Author : Himanshu Gupta
Law and Technology can be great partners when used wisely and interchangeably in seeking and delivering legal services. Considering the current situation of the health crisis due to COVID19 pandemic and its side effects, which we all are going through, would have been unmanageable if there was even slightest hesitation to make all possible utilisation of the technology. It has played a very crucial role and is empowering people to spread awareness and information in a well-timely manner even to the ones living in the interiors and remotest places.
As per the WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus,
“this virus of Corona is the enemy of the public, the aim of virus is to infect, the government should focus on implementing public health principles, there is only one way this pandemic will go, it will go worse and worse but to break this chain and bring end to collective pain, is not to follow shortcut but use tools to save life’s and reach sustainable situations and prevent detrimental impact on societies..”
The COVID19 has cast a harsh light on how the legal Industry is running with the outdated way of delivering legal services and justice. The legal professionals, especially those who are independently practising or are young legal professionals, are subject to an un-measurable amount of stress due to the additional hardships created by this virus. And, these hardships or crises are of such a nature that are not limited only to financial exigencies but at the same time are affecting and impacting the sociological and psychological behaviours and attitudes of them and their families. Unfortunately, these problems are not only limited to lawyers but even applicable to the citizens or people to a certain extent. For instance, there may be multiple people who are in need of legal assistance but are not able to reach and find a right lawyer for themselves as per their need and requirement due to the additional challenge of following the social-physical distancing due to COVID19. All this is when our Country’s approach is positively taking a shift towards digitalisation by under-going a campaign of transformation upon it.
The question must be asked to ourselves in whatever capacity, we are in or at - Is there really nothing we can do about it? The reported situations in news stating lawyers committing suicides due to lack of work or no work reflects a lot about the weakening of one of the pillars of this profession i.e. NOBILITY. The Bar Council is forced to plea for granting loans to these lawyers and a certain State Bar Council has even asked lawyers to take up other work during these times. Not challenging the good intentions behind these initiatives, but will granting loans or providing funds act as a permanent solution? How will they repay these loans, if they are unable to earn their income?
The Road ahead is rough and the roadmap to deal and handle this situation is suggested by Dr. Tedros (WHO) considering there will be no return to the odd normal to the foreseeable future must be:
“Focus on reducing morality and surpassing transmission; an empowered, engaged community that takes individual behaviours measures in the interest of each other; we need strong government leadership and comprehensive strategies that are communicated clearly and consistently. And, no matter where a country is in its epidemic curve, it is never too late to take decisive actions.”
If we, with genuine intentions, ponder upon to what Mr. Tedros has reportedly said, we all will agree that we are witnessing turbulent times, which must act as an alarm clock to encourage us more to work in taking preventive & protective steps so as to improvise the workings in our profession by introducing technological advancement in the more conducive and user-friendly manner, of course in compliance with the spirits of the welfare of the state to cater the needs of the society due to the change introduced by this pandemic. The Judiciary has adopted the technology with open arms and is working in furtherance to it, acceptance to transformation is commendable. The Courts are discoverable, accessible, reachable and available in the virtual platforms to the people and citizens of the nation from anywhere by following the due-procedure of-course.
In the spheres of Advocacy, the problem of discoverability and reach is anyway revolving around, of which many lawyers are witness of and even clients are subjected to difficulties in, identifying & reaching to a relevant legal professional as per their requirements. It is not something that can be resolved, the Bar Council of India must take this matter into its own hands and it must come up with an effective tech-savvy solution within the ambit of laws even if it requires a certain amend in it or it must allow lawyers to make efficient use of the legal-tech platforms in a manner that they can be made available & accessible and are in the reach of their potential clients (people who are looking for legal remedy) and vice-versa or it must let legal-tech start-ups come in active- play to support and facilitate lawyers and clients discoverability putting end to the consistent pain. There are already sufficient rules and laws to keep and monitor the professional practices, that can be with little flexibility and amend include the online-behaviours as well if that can be an issue at all.
