TECHNOLOGY AS A PANACEA TO THE CHALLENGES OF PRO BONO IN NIGERIA.
By Awuese Leontina Iorchor
Pro bono Publico is a Latin phrase for professional work undertaken voluntarily and without payment. Unlike traditional volunteering, it uses professionals’ specific skills to provide services to those unable to afford them. In other words, pro bono means helping a client or group of clients without charging professional fees.
In the case of Philip Chindo v. Likita Dangana (2016)LPELR- 40177(CA), the court held that Pro bono publico describes a legal situation of being or involving uncompensated legal services performed primarily for the public good. It is generally referred to as Free Legal Representation.
Pro bono services include the following;
1. summaries of legislation.
2. research advising.
4. preparation of legal documents etc.
The difference between legal aid funded services and pro bono services is that while legal aid is funded or sponsored by the government while pro bono services are provided by lawyers in their professional capacities without the anticipation or receipt of payment for such services.
In Nigeria, the number of people who do not have access to legal practitioners has been alarming. Several inmates of the various prisons across Nigeria do not have legal representation even though they have been granted such rights by providing section 36 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
In that light, the writer of this work has set to examine these problems in light of Nigeria’s technological advances.
1.1 REGULATORY FRAMEWORK FOR PRO BONO IN NIGERIA
There is no specific legislation that governs pro bono services in Nigeria directly. However, specific laws have referenced the need for lawyers to provide free legal services to the indigenes and Nigerians’ right to have legal representation in criminal matters. Some of these laws include;
1. Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999( as amended); Section 36(6)© provides, Every person who is charged with a criminal offense shall be entitled to defend himself in person or by a legal practitioner of his choice.
2. Nigerian Bar Association NBA Pro bono Declaration, 1st January 2009: states that: “Members of the NBA have a responsibility to provide pro bono legal services. This responsibility stems from the profession’s role and purpose in society and its implicit commitment to a fair and equitable legal system … provide, on a pro bono basis, more than 20 hours or three days of legal services per individual lawyer per annum, or in the case of law firms, institutions or other groups of lawyers, an average of more than 20 hours per lawyer per annum. This commitment should be met within three months of endorsing this Declaration”.
3. Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners, 2007: Rule 38 provides, “A lawyer assigned to defend an indigent prisoner shall not ask to be excused except for substantial reasons, but shall exert his best effort in defense of the accused.”
1.2 APPLICATION OF TECHNOLOGY TO PRO BONO
Pro bono participation makes an enormous difference in meeting the legal needs of low-income and vulnerable individuals, and many attorneys and other legal professionals can and do volunteer. But many lawyers are not sure how to get involved or whether they have the right skills to help people in need, or they face an everyday hurdle familiar to many of us: lack of time.
In recent years, society has witnessed a massive growth in the aspect of technology. Several Technological advances have been made in various parts of our community and the broader society. The Legal sector has also been affected by the massive growth in technology. Several legal technology (hereafter referred to as legal-tech) startups have emerged over the years. Countries like the United States of America have employed technology to solve the various problems associated with pro bono by harnessing technology. These innovation-empowered models assist with forthcoming interfacing volunteers with free chances, making new pathways to free cooperation through unbundled and distant help models, and giving new vital assets to help volunteers in their free work. As in private firms, intelligent utilization of innovation in the legitimate charitable area are likewise making new efficiencies that can bring about better lawful administrations to an expanded number of customers. And keeping in mind that there are as yet waiting for holes in innovation access and selection among specific customer networks, online methodologies joined with network organizations are assisting with expanding administrations to provincial and other underserved regions.
In Nigeria, one of the issues faced by most individuals is the inaccessibility of lawyers. Most individuals who require legal services in rural areas would need to travel to urban areas before accessing lawyers. Sometimes, the only need such clients have is simple legal advice regarding their day-to-day transactions.
Technology can help to expand the geographic reach of traditional, brick, and mortar pro bono programs. Regular “lawyer in the library” pro bono programs in most areas of the world, which required lawyers and clients’ physical presence, have expanded into remote services to connect volunteer attorneys concentrated in metropolitan corridors with community members in underserved areas. The scope of services varies in these models. Still, using lightweight, user-friendly video conferencing solutions such as Zoom, volunteers can answer questions, help fill out forms, and explain court processes and procedures. Libraries assist with local outreach and facilitating access to the technology used in the clinics.
