Plain language law, problematising the justice crisis: Issue 9
Takeaways from CJI Ramana and PM Modi's speeches, a video library of legal tech content, and observations on legal education reforms.
Welcome back to another issue of the Legal Tech Digest.
In this issue
Legal education reforms, BCI’s proposals: Are more exams the solution?
Building a judicial system for 2047: Notes from PM Modi and CJI Ramana’s recent speeches at a high-level conference
Increasing adoption of ODR and digital services
A new video library of legal tech content 🎉
Using legal tech to solve the last mile problem
The standardisation movement in law and its growing popularity
Let’s jump in.
Legal education reform: Are more exams the solution?
In a story previously reported here, the Supreme Court had asked the Bar Council to suggest ways to improve the quality of legal education and to help young lawyers get placed as apprentice lawyers in the legal market.
While reporting, I had also given my apprehensions about important policy questions and definitional issues (such as who is a lawyer, what kind of qualification is appropriate for one to become a lawyer, and how should legal education be updated for the modern world) that are being left out of consideration, and that the issues are being decided 1) without an appreciation of the marketplace reality of legal services today and 2) in the absence of stakeholders from different segments of the industry (law schools, practising lawyers, policy analysts, students, etc.)
In response to the Court’s directions, specifically on how young lawyers should get placements in chambers of senior lawyers, the Bar Council has now proposed the introduction of more examinations as a possible solution. An ‘online legal aptitude test’ has been proposed that would allow the successful candidates to get placed as apprentice lawyers under senior advocates or those with 25 years of standing at the bar.
(There are other issues in this matter but not relevant to this discussion).
These suggestions of introducing more examinations as a solution, in my opinion, seem to be myopic and concerning. It shouldn’t be surprising that this is the best the BCI could come up with. In India, especially in legal education, there has been a long-held tendency to introduce more examinations and testing as a solution to a heterogeneous umbrella of all legal education + training problems.
Some context may help. In view of the changing nature of legal services, both public and private institutions worldwide are showing an opposite tendency. NLIU Bhopal, for instance, recently announced that it is trimming 14 subjects out of 74 to allow students breathing room to be able to focus on the minimum number of compulsory courses required to graduate.
In a similar vein, The American Bar Association has officially recommended eliminating standardised testing as a requirement to enter law school.
And in an interesting example that caught my attention, undergraduate law students of Swinburne Law School in the UK built a legal intake triaging tool using Microsoft Power Automate and Microsoft Forms to eliminate manual processes in a particular workflow, which helps them now automate the process of getting responses via a form, auto-populating a spreadsheet, send automated emails, and automated reports/documents.
There are a host of examples from all around the world showing a positive trend towards reforming legal education in a manner that creates a balanced and holistic approach to the practice of law: by integrating propositional learning with participatory learning, by integrating the language of teaching with the language of training, and by taking an interdisciplinary approach to modern legal education.
At the heart of the issue is the misdiagnosis that all education/training problems stem from a lack of propositional knowledge. Couple that with the fact that law schools are already overburdened with the mandatory number of courses from the BCI and find it impossible to introduce new modules relevant to the industry; these suggestions in my view are only going to aggravate the problem.
Anyway, this is only one person’s perspective. I would welcome more views and dialogue (please leave a comment).
Problematising the justice crisis: Notes from CJI’s speech
Last month, a conference called the ‘Joint Conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices’ took place, which I keenly listened to and took away some key insights from.
There were two speeches of significance, the first by CJI Ramana (on whose insistence the event was organised) and the second by PM Narendra Modi.
The CJI had a lot of concerns and anxieties to share and wasted no time in getting to them. The chief concern highlighted by the CJI was that the problems with judicial delay are not the judiciary’s problems alone, but are also a product of dysfunctional ways of working by the Executive and the Legislature. To quote the CJI:
If a Tehsildar acts upon a grievance of a farmer regarding land survey or a ration card of a farmer, they would not think of approaching the court. If a municipal authority or a gram panchayat discharge its duty properly, the citizens need not look to courts. If revenue authorities acquire land [in accordance with] due process of law, the courts would not be burdened by land disputes.…These cases amount to 66% of pendency. It is beyond my understanding as to why inter-departmental disputes of the governments or fights between public sector undertakings and the governments end up in courts.…If service laws are applied fairly in matters of seniority pension, no employee will be compelled to go to courts. If police investigates fairly, if illegal arrests and custodial torture come to an end, then no victim will have to approach the courts.The decisions of the court are not implemented by governments for years together. The resultant contempt petitions are a new category of burden on the courts which is direct result of defiance by governments. The judiciary is also confronted with the issues of the executive willingly transferring the burden of decision making to it. Although policy making is not our domain, but if a citizen comes to the court with a prayer to address his grievance, the courts cannot say no.
While some may criticise the speech as sounding like a rant, it is an invitation for all of us to appreciate that the true scale of the problem of judicial delay is a much larger and nuanced problem with a lot of moving pieces. To that extent, speeches such as these are significant because they help in problematising the crisis.
In order to solve the problem of pendency of cases, for instance, both the demand and supply sides of cases must be managed. Even if we reach the hypothetical scenario of fully-filled judicial positions and a perfect judge-to-population ratio, it will not be effective unless there is a simultaneous focus on taming the influx of avoidable litigation into the judicial system.
The CJI raised similar concerns with respect to the legislative branch, saying that ambiguities in legislation also add to the problem, and that when the law gets passed with clarity of thought, foresight, and people’s welfare in mind, the scope of litigation gets minimised.