The Bar Council of India has all the capacity to dilute its one of the rule i.e. 36 that speaks on the prohibition on advocate soliciting their work or advertising it, either directly or indirectly as it is empowered by the section 49 of the Advocates Act, 1961 for protecting the interest of legal profession that may help in maintaining the balance of this profession which is subject to turbulence due to factors stated above. Even though it has reflected its approach and positive attitude by diluting its Rule 36 (BCI), where advocates are allowed to furnish their information on the website in alignment with the Schedule issued by it which can be name, contact details, enrolment number, enrolment date, name of the bar council, areas of practices etc. This amendment is enabling the legal professionals to make them accessible and reachable to the people who are in need and are seeking legal recourse and resolutions on the online platforms. And, this listing of the interested lawyers with their allowed information on display may not amount to advertising and solicitation of their work because the whole agenda of making them discoverable online is to make sure that people which are in the remotest of the corner and in need of legal support are able to find and reach to their selected lawyer from the information made available online as per the permissible limits of the Schedule issued by the BCI.
The legal profession is believed to be one of the noblest professions and this nobility is somewhere deeply inter-dependent with the safeguarding rights & privileges of Advocates. The Nobleness of this profession is due to the faith that people have in this profession and this faith finds its place upon the shoulders of the lawyers enabling them to serve the society at large with all sincerity and integrity by serving the ones who are in need of. Where the factor of money is not the primary calling but the serving is, and this not at all means that they need not deserve to receive their payments or fees for their services.
Presently, It is very disheartening and demotivating to see that professionals who fight for the violations of the rights of the people are under-going through a phase where they have to seek and plead before concern authorities and the Hon’ble Courts for their existence and protection of interest in this professions despite the collective contributions made by them till date. Many Bar Council’s like those of Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala etc., have come up in support of lawyers acknowledging the fact there may be lawyers who are working independently be facing financial challenges due to the closure or partial functioning of the court or there is no work or less work whatsoever,
All this is happening, when the virtual presence of the lawyers on the websites is already permissible by the Bar Council of India, the lawyers have to themselves plan and take initiatives to allow themselves to be discoverable and accessible to anyone especially the needy who is in the search of legal resolutions, by being within the permissible limits allowed by the BCI to make the best use of it and get themselves out from this deadlock. Recently, the BCI has moved the Hon’ble SC for not just seeking financial assistance & but for the disbursal of soft loans to the needy lawyers and brought the court's attention towards the existence of inequality in the funding schemes policies by a petition Adv Pawan Prakash Pathak to which the Hon’ble Court has said, it is something for the BCI to consider.
Why not? Let promote maintaining and developing human relations with the means of virtual relations, which is fast, easy, less costly, saves time, and is effective. Where before starting to promote this, we have to only primarily understand the basic concept of advertising and solicitation to make this discovery feature functional, accessible to lawyers and people in need of legal help so as to solve the larger problem of our country which is accessibility and finding a lawyer. If we are able to hit on this, we will be able to solve the problems of young lawyers or independently practising lawyers who may face or facing challenges in getting work or their potential clients or building a base for a client. Technology is a great tool, if used in a constructive and in a wise manner.
The questions which we all should give thoughts to, Are we really that naïve and vulnerable where we cannot let technology let grow and ease our burdens? Are we in fear of wanting to govern by age-old tendencies where a piece of word from the familiar person lets the connection happen between the lawyer and client? Why are we not letting our people have access to the basic information (already permitted by amendment under rule 36 of BCI) of the lawyers which can enable and assist them in taking the meaningful decisions to reach & appoint lawyers? Why cannot we let this field of profession bloom in nexus with technology? What’s stopping the innovation due to legal-tech - the existing laws, which may be micro-managing the conduct & behaviours of the Advocates, OR something else?
With technology, Lawyers can be made easily searchable, contactable on the virtual platforms so that a person in need of legal help can quickly start on its journey to seek justice and receive legal remedies and support. It will also provide a huge relief to the practitioners who are in complains of, work crisis, financial crisis and all other crises that are bound to follow because of it.
Our country’s population is increasing day by day, and so its demands and to disseminate the proper awareness and knowledge we have to come up with advanced and legitimate solutions, even if it needs a change in our traditional approaches and perspectives. The COVID19 has forced us to adopt and implement new technology in ways which we weren’t initially willing to do and the outcome is beneficial to all. Why not use it in a more beneficial way?
Author : Himanshu Gupta