A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO START A MORE DIGITAL LAW PRACTICE IN NIGERIA
More digital law practice in Nigeria would fundamentally aid law firms to offer an excellent service to clients and make sure that they do not delay the process of a client’s case. Here is a practical guide to do this:
LAW OFFICE MANAGEMENT
Antivirus Software/System Backup – This is the first and most important step. Data loss is something that can occur and so it is important to protect your records and documents. Law firms that want to go digital should invest in strong antivirus software and a full system backup.
Paperwork – Law firms can record and store client’s instructions, case files, client profiles, documents, correspondence, and evidence on the office computers and organized to fit the law firm type. For example; create separate folders for criminal, civil or pro bono cases, a folder for client’s details, one for internal correspondence and so on. The load of paperwork on the shelves and desks at the office would be cut down. It also creates a conducive environment for creative and critical thinking which can increase productivity.
Attendance notes – Record all activities done on a case on the client’s electronic file; note down telephone calls, client conferences, emails, note-taking during an interview and research done on a case on the e-file. This way it’s easier to follow-up on a client’s case and lawyers can easily carry on from where the other person stopped.
Calendaring – Create an office calendar using the computer’s in-built calendar system or in a different way that works for the firm. I know that Mac books have a good calendar system that can work perfectly in a law firm. Each event on the diary should include the case name, subject, legal practitioner in charge and fee earner. Edit new events or changes on the e-calendar.
Shredding Machine – This is a piece of essential office equipment for law firms that want to store their documents electronically. Scan all paperwork to the office computers and then shred using the shredding machine. Having this in the office would encourage recording on computers and cut paperwork.
Tasks and Reminders – Type up tasks on computers with set reminders. Tasks are very essential for time management, multi-tasking and increased productivity in the office.
Saved Drafts – Type up some drafts that are commonly used in the office and save them permanently on the computers. Lawyers can easily generate drafts and tailor to fit a client’s instructions. Firms can save drafts like Status Reports, Bill of Charges, Adjournment Letters, court processes, letters that set out the expectations and responsibilities of a lawyer and his client. This will make it easier and faster to work on clients’ cases.
SIDE NOTE: Law firms may wish to consider using a law office management software where they can use the above features to customize and organize the firm. Nigerian lawyers can create a Nigerian law office software that is accessible to all law firms in Nigeria.
Court Correspondence – Courts can set up a functional telephone number and email address to communicate with lawyers and not traveling to court to hand in a letter or to find out a new hearing date. This also means the courts would need to organize their case numbers, dates, time and courtrooms so that when the lawyers send an email to ask particular information on a case, the courts can find the case and respond accurately.
Client Correspondence – As it is very important to update clients on their case, communicating on the phone and by email would be a quick and efficient way to meet their needs and keep them happy. Firms can send confirmation of instructions, status reports, updates and any other information to clients.
Other Correspondence – Other sides that are usually involved in a case such as Police, Prisons, Corporate bodies and opposing Counsels can also have a secure telephone number and email address to exchange information.
Serving of Processes – Parties in a case can file and serve court processes by email. The High Court of the Federal Capital Territory Civil Procedure Rules does allow this. Also, The Evidence Act 2011 recognizes the use of electronic signatures. The courts should apply these laws that accommodate the use of electronics in law practice.
Trial Process – Courts can invest in portable computers to store cases and documents. Judges, Registrars, and even Clerks can use the court computers to record proceedings in court and not writing on paper. This way proceedings can flow in a sequence without having to wait for the judge to write and saves time.
Video/Audio Facilities – Courts should have in-built video and audio recording systems to admit evidence. The law provides that the police should record confessional statements on video; The Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 and The Administration of Criminal Justice Law of Lagos State 2011. Once more, courts should apply the laws that encourage electronic technology.
Ultimately the lawmakers should make more laws that encourage the use of electronic technology and these laws should be applied to the law practice in Nigeria.