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A Case For Legal Innovations

26/03/2015 8:14 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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"Mixing one's wines may be a mistake, but old and new wisdom mix admirably." ~ Bertolt Brecht

I recently heard a very interesting anecdote. Imagine a person from the 19th century descending on the world on this very day. Imagine how she will feel about the state of our society! She might be shell shocked at the amount of changes the society has gone through since 1900s and how technology has created a humongous revolution in human lives! After a long day of going from one cultural shock to another, she will then enter a court room. Oh what a relief - finally, somewhere in the world, the things will be exactly as she saw them in the era of 1900s!

This may sound funny but unfortunately, this is the sad reality of the world today. Last few decades have brought momentous transformations in the human civilization: the way we communicate, the way we live and how we conduct our business - in fact, even our thinking patterns - everything has undergone massive shifts. However, very little has changed in the way we conduct our legal affairs. The legal language still has the Latin phrases which most people hardly understand, the legal community still observes age-old customs and formalities (for example, to get the license to practice in England, one of the requirements is to eat a certain number of formal dinners) and in some parts of the world the judges still wear the wigs!!

In India, for instance, the courts observe long summer vacations as per the norms of the British colonial rule, the lawyers wear the gowns, the purpose of which appeals little to the rationality and even some of our laws are still the ones which applied to the society of 1800s!

"There is a strong requirement for simplifying laws that affect us and how we make use of them."

From last I remember, the laws are supposed to be for the people and their essential purpose is to set norms and bring order to make our lives better. From last I remember, the laws have to constantly evolve and adjust to the changing structure of the society and its people. Sadly, we have created a situation where, no-one other than a bunch of judges and a handful of lawyers are able to understand and derive any meaning from these laws. The legal language is far removed from the language we use in our daily lives. And ironically, in the age where people prefer to communicate in 140 characters or less, our laws are so verbose that they can be accommodated only in extremely thick books which have intimidated law students since generations. People throughout geographies increasingly have access to technology - to internet and mobile phones - but ironically they do not have easy access to justice.

We live in a fast changing world which is largely online and getting online - a world where everything starting from our banking to our travel itinerary to our shopping happens online. We are instantly able to access information pertaining to most aspects of our lives and are able to avail many services merely on a click of the button. Our food choices to admission into universities to finding our dream jobs to even choosing our life partners are events and choices that take place online. We trust most of these choices and navigate our lives through them. Interestingly, however, when it comes to legal services, suddenly the same ease of operation does not seem to apply any more. We are still made to believe that legal services are services that people will trust only when provided by a familiar lawyer or when a face-to-face meeting takes place.

"People throughout geographies increasingly have access to technology - to internet and mobile phones - but ironically they do not have easy access to justice. "

In my opinion, barring a few complex legal transactions, there is a strong case to be made for making an online easy access for laws that are necessary for our day-to-day functioning. Our lives are crying out loud for making our legal system easily understandable for citizens and having better awareness about ways in which we can avoid getting into disputes. There is a strong requirement for simplifying laws that affect us and how we make use of them. Using technology in the way we deliver justice and spread legal information will make lives of millions of people easier, more comfortable and will save unimaginable number of man hours.

The legal systems today are ripe for disruption - for fundamental alterations in the way we understand laws and their impact in our lives. New innovations in the legal arena are taking place only in a handful of countries but there is a need for innovations in the legal processes across geographies.

This will have to be done with care. While we need to preserve the centuries old legal heritage and the nuances acquired over ages, the system and our laws will still have to be made relevant and effective for our lives today. This will have to be done in such a way that when our friend from 19th century might find the legal systems fascinatingly different next time she decides to visit us; even in 2100s, our next generation would be able to sense the creatively cultivated sense of legal legacy - just like the inherent essence of human nature.

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