"Published in Al Adel Magazine - January 2014 Issue"
The world we live in today has changed drastically through the advent of the Internet and developments in information technology. In fact, we are witnessing a cross-industrial change in the delivery of goods and services, and even a change in the goods and services themselves.
Traditionally, a lawyer would be hired because only a lawyer had access to legal doctrine, and the skills to interpret it. Before access to legal information was made as freely available as it is now, it was a hard feat to conduct legal procedures without a lawyer, and allowed legal professionals to have a monopoly on the industry.
Times have changed, and now access to information is wide spread and freely available to the public, this has been coined the information era, and as such there has been a shift in the way society thinks about the law, and the technology we use in the operation and distribution of it is developing quickly. The way we communicate as a society has changed in this new era. Richard Susskind in his book The End of Lawyers? describes four stages of communication through which society operates and has operated over time “…first was the age of orality, where communication was dominated by speech; thereafter, the era of script; then came print; and now into a world where communication is enabled by information technology.”
It is clear that we have entered the age of information technology, and looking back on previous times, each method of communication dominated the times in which it was first used. Therefore it is important to recognize that if information technology does in fact dominate society’s way of communicating, it would follow that it is important to communicate to society via this leading medium, and consequently integrate information technology into our practices.
There has been a spectacular progression in the availability of information and the wide access to it. The Internet has meant that large amounts of information is accessible to the general public and professionals alike, without the need for going through exponential amounts of books and indexes in order to acquire the information needed. Now, professionals search through the use of key words or particular sources and can easily locate the information required, furthermore there has been a clear growth in the automation of legal services and of courts, and currently most Western regions allow for the automated filing of law suits. In the Arab region, the Emirate of Dubai was the first to launch the automation of the courts. It was followed by the Federal Courts. Nowadays, many other countries such as Lebanon are working on the automation of their courts as well.
I. Access to Legal Information
In particular, it is necessary to focus on the current access to legal information. Jurists from different sectors, private and public such as general counsels, legal consultants, law students, public employees (such as Heads of Legal Departments at governmental entities) require in their work information such as applicable legislation's judicial opinions, briefs, statistics, case decisions, legal opinions, international treaties, and other transactional legal materials such as contracts and licenses, in order to conduct their work.
Other sources of information that are not legal but professional are required by lawyers, judges, and other legal and non-legal professionals, in the course of their work, for example, medical textbooks or expert witness reports which could be significant in personal injury cases; or, purchase receipts and certain spread sheets which may be useful in tax refund suits; and trademark searches. In fact the growth in the availability of information has enabled legal professionals to utilize the knowledge and tools in order to provide more conclusive and well-rounded arguments, as well as creating a more efficient working environment. Where a few legal assistants would have been required to trudge through all the paper work, now computer-based applications and databases are doing the same job more effectively, efficiently and at a much lower cost.
In the past, such as during the era of print, legal professionals would have access to appellate cases bound in official reports. Few were published and accessible to the general public. Now however, jurists can access an extensive amount of material, including having access to “unpublished” appellate cases and other unpublished legal texts, lower court orders, briefs, and extra jurisdictional material. There has been an explosion in the number and types of documents with which such professionals must concern themselves; this requires an accompanying change in technological innovation to aid legal professionals in their undertakings. Lexis Nexis provides a searchable directory of online sources for the purposes of lawyers and other professionals, consolidating most of the information they require into a single database. This then allows professionals to search for the information they require within the parameters of various factors depending on what they are looking for. The same is now being created by SADER in Arabic for several Arabic speaking countries.
Moreover, typical law firms and legal departments in both the private and public sectors are already accustomed to information technologies such as word processors, email systems and file servers, but there are more specific technologies which facilitate the elimination of the repetitive tasks of the profession, and others which make possible the organization of the information required by jurists. Applications such as legal databases, litigation support, and document assembly, among others, have changed the nature of the legal profession. Enabling an automation of mundane tasks, and limiting the amount of paperwork through which jurists must shift through in order to gather the information they require.
