ALSPs Expand the Market by Making Legal Practice More Efficient – Sadiq Okocha
Chuba Agbu of Legal Business sat down with Sadiq Okocha, CEO of JUDY, a leading Alternative Dispute Service Provider (ALSPs) in the country, to discuss the adoption of ALSPs, the nuances of navigating the African legal space and coexistence between ALSPs and traditional law firms. Here are excerpts…
Was your company name by any chance influenced by the late celebrity Judge, Judge Judy?
That’s a common misconception, but we don’t fight it. The name JUDY actually comes from “judicial”. You might ask why not Judi then? Two reasons: reason one – JUDY is easier to spell than JUDI; reason 2 – when we started the company, we did so with the intent to create an all-knowing legal assistant and the human name, JUDY, worked so well.
Could you give us a summary of the service you provide at JUDY and its strategic benefits?
JUDY is the comprehensive legal research solution built atop a growing database of African case law. Our solution currently consists of over 90,000 cases and legislative documents from Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya. Besides our superior search algorithm, one of our most popular features is the Subject Matter Index Tree. It allows users to search for cases starting with generic (high level) subject matter areas and to filter it down to increasingly more specific (low level) subject matter areas.
For instance, in the image above, Ugbene v. Ugbene has been classified under the following subject matter areas:
- Customary Law, then,
- Native Law and Custom, and finally,
- “Whether a custom that discriminates against female children in terms of inheritance is repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience”
Your focus is primarily on creating a database for case law, leveraging technology currently at your disposal, are there more areas of the ALSP space that you may expand into?
Yes. In fact, we’re currently looking for partnering law firms to fine tune our judge analytics technology in Ghana and Nigeria. Judge analytics is essentially using data in order to pinpoint the language and case citations likely to persuade a given judge to grant motions. Also, we’re undergoing our second fundraise in order to expand to the adjacent sector known as RegTech, or regulatory technology in order to assist companies operating in heavily regulated industries (finance, insurance, healthcare) with regulatory monitoring, reporting and compliance. According to Thomson Reuters, a typical financial services organization on average deals with 217 regulatory developments on a daily basis. Oftentimes, these regulatory developments are conflicting. In fact, the cost of non-compliance is on average 3 times more than compliance. For many companies this runs into millions of dollars.
There is a growing Increase interest in Alternative Legal Service Providers nationally. Do you see more interest from in-house corporate counsel departments or law firms?
We see more interest in law firms. Whereas in-house corporate counsel may sign up for just one subscription to JUDY, law firms tend to subscribe for 5 or more accounts.
The new survey on ALSPs released by Thomson Reuters says, ALSPs are less alternative and are becoming more commonplace. Have you found this to be true, particularly with your company?
I certainly think it’s becoming a more competitive market. There are many “traditional” publishers of law reports undergoing digitization and making the transition to online publishing. Over the years, we’ve seen a number of them pop up in Nigeria and Ghana. We’ve also seen a number of companies receive funding for practice management software which certainly means there’s demand/interest for ALSPs.
Do you think that in-house legal departments and law firms in Africa are starting to view ALSPs differently than they did in the past?
Yes, I do. The legal industry is traditionally very conservative, especially in Africa. What we’re seeing is the digital natives not only entering the workforce but ascending the corporate ladder and bringing this new, more efficient way of work with them.
The Nigerian legal profession and traditional law firms still largely view ALSPs as disruptive and fear that they will encroach on an already paltry market share. How can law firms and ALSPs work together to create mutual value?
ALSPs and law firms are not necessarily competitors. In fact, many ALSPs exist solely to serve these law firms; particularly those in the category of legal research, practice management and contract management. I would even argue that these ALSPs expand the market by making the legal practice more efficient. A more efficient legal practice means higher quality services offered to more clients. It’s a win-win.
Perhaps, the one category of ALSP which law firms might want to watch out for are the robo-lawyers. These types of services directly compete with lawyers on the more mundane tasks such as disputing parking tickets and generating run-of-the-mill legal documents such as NDAs. DoNotPay and LegalZoom are good examples of such companies. I don’t really see this as a problem for the legal profession. Solving these mundane tasks with technology means that lawyers can focus on the more complex, nuanced jobs which require human level intelligence.
There is no jurisdictional limitation with ALSP’s. Is there a fear that your foreign, more established counterparts could come into the market and bully local service providers, and is there any way to survive/prevent this?
Our mission at JUDY is to become the most comprehensive database of Common Law, starting with Africa. Currently, we’re in Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya. We’ve got our eyes set on South Africa next. We’re competent, capital efficient and were part of the 2020 Google Startups for Africa Accelerator, so our technology is great too. I think the foreign giants will find it more convenient to cooperate instead of competing, which would mean doing the same gruelling work over again, and trust me, it’s been a lot of work over the past few years. To answer your question in a general sense, I think one needs to make oneself sticky or indispensable. At JUDY, we’re doing that in a number of ways, particularly with our focus on the legal education subsector. Some of our key clients include the Ghana School of Law and the Law Students Association of Nigeria (LAWSAN). We’ve managed to get to lawyers of tomorrow hooked on JUDY today.