Democratising the law: Making laws available in plain language
Moving to the Prime Minister’s speech, perhaps the most important point made was that many countries in the world now have a practice of publishing the law in common, plain language that common people can understand — that the practice of passing versions of the same law (one in legal terminology and another in plain language) is now becoming a standard practice.
He insisted that in India too this practice must be adopted, since ‘as long as a citizen does not understand the meaning of the law, there is no difference between the law of the country and the state’s orders’ (translated).
It appears that PM has constituted a Central Level Committee to translate the country’s laws into a common language.
(I’ll try to report on further developments in the future, as I learn them. If you have further insights into this initiative or know someone who may, I would appreciate an introduction).
There were also other points made in the speech, all threaded with a common essence that the role of technology is indispensable in reforming the judicial system.
I have re-uploaded Prime Minister’s speech in a video (embedded below) if you’d like to give it a listen.
The view from above: Growing market for legal transcription
A recent study values the global legal transcription market at $21.06 billion, projecting it to grow at a CAGR of 6.5% over the next 7 years.
According to previous data from different studies, Asia-Pacific makes up almost 50% of the global revenue in legal transcription, with China and India continuing to be preferred destinations for outsourcing transcription services.
Transcription is an important part of the legal services industry, with wide applications in the judiciary, law practice, in-house, and government. Legal proceedings require very accurate transcripts, which until recently have been entirely dependent on human translation and steno services. Recent advancements in computational linguistics / speech-to-text have made innovation possible in both software and services, resulting in reduced dependency on support staff, lower costs, and faster turnaround.
It is noteworthy that legal transcription makes up almost 1/3rd of the larger business transcription market.
Increasing adoption in ODR
We are seeing more industry developments pushing towards the adoption of Online Dispute Resolution in mainstream legal services.
The National Payment Corporation of India, for instance, has recently asked Payment System Operations and Providers to mandatorily implement ODR systems for failed transactions before 30 September 2022.
In the startup world, Bangalore-based ODR startup CORD (Centre for Online Resolution of Disputes) has reportedly partnered with Vakilsearch to extend ODR services for a wide spectrum of disputes with varying degrees of complexity (h/t Agami). Mumbai-based Presolv360 recently raised ~8.5 crores from Omidyar India and MGA Ventures.
Since the pandemic outbreak, Online Dispute Resolution adoption has seen a dramatic rise worldwide. As per data from Remote Courts Worldwide, remote hearings are now being conducted in 168 countries worldwide.
Using legal tech to solve the last mile problem: How Legal tech is helping Ukrainian refugees
Amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, thousands of Ukrainians are applying for the 'temporary resident' status in the USA. Considering the tediousness of the application required to be submitted (which requires submission in 300+ fields), a legal tech company called SixFifty responded to the need for legal assistance by developing an application in a matter of weeks to automate the application process.
The application is available in both English and Ukrainian. Along with the TPS application, the asylum application has also been automated.
SixFifty claims that lawyers can fill out the firms five times faster than without using automation, and that individuals without lawyers can use the tool on their own.
This is a good example of how legal tech can be used to provide citizen services, not just by framing new rules and policies but also by helping them avail the services. In other words, till recently we have not had a mechanism to provide citizen services till the last mile. Legal technology has wide applications in this critical area.
The legal standardisation movement is going mainstream
In August 2021, oneNDA became the world's first industry-led Non Disclosure Agreement. This was an important milestone in the movement toward standardisation of contracts, which saw collaboration from renowned law firms (Allen & Overy, Ashurst, Freshfields, Linklaters) and in-house counsel (Airbus, Barclays, PwC, etc.). According to the data provided by oneNDA, the standard NDA has been adopted by ~600 global companies since its launch.
Claustack, the company behind oneNDA, has now announced the launch of another global standard contract for Data Processing Agreements (DPA).
This development can be seen as a part of a larger movement towards establishing legal data standards (the same way that the financial industry has ISO and FIBO). The growing popularity and adoption of SALI standards, for instance, is enabling advanced intelligence through analytics and interoperability of legal data across the ecosystem.
To understand more about legal standards, especially SALI, I recommend reading this explainer: Standardizing Legal Data to Extract Insights.
🎉 Video library of legal tech content
If you have been interested in the field of legal tech and related subjects but did not know where to begin, I have uploaded a library of 240+ videos on the website. You can use this as a starting point in your journey irrespective of what specific subjects you are interested in (or what segment of the legal market you are from).
The videos are all from YouTube, and have been curated from my YouTube watch history and playlists. The videos have been tagged with relevant subjects and topics (so that filtering is easy). They cover a variety of topics such as legal market economics, ALSPs, law firm economics, business models, practice management, courtroom technology, product development, product and service design, roadmapping, frameworks and models, legal industry outlook, interviews, and more.
(All videos are attributed with a backlink to the original video)
Also, when you use the search feature, it will display videos after searching through the titles, descriptions, tags, and publishers. In some cases, it will also search inside the content of the video (I’m working on this, and it will take me some time to complete all the videos).
If you also have a collection or playlist of videos, or if you are a creator yourself and have a YouTube channel on similar themes, please send me the links. I will upload them to the library. You can leave a comment or respond to this email.
Law as a service for all, TED talk by Olga Mack
Lastly, I’d like to leave you with a content recommendation. I have watched this recent TED talk multiple times, and it’s a good reminder that the plaguing law and justice system is not just an Indian phenomenon but a global concern.
Olga Mack cites studies showing alarming findings of how the law has become invisible to all of us (including lawyers), how we have become apathetic to this dysfunctional state of affairs, and why it should be our collective imperative to revive the place of law in our society.
Check it out (video embedded below). Or watch it on YouTube here.
That’s all for this issue! Thank you for reading.