In the Middle East, legal databases and other such innovations are already available and even government initiatives to provide legal information to the public are underway. The governments of the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Jordan, to name a few, are already working towards an environment where legal information is freely available, sometimes in several languages, to all, online; for example Official Gazettes from Middle Eastern nations such as the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait and Lebanon, as well as legal information and texts available through the UAE Ministry of Justice, the Jordanian judiciary, the Ministries of Justice of both Qatar and Kuwait, and the Ministry of Justice of Lebanon and the Beirut Bar Association are all now available online, this eases the work of legal professionals, from both the public and private sectors, by enabling the general public to ensure greater compliance with the law prior to becoming party to any dispute, as they now have access to said legal information and will be aware of their legal obligations before undertaking an activity. Of course, this will not eliminate the work of the jurist per se, but it is bound to alleviate some of the unnecessary and time-consuming aspects of the job.
Looking specifically at legal databases, it is clear that databases of legal materials enable legal professionals such as lawyers and judges, and even non-lawyers, to easily scour through vast amounts of information in order to acquire the relevant knowledge to give legal opinions, issue a court order, resolve legal disputes, ensure legal compliance, and also gain access to a number of legal statistics, rules and other similar information. This particular change is extremely important in regard to the impact information technology is having on the industry. Databases of this kind are available for public access, and even private access wherein will be found vast amounts of legal information, including legislation, case decisions, legal journals, reports and statistics, international treaties, consultation bodies of Ministries of Justice etc., in both Arabic, English and other languages.
Since 2008, LexisNexis in collaboration with SADER has undertaken to provide such a database to its clients, in both the English and Arabic languages, where they can access various types of legal material which before was not accessible to Western and even some Middle Eastern professionals.
The move to ensuring legal information is available online, and in various languages, such as Arabic and English, enables professionals to have improved knowledge and to better understand the nature of the law in the Middle East. As we all know, legal rules and procedures differ from region to region, however, up until recently, the Middle East was falling behind in regard to the availability of legal information. Traditionally our material was only available in Arabic and solely in print form – on top of this, materials would not be accessible to foreign jurists or laypersons. It is also important to note the differentiation between primary and secondary content, most governmental databases currently only provide access to primary content, such as legislation and case decisions; secondary content, which is usually sought after on a private level, provides supplementary material to legal data. For example, the LexisNexis SADER Middle East platform provides such secondary content as the SADER Annotated Code (SAC) Series, the SADER on the Middle East Series, and the SADER 1863 Q&A Series.
In 2013, SADER launched its new and innovated “Arabic Platform” in Lebanon (lebaneselaws) which contains legislation, case decisions, legal consultation and legal studies. The SADER Lebanese Platform is the largest legal information and hyper-linked tool ever seen in Lebanon and the region. The same is being launched for the UAE market and soon other Gulf and MENA countries will follow.
As legal professionals, we must either relinquish our domination of the law, or continue to dominate the industry by embracing the changes happening within it.
B. Other forms of recent legal platforms developments
Other forms of recent information technology developments include software designed for document assembly, which enables the user to input various set factors; this will prompt the program to then create a computer generated document. This is used for the likes of contracts, lease agreements, employment contracts etc. The tool enables legal professionals to avoid the mundane tasks of the profession and allows them to focus on the more complex areas, such as analysis and case building, as well as strategy and due diligence. With this technology, a jurist, such as a lawyer, can draft simple documents efficiently and at minimal cost – more complicated clauses can then be added and other clauses adjusted so as to generate a complete document as required. The same will also be used by Public Entities. This is a remarkable change in the nature of legal work, as sometimes work of this nature would be left to low-level associates and reviewed by senior associates – now there is no need for low-level associates in this process as it can be automated through computer-based systems. The British-based Practical Law Company is currently providing such a service - “FastDraft” - which offers its users drafting systems with built-in templates for certain areas of law. SADER will soon be launching a similar system for the region, SADER’s Annotated Agreements Forms for the Middle East.
