Legal Tech: Confronting challenges of the emerging sector

Legal Tech: Confronting challenges of the emerging sector

LegalTech has become an increasingly intriguing topic of discussion in Uganda’s mainstream Legal industry today. Every day, lawyers and entrepreneurs are developing tech innovations for the legal sector. Whether it’s streamlining operations for law firms and in-house teams, an online marketplace for lawyers, or enabling access to justice to citizens, the legal tech Startups are showing great promise in reinventing the Ugandan legal industry.

Legal tech is a late bloomer in Uganda, and this can be attributed to several issues which are unique to our jurisdiction. The conservative nature of the legal industry makes practitioners and industry regulators uneasy with disruption which comes with increasing innovation. Legal tech solutions require endorsement from a system that the public believes in. Buy-in from the private sector would increase if the legal tech startups had endorsement from the government. This calls for more partnerships between the public and private sector geared towards ecosystem strengthening for growth of innovations.

More work is required to focus the LegalTech Startups on building solutions for the industry. Innovation shouldn’t be for the sake of development of a new way of doing something, but it should be for building solutions that are effective and efficient. This requires deliberate collaboration among all the key stakeholders, Academia, Industry, and Government. Openness about key challenges in the industry coupled with research can enable innovators to focus their minds on building the right solutions to the challenges faced in the industry.

More to this, young lawyers need to be trained in LegalTech at an early stage during law school to prepare them for the realities of their future workplace and market but to also promote quality of innovation through academic institutions which have the capacity to manage research projects. E.g., developing solutions to legal challenges using AI requires research and resources which an individual innovator may not necessarily have the capacity to access.

Sustainable financing for innovation is another key area where joint effort is needed. Uganda has got an Innovation fund, a National ICT Innovation Hub, and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) Innovation council all meant for supporting the development, growth, and scale of innovation. However, none of this is specifically addressed to Legal Innovation and the funds are meager in comparison to the demand. 90% of startups in Uganda are funded by Venture Capital and according to the 2021 Venture Capital Report Uganda received USD 490 million of which 90% went to FinTech’s, followed by Energy Sector and Health Sector.

The Legal Sector remains largely underfunded and hence limited in ability to develop and test solutions. It is imperative that all enablers of the legal sector including the government, development agencies, Venture Capitalists awaken to the need to invest in the promotion and development of LegalTech in Uganda for increased efficiency and inclusion in the industry.

Despite the challenges, there is a spring of hope because the spirit of innovation continues to grow.  Professionals, law students, and entrepreneurs are enhancing their knowledge about the LegalTech space which promotes sectoral growth. Uganda has leaders who are pro-innovation and represent the voices of LegalTech in the boardrooms of relevance.

I shine a light on Mr. Edgar Kuhimbisa, the Information Technology officer at Governance and Security Programme (JLOS) aka “The Godfather of Legal Innovators”, and Dr. Amina Zawedde, the Permanent Secretary, Min. ICT and National Guidance, aka “mama Innovations”. Ecosystem builders like the Innovation Village and Legal Tech Lab are also a beacon of hope as they are fighting the good fight of convening and catalyzing the ecosystem for the common good of the Legal Tech Startups and public at large. With the combined efforts of all key players, the future of Legal Tech in Uganda is destined to be great.

Author is Hellen Mukasa

Legal Tech Lead at Innovation Village