Rise of the tech lawyer as revolution gathers pace


Technology lawyers are riding on emerging legal, policy, and regulatory frameworks to expand their legal practice. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

The acceleration of technological advancements has caused massive disruptions, rendering some jobs redundant and creating others as the fourth revolution gathers pace.

Among the new crop of professionals that are embracing opportunities in this space are technology lawyers who are riding on emerging legal, policy, and regulatory frameworks to expand their legal practice.

Who is a technology lawyer?

Founder and managing partner at India-based Orbit Law firm Tina Fernandez explains that a legal practitioner specialises in technology law by building a profound understanding of the digital world, its benefits as well as its risks.

Technology law, he says, entails transactional and advisory work for companies exploring the use of digital solutions, including providing guidance on aspects such as software licensing agreements, hosting agreements, telecoms contracts, compliance and data protection.

“A technology lawyer is a lawyer who has a deep understanding of legal and technological concepts, and more importantly the ability to connect both fields,” states Fernandez.

In the coming days, lawyers are poised to work closely with technical staff in companies such as developers to ensure that, for instance, apps are designed ethically with privacy at the forefront, rather than as an afterthought.

According to Fernandez, those who will be guaranteed survival in the space are the ones who are tech-savvy, open-minded and able to navigate the changing waves of legal transformation.

In Kenya, practitioners in the field opine that as technology grows and more openings come to life for companies, there arises the need for corporate legal departments to be equipped to thoroughly assess emerging risks, reduce threats, capitalise on opportunities as well as improve relationships with customers and partners.

Emerging areas

For the attorneys, some of the areas of focus include data privacy, intellectual property, digital financial services, cyber security and regulatory compliance for tech startups.

“The accelerated tech revolution in Kenya has ushered in notable opportunities for lawyers. One emerging area is in digital financial services where legal services are critical in ensuring compliance with regulatory directives,” says tech lawyer Silas Owiti.

“To tap into these opportunities, lawyers need to stay updated on tech trends and sector regulations. Building a network in the tech industry and collaborating with tech experts can also help lawyers understand the nuances of these emerging fields,” he observes.

Tech-related disputes

Practising technology advocate Robert Muoka says that cases involving patent, copyright and trademark infringements are the most common in the country, closely trailed by data privacy and breach incidents that rank slightly ahead of cyber security.

“Cases involving patent, copyright, and trademark infringement are the most common. These can range from disputes over software patents to copyright infringement in digital content like music, movies, and software,” notes Muoka.

“Also, with the increasing focus on data privacy regulations like the Data Protection Act 2019, lawsuits related to data breaches, mishandling of personal information, and privacy violations are on the rise,” he adds.

Litigation matters observed in the space include breach of software development contracts, domain name disputes, rows relating to ownership of intellectual property developed by company employees, false advertising claims, unauthorised use of copyrighted materials by digital media outlets, violation of free speech rights on social media platforms and issues around liability of artificial intelligence (AI) systems.

Tightening tech regulations

The experts observe that regulating a rapidly evolving industry such as the tech space is a complex challenge that calls for flexibility, collaboration and a deep understanding of the sector.

“The goal should be to strike a balance that promotes technological advancement while safeguarding the rights and interests of individuals and society as a whole,” says Mr Muoka.

He notes that by extensively involving industry experts and other stakeholders in the regulatory process, authorities would arrive at more informed decisions that take care of the technical aspects as well as foresee the potential impacts of the policy moves.

Multisector collaboration

His sentiments are echoed by Mr Owiti who says that for effective regulation, it is essential to strike a balance between innovation and safeguarding the interests of users and businesses.

“Collaboration between government bodies, legal experts and tech stakeholders is key. Regulations should be flexible enough to adapt to the fast pace of tech and enforcement mechanisms should be robust,” states Owiti.

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