One of the new entrants into the innovative legal tech startup ecosystem that aims to revolutionise the way law is practiced in Nigeria is Bibian Urum Legal (BUL). The startup is well positioned to address a lot of cross-cutting issues by providing top notch legal advice and services using online and offline solutions. As legal technology reshapes law practices through systems such as online case management systems, e-filing, e-discovery, regulatory technology, and many more, the need for legal firms with the skills-set to provide services individuals and businesses can leverage on becomes imperative. In this interview with Kelechi Deca, the founder of BUL, Bibian Urum, highlights the extent her organization has deployed the intersection between technology and law to proffer solutions to clients’ needs. Excerpts:
Can you tell us about Bibian Urum Legal?
Bibian Urum Legal (BUL) is a wholly digital law firm established in July 2020, in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. What makes BUL unique is the way it leverages technology as a law firm to provide innovative legal solutions to its array of clients. Our ability to combine local knowledge with sector competence and international exposure put us at a vantage position to identify the needs of our clients and exceed their expectations. Our proficiency cuts across three diverse Practice Areas: Corporate Law Practice, Litigation and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), as well as Conveyancing and Real Estate. We pride ourselves as providers of unrivalled innovative legal solutions to our array of clients, with a major focus on MSMEs.
What inspired the establishment of your law firm?
Renowned novelist, the late Prof. Chinua Achebe, says: “If you don’t like my story, write your own.”Prior to setting up BUL, I had worked in a service law firm in Abuja and Lagos where I gained experience in litigation and corporate commercial practice. However, I have always had the vision of setting up a technology-driven law firm headed by young lawyers like myself who desire an innovative and value-driven workplace. I was barely three years at the Bar when I took that deep dive that birthed BUL, although I was doubtful of sustaining the business beyond the first year.
However, my vision spurred me to give it my best and, currently, we have successfully operated for over a year despite the challenges so far. Within this first year, we have worked with a number of young lawyers in various capacities and we are planning to further expand our capacity.
Your vision is to become a topmost Nigerian law firm, leveraging technology to serve clients across various industries globally. How would you describe the journey so far?
It has been a rewarding experience. Technically, we have fared very well, using social media platforms to drive visibility and business development, as well as other tools to provide services. About 90% of our clients so far are linked through social media, particularly Facebook. We have also been able to leverage tech platforms such as Zoom, Google-Meet and WhatsApp to hold meetings and engage with prospective clients.
With respect to our client strength, we have done well in the last one year and there are plans to further expand our clientele base given our value-adding services. Our clients are not only spread across Nigeria but also in other African countries, and even beyond the continent, with some of them in Canada, the UK and the US. We also have as part of our clients, individuals and corporate bodies in tech, finance, construction, agriculture, fashion, among other industries. We interface with them seamlessly and also provide them with stellar services.
Interestingly too, our firm’s portfolio has grown tremendously. In one year, BUL registered over 30 businesses and not-for-profit organisations, advised on various equity financing transactions worth several millions of dollars one of which is the Kuda Bank. Also, we have offered advice on various property transactions worth hundreds of millions of naira. We have given countless legal opinions and represented a number of clients in court and other dispute resolution tribunals.
How best can technology be deployed to deliver legal services effectively and efficiently?
We are in the knowledge economy where data is key, with data comes technology and going forward, very few sectors will be able to thrive without technology. No matter how traditional the legal sector appears, there will always be a middle ground where law and technology meet for coffee. We understand this and have built an unconventional law firm for now and the future.
The COVID-19 experience of last year has shown without doubt that law can be practiced from the comfort of our homes while using tech tools and platforms. Court sessions, arbitral and mediation sessions, client briefing and every other meeting can be held via Skype, Zoom or Google-Meet just as we can save cost and time by using eco-friendly options such as sending letters and court processes via electronic means instead of typing, printing on paper, spiral-costs by binding and sending them via courier services.
We can also have work comfortably, productively and remotely done from anywhere in the world. Even where some law firms opt out of fully digitalized operations, some form of hybrid approach should be encouraged in line with the trend in other parts of the world. With technology, everybody wins; the environment, the law firm, the clients and the lawyers.
Being a tech-driven law firm, how has the interconnectedness of technology helped to provide innovative solutions to your client’s legal problems?
With over 3.2 billion internet users, the significant cost reductions, broadened market exposure and opportunities provided by technology, BUL has in no small way keyed into the benefits to serve its clients. Technology has made the world a fully integrated and interconnected society; hence BUL has positioned itself as the go-to firm for the present and the future. As a result, we have been able to improve on quality, speed and accessibility of services, while minimizing workplace inefficiencies and operational costs by integrating technology into our work practices and processes to provide innovative solutions to clients.
Can you explain the drive behind your core values of Professionalism, Excellence, Equality and Respect for Diversity which you refer to as PEER?
Our core values represent who we are and what we stand for. Professionalism and excellence are forward-facing and client-oriented. They are evident in our relationship with clients and the quality of services delivered. Every client is treated like a member of the Firm and with utmost professionalism from the first phone call to the end of the transaction. We also deliver excellent services based on our deep understanding of the practical areas we operate in and our drive to stand out in a sea of legal service providers. Equality and respect for diversity are our core values. They are the driving force behind our success as a team. Every lawyer that has worked with the Firm is treated as an equal partner and we also respect and appreciate differences in ethnicity, gender, age, physical abilities, sexual orientation, education and religion among individuals.
Evidently, more women lack access to legal representations either due to costs, cultural impediments or effects of marriage, how best can this be tackled, and do you offer any women-focused legal services?
Comparatively, access to the required legal representation and ultimately justice for women is hindered due to social and institutional barriers including gender discrimination, social stigmas, lack of knowledge of their rights, as well as economic and educational disadvantages. To address this, the United Nations suggests, and I agree that there is a need for enhanced women’s access to justice from the local to the national levels by ensuring greater participation of women in the justice sector, innovative institutional reforms, an engagement with informal justice and a focus on establishing women’s rights bodies at all levels. As part of its corporate social responsibility, BUL manages an organization, Women for Girls Initiative (WFGi) that enlightens women and girls on several issues including their fundamental rights. We hope to roll out programmes in the nearest future that will provide pro-bono legal services for women in underserved areas.