Technology and Access to Justice

Panel Discussion Excerpt   •   September 18, 2019

Pressing Issues Affecting Access to Justice

1, Timeliness of resolution of legal issues (When)

In Zambia, there are currently 1,283 registered legal practitioners serving a population of 17 million people. This equates to each lawyer addressing over 13,000 sparsely located people. It is impossible for each lawyer to physically attend to their total addressable population. The aforementioned ratio also indicates that lawyers have a huge backlog of work which means legal issues can not be attended to instantaneously. Because most legal issues require instant intervention, justice delayed is justice denied.

2, Accessibility of legal services (Where)

Most lawyers are concentrated in urban areas, leaving the rest of the country in a legal desert. In the status quo, people in rural areas are geographically legally excluded.

Remote legally excluded village in Zambia. 60.8% of the Zambian population lives in rural areas

3, Affordability of legal services (How much)

The cost of traditional legal service delivery is considerable high for an average Zambian. Legally, the minimum cost of legal services is $40 per hour. In a country where more than 60% of the population is living below the poverty datum line, this makes basic legal services unaffordable.

Technology to the Rescue

1, Promoting Self Help Legal Services

Emerging technologies such as Natural Language search engines and automatically simplified legal texts allow non legal practitioners to quickly find legal information that is relevant to a legal issue

Democratizing access to legal information raises legal awareness and makes it possible for non legal practitioners to find answers to common legal issues. Promoting higher legal education and the ability to employ self help mechanisms ensures that the basic access to justice is attainable.

2, Augmenting Lawyer Effort with Artificial Intelligence

Our research has shown that 90% of legal issues that affect marginalized communities require legal advice as opposed to legal representation. Because Artificial Intelligence has now reached the maturity to handle most queries without engaging lawyers, models can be created where lawyers only tackle issues that can not automatically be resolved. The lawyer’s resolution can be further incorporated into the AI’s knowledge base so that it can continuously handle more issues.

Models like this drastically reduce both cost and resolution time and make it possible to serve a greater percentage of the population.

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Artificial Intelligence has reached the maturity to be able provide responses to most legal queries

3, Proliferation of Legal Services Using Inclusive Technologies

Leveraging inclusive technology like USSD and SMS chatbots, the aforementioned solutions can be availed to geographically legally excluded communities. Content can also be translated to local languages to ensure the highest levels of legal inclusion.

Barriers of Technological Adoption

If technology is the answer, then why the slow adoption? The following are some of the barriers that we have encountered at Apptorney

  • Low education levels in marginalized communities
  • Bureaucracy and bad Government policy
  • Cost of implementation and limited investment opportunities in Africa
  • Protectionism in the legal industry

Working Around the Barriers

  • We have incorporated social outreach programs that include physical visits, radio and TV shows to raise legal awareness in marginalised communities
  • Launching through the Law Association of Zambia gave us the stamp of approval from the industry
  • Having Lawyer Co-founders helped us to navigate the legal nuances
  • Leveraging cloud technologies reduced our operating costs and lowered the bar for entry in the AI space
  • Engaging directly with the government helped us to ensure compliance