The last decade witnessed the revolution of all aspects of human endeavour with computers and information technology changing the way human transactions are carried out. Information technology (IT) is now used in daily commercial transactions like conclusion of contract; and for other technical purposes in fields such as law and medicine. The use of IT has caught on rapidly with the introduction of the Internet. This new technology inevitably raises a number of questions ranging from the legal to the ethical to the practical.
There exists a hot discourse the world over whether there should be a field of Law called IT Law. Nigeria would have been qualified to partake in the argument but the stark truth is that we still run what is better known as the Ostrich approach to law practice whereby legal practitioners bury their heads in the quicksand of Conservatism and Tradition. A very large percentage of our lawyers are not tech-savvy and thus we find the huge wheel of legal practice still clogged by old methods of practice.
The battle now is to get these behind-the-times practitioners to see the relevance of IT to their practice and it is only after this battle is won that there can be a talk of having IT Law as a field. Thus, IT law is not only an unexplored area in Nigeria; it is to a very large extent, not as appreciated as it is in other regions.
The effect on our national practice is that this field of law still retains an international flavour and legal practitioners who dare to delve into it are regarded with a lot of cynicism by their more conservative peers. They are also confronted with a myriad of problems some of which are identified in this essay.
One major problem the IT law practitioner will definitely face is how to improvise and innovate in the area of judicial precedents as there is a dearth of decided court cases, statutes and literature on the subject and we all know that these are the basic tools of any lawyer, especially those in the field of litigation. It is a fact that needs no argument that 80 percent of our lawyers are involved in litigation in one way or the other. If that is the case, then 80 percent of the practice already considers IT Law Practice a no-no. The solution to this is to adopt the method through which our national laws were developed-reliance on foreign law/ decisions from regions where the practice thrives or is, at least, at the incubation stage.
Another problem the IT Law practitioner will face is that of having to come to grasp with IT mumbo-jumbo-as If legalese is not enough. He has to understand concepts of e-commerce, mining of databases, system integration, cyber crime, protection of computer software, access and control of digital information, internet access and usage etc. If he does not want to get lost in the technical world of IT, he needs to have a passing knowledge of concepts such as global marketing rights, publication rights, recognition of ownership, joint use, regulation of future development etc.
He has to be able to draw up streamlined agreements such as Website Design Agreements, Software Development Agreement, Support, Maintenance and Outsourcing of IT Services Agreement, Internet Marketing Agreement, Systems Integration Agreement, ISP Agreement etc.
The good thing about this is that coming up with the first format of any of these agreements is not so difficult. There are a million and one sites that offer templates of various agreements-some for free and others for a token. All you have to do after obtaining a template is just copy, edit and paste- which is what we lawyers do everyday anyway, though not without considerable skill.
To be continued…
By Seun Idowu