An exciting aspect of this technology is that it is not limited to the generation of contracts or lease agreements, but can in fact be employed by executive authorities who can use this technology in order to draft legislation – which we can see is the case in European nations such as Holland and Belgium, wherein document assembly applications are already in place to help lawmakers draft statutes.
Other technological advances come in the form of legal calendar software, such as AbacusLaw, which extend basic project management software and include legal timing rules to help professionals manage their commitments. This goes a step further than the basic electronic calendar software available to the public. Furthermore, conflict management software is available to track potential conflicts of interest among firm’s clients and potential clients. This usually works as a flagging system, whereby the program will make linkages and instruct the user as to any conflicts of interest which may crop up. There is also billing software being employed on a cross-industrial basis whereby the application can track billable hours and integrate billing information into accounting and financial software packages. This provides an automation of the accounting process which facilitates the work, and provides a means to track and evaluate revenues.
As a manager or a leader, it is worth thinking about whether you and your colleagues are familiar with these types of technologies, and if not, why? It is apparent that there is much to gain from employing such methods to facilitate legal work and, as a by-product, supply more efficient and competent services to clients. It is an effective means to reduce costs, and to cut down on unnecessary positions which just prolong the procedure of analysis by creating too many stations of work – an automation of the simple tasks will free up associates to concentrate on more complicated tasks.
These technologies, although sophisticated are very user friendly and simple to use. Looking at the SADER-Lexis Nexis Middle East platform, we can see that the database holds massive amounts of legal information, however, the structural organization of this information, and the search tools incorporated onto the platform, allow the user to effortlessly go through large amounts of information and highlight the relevant material needed for consultancy or a particular case.
II. Print vs. Information Technology
In a print orientated world, the vast changing nature of the law is not as readily accessible, however, when integrated with IT, efficiency increases, costs are reduced, and legal professionals have their work simplified, by allowing them greater access to updated information as well as a vast array of different types of information.
Information technology has a greater capacity to communicate the changing law, whilst print will encompass additional documents to supplement previous information – which is time consuming and confusing to the user as well inefficient as a means of conveying the number of changes in a particular law. In Common Law jurisdictions, for example, the body of case law expands each and every year, and this does not amend previous cases, but instead supplements them. With information technology it is much easier to consolidate all amendments into a piece of legislation or link relevant case material, so the user of said material always has access to the most updated information, opposed to having a massive amount of supplementary amendments and documents as well as the original piece of legislation, or spending hours researching corresponding case decisions. This is especially important where the original legislation is dated and has been amended various times.
III. Legal Service Renaissance
Historically, Lexis Nexis, in the United States of America, offered the first federal tax library over thirty years ago, containing legal information such as statutes, decisions and agency material, this was not at first greeted with acceptance, in fact it faced great scepticism.
On inception, these changes in the acquisition of legal information were used merely as supplements to the traditional print methods of delivering legal services and conducting legal work. Once accepted for the facilitation and efficiency they provide, computer-based systems, such as the federal tax library created by Lexis Nexis, have effectively replaced print and are now used by a huge number of professionals, lawyers and non-lawyers alike. This renaissance in the delivery and provision of legal services has fuelled battles over the degree of copyright protection of legal information, as well as a “struggle for media and vendor neutral citation”. In the region and within the UAE, for example, SADER launched the first fully digitalized law compendium in 2004, and continued, through a partnership with the UAE Ministry of Justice, to make it available online in 2008. Currently around 25,000 different users, from all over the world, enjoy access to this database on an annual basis.
It is hard to retain a monopoly over these aspects, and as such there is no reason why Middle Eastern law specialists such as Heads of Legal Departments at public entities, lawyers, general counsels and others, cannot begin to incorporate IT into their service provision, and compete on this level. In fact, the level of legal information currently enjoyed by laypersons is anyway resulting in a dramatic change in the way lawyers must provide legal services, a change in the nature of clientele and the legal knowledge of said individuals, as well as the inception of various non-lawyer business entities which provide basic legal services. In order to compete in this ever-changing and cutthroat market, legal professionals and law firms must integrate IT into their processes. There are no other solutions if they want to survive in the mid- and long- term!
