The experts made the call during a recent webinar organised by the International Bar Association (IBA). Themed “Drivers of change in the legal profession and legal education – Africa focus”, the panel discussion focussed on the reports of the Future of Legal Services Commission: (i) Drivers of change in the legal profession and (ii) Blueprint for global legal education and explored issues affecting lawyers in Africa and ways to make the profession more competitive.
Fernando Pelaez-Pier, a member of the IBA and chair of the Future of Legal Services Commission, disclosed that recent findings in the Blueprint for Global Legal Education report showed two main factors affecting the legal ecosystem in Africa.
“One is about empowerment of the client and the second is about evolution of professionalism through development of technology and artificial intelligence. The competition within the legal ecosystem means that lawyers need to leave the comfort zone they are used to,” said Pelaez-Pier.
Regarding ways in which the internationalisation of legal practice is seen in Africa, Professor Ernest Kofi Abotsi, Dean of Law at the University of Professional Studies, Accra, stated that African lawyers must respond to emerging legal markets and legal education to remain afloat
Abotsi highlighted that global legal firms dominate the legal field, especially in international arbitration where they remain the first choice of call.
“What we need is to remodel our law curriculum to respond to international demands. We must improve the pedagogical skills and have critical engagement of law students to internationalise legal services in Africa,” he said.
Technology is another challenge the panellists identified as a factor affecting legal practice on the continent, especially when it comes to cost, reliability and data security.
Franklina Gesila Adanu, General Consul at the Africa Arbitration Association in Ghana, said the emergence of digital technology has changed law practice in Africa in the post Covid-19 era.
“Many law firms have had to invest heavily in sophisticated technology which has improved legal practice on the continent when it comes to strategy, time management, tracking of cases, electronic filing of cases and communication with clients,” said Adanu.
She added that many African countries have already adopted e-filing of cases, with the technology extending to law schools and having become part of the teaching curriculum.
The panellists further discussed the skills required by young lawyers to be competitive in the profession, with Caliis Badoo, Chief Manager of the Legal & Enforcement Department of the Securities & Exchange Commission, Ghana, identifying five key skills that define a good lawyer. These, he said, are: good management skills, research skills, technological skills, time management skills and emotional intelligence skills.
“The reality is that law responds to market demands. Africa’s lawyers have to respond to the emerging demands and, since law is a money trade, they have to adapt to market demands,” he said.
Professor Elsabe Schoeman, Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Pretoria, stated that law schools must provide students with practical skills which can help them solve questions relating to legal practice.
Soledad Ateinza Becerril, Co-Chair of the Future of Legal Services Commission, who moderated the session, concluded that more should be done in Africa in terms of adopting technology, regulating legal education to become more inventive, and checking on the mental and physical health of lawyers in Africa.
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