Letters to the editor

October 24th, 2016

Letters are not published under noms de plume. However, letters from practising attorneys who make their identities and addresses known to the editor may be considered for publication anonymously.


Lawyers need to understand technology

The article ‘A scientist and a lawyer walk into a courtroom …’ authored by Dr David Klatzow and Peter Otzen 2016 (Aug) DR 26, raises important issues pertaining to the need for a deeper understanding by lawyers of the workings of science at a time of explosive technological development. It highlights that a failure to understand technology may lead to misplaced reliance on the evidence of expert witnesses and result in bad law and injustice.

While the authors address this issue in broader scope and their views deserve serious consideration, it is crucial that the profession views the failings commented on in a far narrower context.  At the core of scientific advances is the revolution in information and communications technologies. The use of these technologies is fundamental to the practice of law, the lifeblood of which is information. Not only does the information revolution hold profound implications for the manner in which the practice of law will change with alarming rapidity, but, as importantly, so too it will necessitate changes in substantive law as our society and economy are disrupted by novel technologies that enable previously unthought-of practices. This demands of lawyers a significantly greater level of understanding of the information and communications technologies widely in use by them and by our society and business in general, than is currently evident.

While over centuries an intuitive understanding of information in physical and analogue form, as well as its legal status evolved, there are very few attorneys that can honestly profess even a cursory understanding of how the ‘digital’ information that they and their client’s use is communicated and processed. In my experience only a handful of lawyers have read, let alone understood, Chapter III of the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act 25 of 2002. Without this understanding the legal status of electronic communications and records is simply not possible.

Regrettably the profession – not renowned for embracing change – has been extremely slow to react to the far-reaching consequences that the relentless march of technological development holds. Rather many in the profession mistakenly have seen themselves above these changes. They believe that the changes will not affect ‘lawyers’ work, to which some have a deeply rooted sense of entitlement and have held a selfish disregard for how important embracing rather than resisting change will be to the future of young lawyers.

Regrettably this dangerous mistake has already been and will in the future be, enormously detrimental to the profession and how it is perceived by the public. The truth is that this ‘Luddite’ attitude is no different to that of metered taxi drivers petulantly proclaiming their entitlement to provide a service in the face of the revolutionary change wrought by Uber.


Mark Heyink, attorney, Johannesburg

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This letter was first published in De Rebus in 2016 (Nov) DR 4.

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