A. Factors Affecting the Future and Shape of the Legal Industry
The future and shape of the industry are changing as dramatically as the information technology so strongly affecting them both. Access to information for example, has become extremely liberal and far reaching – the inception of the Internet has meant that we now have access to all sorts of variations of information types just ‘at the click of a button’. Further, governments, court systems and other public authorities are undertaking initiatives to provide free legal information in an effort to better inform their populace. Many governments are making available case decisions, court documents and procedures, and electronic versions of legislation and regulations; take for example the UAE Ministry of Justice which, as part of collaboration with SADER Publishers, has established a free legal database containing United Arab Emirates legislation in both Arabic and English. Surprisingly all this material is provided at very little expense compared to the heavy costs associated with printing and publishing.
Due to the growth in the availability of information, alternative legal service providers and delivery models have also begun to crop up – these include virtual law firms and telecommuting which basically allow attorneys to work from anywhere. This is charged by the development of technology, and as a result of mobile devices, secure web-based technology, video conferencing, computer-based legal research and advanced service software, to name a few, this alternative method of practicing law permits flexible work hours, and enhances the availability of lawyers. This evolution also concerns the likes of legal process outsourcing whereby law firms outsource certain legal work (document review, due diligence, legal research etc.) to other professionals. This happens both on and offshore, and is notably transforming legal practice as firms seek to minimize costs, increase flexibility and expand in-house capabilities. It is also giving some professionals a chance to be legal outsource vendors, which demonstrates a remarkable shift in the delivery model of both legal services and work. In Lebanon this much has been achieved with the Investment Development Authority of Lebanon’s (IDAL) OneStopShop Service which enables anyone to apply for various licenses and permits through their website.
The phenomenon of Legal DotComs is definitely something to look out for in the near future, as multiple E-commerce legal service providers emerge, enabling the general public to do the likes of filing small claims lawsuits online , receive services in arbitration, negotiation and mediation (, and even alternative legal service concepts. For example "lawyersforless" offers a service based on the concept of lawyers tendering bids for client’s cases – this allows for an alternative billing method. Whilst "cybersettle" is another Canadian website which acts as a conduit for insurance claims and lawsuit settlements online – it even follows a “double-blind” bid process. Although Legal DotComs do not eliminate the need for lawyers and jurists, they do eat into the professions market share. In fact, as a result of a new informed client, the nature of the lawyer-client relationship is changing. Today, clientele are well versed, and have good access to legal information, where in the past they would have had to employ the services of an attorney to gain access and make sense of the law. The facilitation of access to information and contacts has resulted in a more demanding clientele, and the nature of the current economy has driven all people to become more economic in their undertakings. In this new IT-era, a client wants the best and most efficient services, at the lowest price. This enables Legal DotComs to be very successful, and likely will continue their success in the coming years.
The changes in technology and the nature of clientele in general, has established new avenues to market to existing and prospective clients, and cross-generational demographics and these aspects can further open new markets and enable a move towards higher-end and better quality legal services.
The advent of the social media boom presents an excellent opportunity to reach new clients and solidify relationships with current clients. Approximately over two billion people use the Internet globally, and the majority of these users access social media sites on a daily basis. Law firms are beginning to tap into the power of social media and networking. Social networking is revolutionizing the way firms accomplish legal tasks, their recruitment process, and interacting with clients. Social media is a phenomenal marketing tool and can be a strategic business driver.
In an industry which is witnessing a transformation brought on by globalization, social media provides an avenue to connect to clients and prospective clients wherever they are. It is also facilitating the cross-border expansion of law firms, collaboration with foreign counsel, intercontinental mergers, and helping to ease traditional boundaries. This also applies to the traditional boundaries of the legal profession itself, as lawyers are not just facing borderless competition but also non-lawyer competition.