With the help of technology, such gaps created by distance can be bridged through mobile applications and social media platforms. Legal tech startups such as Ligal aid have created platforms where lawyers can sign up to render pro bono services, and clients can access lawyers readily just by a click. Innovations like this would help bridge the gap between the average Nigerian and legal practitioners.
The development of applications that can provide legal access at scale but with controlled costs makes such endeavours appealing to law firms. These applications can help law firms meet their social responsibilities while also providing engaging work for law firm employees, increasing retention, and improving staff morale. For instance, in 2018, a Nigerian Law Firm S. P. A. Ajibade & Co, hosted a legal-tech hackathon. During this hackathon, the winning team proposed to build LemonAid, an app to match people awaiting trial behind bars with lawyers to represent them Pro bono. According to the team, the app was built to rely on a unique case matching algorithm, matching cases based on case tags, specifications, and experience that the lawyers fill in when signing up. With more innovations like this, the number of inmates awaiting trial without legal representation could be reduced to up to 60%.
With proper sponsorship, these innovations would help bridge the gap between the average Nigerian and legal practitioners. They could also serve as learning platforms for many Nigerians who are not aware of their fundamental rights as citizens.
1. Inadequate sponsorship; because legal-tech in Nigeria is an emerging sector, most investors are reluctant to invest their money into it, unlike other tech startups such as fintech and property tech.
2. The infrastructural breakdown in the country equally hinders the speedy growth of legal technology. Circumstances of months-lasting power outages make it impossible to access online documents and make use of the internet. Without a strong network, access to the internet is made almost impossible, which frustrates the use of the internet for legal services.
3. Erratic power supply with the country; research has shown that most rural communities are yet to have access to electricity.
4. Illiteracy; As was earlier stated, most Nigerians do not know their fundamental rights as enshrined in CAP 4 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
5. No regulatory framework governing Pro bono in Nigeria. No law compels lawyers to render pro bono services. No particular benchmark has been fixed for law firms within Nigeria regarding the number of pro bono services they should generate annually.
1. Law students are the lawyers of tomorrow. The more we can instil in them the idea of collaboration and the power of technology, the more we can improve everyone’s legal services.
2. Users of technology in the legal profession must be aware of the benefits of technology to them.
3. Investors should be encouraged to invest in legal tech to help promote innovations among lawyers that would help transform the justice system in Nigeria.
4. Lawyers should be encouraged to attend conferences and seminars regularly. These events will expose them to the latest developments in the legal profession through the use of technology.
5. Lawyers should be encouraged to organize training in different Nigerian languages for members of the community to educate them on how best they can use technology to access pro bono facilities.
6. There should be more legal-tech hackathons organized to encourage innovation and creative thinking geared towards promoting legal services and client satisfaction through technology.
7. There should be strict regulations prescribing benchmarks for the number of pro bono services rendered by lawyers within the country.
While not every innovation will succeed, technology is creating new opportunities to unlock, effectively support, and a much larger pool of volunteers than ever before. Some of these changes may be disruptive to traditional service models. Still, if harnessed well, we can make great strides in addressing one of our country’s fundamental dilemmas, which is closing the justice gap for the millions of low-income individuals in need of accessible and affordable legal assistance.
1. 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As Amended). 2. Rules of Professional Conduct For Legal Practitioners, 2007.
3. Nigerian Bar Association NBA Pro bono Declaration, 1st January 2009.
4. Philip Chindo v. Likita Dangana (2016) LPELR- 40177(CA) .
5. Neota Logic (2019): Technology-enabled pro bono initiatives are challenging the status quo in the public sector. https://www.neotalogic.com/2019/09/16/technology-enabled-pro-bono-initiatives-are-challenging-the-status-quo-in-the-public-sector/.
6. Carla Tardi (2020): What does Pro bono really mean? https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/08/pro-bono.asp#:~:text=Pro%2 0bono%20is%20short%20for,bono%20services%20to%20nonprofit%20org