Nairobi-based Linda Bonyo is director of the Africa Law Tech Association and chief executive of Lawyers’ Hub. She spoke to Judy Waguma about how the pandemic is forcing Kenya’s legal industry to embrace technology.
Born, bred and schooled in Kenya, Linda Bonyo works at the intersection of technology and immigration law. She is the founder and chief executive of Lawyers’ Hub, a community space where lawyers can explore new technology and enhance their digital skills so they can improve access to justice. The space also supports policy advocacy that holds governments accountable.
Linda is an advocate in the Kenya High Court as well as a partner at Bonyo Mwongela & Company Advocates which specialises in immigration law. “I wanted to be an economist,” she says, “but my mother wanted me to be a lawyer - like some of the friends she went to school with - so that’s what I did!” Linda was adamant she didn’t want a boring life seeing tech as something glamorous and interesting.
In 2011, she started learning how to code and, even though she soon realized she wasn’t a full-on computer geek, the seeds for her love of all things tech had been planted. In 2017 she started Lawyers’ Hub which has since received global recognition and support.
“We have gained so much traction over the years,” she says, “So far, we have hosted the first Africa Law Tech Festival which included a LawTech Academy, Africa Legal Hackathon, Africa Digital Rights Concert and Africa Policy Co-Creation Conference that brought together more than 20 African countries.”
“It was incredible to bring together policy-makers and civil society organisations and for people to feel that there was enough space for all of us and that we don’t have to fight but can collaborate within technologies,” she said.
Technology is now envisioned as the game-changer and solution to issues that have devilled the Kenyan judicial systems for decades, Linda says, and already a lot of improvements have been realised.
“However, we have to admit that we still have a huge digital divide. Not everyone can afford to access government services online, and so this takes us to the next level - to figure out inclusive policies.”
The spread of Covid has highlighted the need for proper connectivity across Kenya, she says. The education system, for instance, has struggled as the disruptions continuously affect children’s access to lessons with rural communities suffering the most.
“This is where young lawyers have an opportunity to get into tech policy and figure out how we can make the internet more affordable. As lawyers we need to ask questions like: why is the internet expensive? What digital tax laws are impacting the general public?”
Through the Lawyers’ Hub, Linda has been able to expand her expertise, and with support from the Omidyar Network and Mozilla, she has been tasked to come up with a good identity document principle and a model law for a digital ID.
“Once we can prove who you are, we can do better payments. Maybe you just need a card - not even a bank. Could this be what stateless people in Kenya and across Africa need?
“If we make good policies, we would open up more spaces for legal practise and even have many more women partners in the industry. The more we engage, the more we get better services closer to the people.”
Her parting shot to other young lawyers is: “Be you, take stock of your passions and interest, lawyers do not retire early, do the things you love.”
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