The automation of the legal process and easy access to legal information has meant that non-lawyer service providers are able to provide services to clients instead. In fact, a new book entitled First Thing We Do, Let’s Deregulate All The Lawyers asserts that non-lawyers can do the same job as lawyers only faster, cheaper and sometimes better; it further argues that the legal profession’s monopoly on the industry gives rise to higher costs and poorer services. This is worrying, however it does boost the need for the legal industry to move with the changes and embrace the shift in delivery models and legal services – in fact, as lawyers we offer the benefits of reputation and expertise, which is a competitive advantage in this vicious market. If IT is integrated into the practice of law, then there is no reason that legal professionals cannot win back their market share, and retain the industry they already dominate.
IV. Legal Informatics
The American Library Association defines informatics as “the study of the structure and properties of information, as well as the application of technology to the organization, storage, retrieval, and dissemination of information”. It follows then, that legal informatics can be taken to mean the application of informatics within the context of the legal environment, which involves law-related organizations such as law offices, schools, professionals, governmental institutions and private legal departments, as well as the users of such information and information technologies within these organizations.
Legal informatics is not the future, it is the present. We cannot deny that the legal industry is taking a clear turn towards change and computer-based automation. Recognizing this as not a future endeavour, but instead as a current renaissance is the first step towards accepting the challenge and opportunities offered by this growth in the integration of information technology.
A. Impact of Legal Informatics on the Industry
The factors we've already discussed, and the impacts they are having on the legal industry, clearly demonstrate that legal informatics in general is the main game-changer in this industry. Moderately sophisticated technologies like document assembly can reduce the number of jurists necessary to draft a given document. Developers are also now pointing to future information technologies which could produce intelligent computerized legal assistants that can deliver outlined arguments based on database searching – which if successful could do away with junior associates all together.
Many of these cost saving techniques will dramatically alter the landscape of the industry. Specifically, three major areas of research in IT and Law affecting the industry are the models of legal augmentation, applications of machine learning techniques to legal data, and the organization and distribution of legal information. It is worth discussing these in more detail.
a. Legal Augmentation and Knowledge Representation
The growth in legal knowledge and information is extraordinary, with the enormous diversification of the types of legal information available and accessible; the need for automation has been swiftly filled by computer-based technologies. Document searches enable users to quickly gather relevant information based on any number of factors: key words, year of publication, topic, outcome, nature of the document etc. Software assistants, sometimes referred to as cognitive assistants, facilitate the production of legal arguments. Predictive tools are available to assess the probabilities of several possible outcomes given certain information about a particular case.
Case-based research systems are also widely used in the practice of law; various applications have been developed, however currently only for selective areas of legal practice. Hypo, for example, designed by Professor Kevin Ashley, “will use precedents to construct arguments for one side of a trade secret dispute”, and then construct counter arguments by citing alternative precedents. A tool like this effectively automates much of the case preparation work of a legal professional practicing in Common Law jurisdictions. CATO is another example of a case-based system – this application was originally designed by Vincent Aleven to help law students learn to argue from precedent. Other developments of this nature include the GREBE system, which “contains representations of semantic structure of the rationales of the cases in its database” – these representations allow the system to rearrange arguments that appear in precedential cases by extracting information and drawing structural analogies. This application produces formatted sentences which is something still uncommon amongst other research systems.
It is becoming very apparent that these types of computer-based tools and systems are revolutionizing the industry, whether we choose to adhere to them or not. The past twenty years has demonstrated their growth and usefulness in eliminating prosaic and repetitive tasks, on a cross-industrial, cross-border basis. If we believe that we can only hold on to our dominion over the legal industry by putting faith in the idea that information technology will not have the same growth in the Middle East as it has in the West - this is a dangerous thought, as many other industries operating in the region have already integrated sophisticated IT into their systems – further, governmental organizations are now endeavoring to offer these technologies to the public. So whether we choose to embrace and utilize these systems or not, the professional environment is clearly moving in this direction and it is in our best interest that we do so as well.
b. Machine Learning and Knowledge Detection
The term machine learning refers to the various techniques taken from the likes of artificial intelligence and statistics, and includes the extraction of legal rules from databases, the measurements of trends in the application of rules over time, and the identification of clusters of related cases and documents. Where systems such as Hypo still require humans to input the factors or delineate the argument structure for all the cases in their databases, a machine learning program could in principle extract factors and rules from cases in a reasonably homogeneous and dependable manner. This may be the only cost effective way to deploy argumentation systems using large databases.
