costs in legal service offerings and ultimately preparing the legal field for the future of law and legal practice, which is a definite certainty, despite the uncertain and extraordinary times we currently find ourselves in.

Kristi Erasmus BCom Law (UJ) LLB LLM (cum laude) (Stell) Post Graduate Diploma in Futures Studies (Stell) is the Head of the Futures Law Faculty and the Director of the Institute of Legal Practice Development and Research in Cape Town.

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2020 (Sept) DR 6.