Knowledge detection is another key factor in the industry, and the concept of E-Discovery involves the uncovering of electronically stored information. In the United States for example E-Discovery is employed frequently by attorneys in order to litigate; the Federal Rules of Civil Procedures now enable personal information such as emails, instant messages, calendars, voice-mails, graphics and data on handheld devices, to be discoverable for the purposes of litigation. Apart from this activity dramatically altering the face of complex litigation, it is also affecting the roles available in the legal profession, and we now see the advent of positions such as litigation support, e-discovery and trial technology.
As information technology evolves, so does the industrial landscape. The change is not limited to the likes of IT-orientated firms, but is an industry changer on a large scale. Every aspect of our lives and work will be altered by innovations in IT.
c. Available and Structured Knowledge
One focus of legal informatics is the provision of accessible and structured knowledge. This requires developments even to current legal databases. For example, the semantic web is beginning to fill in the gaps between machine-learning and the human mind. The idea behind the Semantic Web is a “general framework wherein syntax is designed to model semantics more closely than conventional online mark-up languages like HTML currently allow”. This type of technology enables machine-readers to extract information specifically relevant to human users – the meaning of sentences is taken into consideration along with the structural sentence itself, enabling the program to define the information which is important to the human user, and extract it.
Currently one of the only advantages of a lack of IT integration in the legal industry is that there remains a pre-processing procedure which is lengthy and time consuming, to which specialization is an apt solution – most lawyers readily choose a specialization in order to overcome the complex issue of the overburdening amounts of information. However, if this technology is successful, that process will no longer be tenuous and instead, become simple and fast, requiring at most a mere proof-read by its users. In this scenario, machine-based data access will likely be the norm, and those who have not integrated IT into their practice will fall tragically behind. This in no way means there is no longer a need for specialization, as it is still true that there is a massive amount of legal information, but, what it does indicate is that specialized professionals can work on the more composite areas of their profession, and can even be aided by other non-specialized jurists in the research process, by enabling computer-based programs to filter through information and gather relevant material in a limited amount of time.
In the United States, the Semantic Web has been employed as part of a broader movement to provide free access to legal information. The Creative Commons and "Public.Resource" have recently made a large portion of U.S. case law freely available in structured form. Some Middle Eastern governments and initiatives are also undertaking schemes which seek to provide free legal material to the public.
V. Governmental Efforts to Provide Access to Legal Information
Regional governments are beginning their move towards providing free access to legal information, both at public and private levels. The Ministry of Justice in the UAE, as already mentioned, in partnership with SADER, has created its own platform providing access to UAE Federal legislation, case decisions and other legal materials on "elaws".
Additionally, the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also created its own “private use” database, to provide access to legal information for its staff and associated members; the database includes content such as international treaties (published, un-published, and drafts), a Human Rights database and Ministry of Foreign Affairs Legal Department consultations.
Moreover, the Abu Dhabi Executive Council has created its own legal platform through which local legislation of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and the Abu Dhabi Official Gazette is published for public access and, separately, the consultations of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council legal department are linked to the database however are not accessible to the general public.
In Lebanon, both the Beirut Bar Association and the Lebanese Ministry of Justice have launched legal portals which permit lawyers and judges to access a large amount of legal information.
The developments we've discussed can be highly beneficial to attorneys and judges as a means of eliminating much of the redundancy in contemporary legal work. There are still a number of barriers to the adoption of IT in the legal industry, predominantly the idea that computers cannot replace the human mind. However, the current application of IT in legal work is not designed to replace the human mind, but instead facilitate the work of professionals so that the human can focus on the more complex aspects of the industry. This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that IT has led to innovation in the majority of legal fields and as a result we are shedding light on new areas of the law each and every day.
There is a “clear gap between the extent of the adoption of sophisticated IT by other industries and by law firms” – this gap has become evident in the form of increasing costs and unrealized efficiency gains. New ways of constructing legal arguments, new methods for analyzing large sets of legal data, and new systems for representing said data will enable attorneys to reduce much of the inefficiency and wasted resources they encounter in contemporary practice.
Due to the development and integration of sophisticated IT in other industries, coupled with the new informed client, there is a great chance that there will be a higher demand for the legal process to be automated, accessible and cost efficient – and this demand will, if anything, come from the client, as the changing nature of information technology and accessibility will cause clientele to demand more control over their legal issues. IT enables clients to have the ability to track their legal files with legal service providers electronically in a similar manner to E-Banking, therefore embracing the impact of informatics on the legal industry will enable lawyers to focus on analysis and unsettled or ambiguous disputes.
IT further allows more mobility in the access of legal information – SADER’s new iCode represents a move towards this more mobile mentality and provides access to legal materials such as legislation, case decisions etc., while on the move, with access available on mobile devices such as iPhones, iPads, Android and other similar devices.
So, in essence, the current landscape demonstrates that the Middle Eastern legal industry is beginning to latch on to the use of legal informatics in the course of its work. Legal professionals recognize the importance and benefits associated with sophisticated-IT integration, as well as governmental and official authorities, who are endeavouring to provide free access to the population. This move is enabling an open-border litigation system, and highlighting transparency in a region which has not always been so familiar with this concept.
Information technology is remarkable in its application as a tool to aid lawyers and other professionals in their undertakings, and it is especially important that local and regional law firms keep up with the times and make a point to integrate more sophisticated IT into their systems. In particular, regional law firms are urged to create their own legal databases, it is not wise to allow this gap to be filled by multinational legal service providers who choose to provide pre-packaged services to clientele who are yearning for more control over their legal issues. Instead, Middle Eastern law practitioners are advised to fill this gap regionally, and provide clients with more access to their systems and information, as a means of creating stronger loyalties between attorneys and clients, reaching prospective clients, and doing away with unnecessary legal work so as to minimize costs and make better use of human resources.
Lawyers originating and trained in the Middle East have the capability to better understand the processes and mentality of the region, as well as the specific approach given to the law – it is imperative that this dominion is retained. The business of the legal profession is changing in relation to the delivery of information, as in the past law firms would convey legal information of official source to clients, whereas now clients are receiving governmental information directly, and do not require lawyers as a middle-man any longer. The role of the lawyer is still fundamental in litigation aspects of disputes, and document drafting, however, due to the innovations in technology we cannot guarantee that this role will always be reserved for legal professionals, especially regarding the drafting and review of simple agreements and non-complex legal work. As such, it is essential that law firms offer these services to their clients as well as traditional legal services. It is vital that attorneys acknowledge the changes in information and delivery models so as not to be overshadowed by alternative legal service providers and information providers. Their clients still trust them to provide these aspects, and are not yet as ready as Western markets to make the move towards more cost-efficient and controlled stances over their legal issues – how long this will last cannot be said, and it is crucial to be prepared for the time when legal informatics will impact the Middle East as dramatically as it has elsewhere.
Small firms must begin to offer ready-made, packaged legal services to their clients, in order to do this efficiently costs must be minimized and resources must be allocated competently. Medium sized and larger firms would benefit from creating their own platforms, and offering their clients access to the legal information required – this will not only reduce the work of attorneys but create a clientele which understands and has a better command over their legal obligations. In effect this could do away with unnecessary litigation altogether, freeing up legal professionals to tackle the intricate matters of their work.
Jurists all over the Middle East should realize that Legal Informatics is not the future, it is the present!