BY District Focus
About Shs376.9 billion of the 2021/2022 National Budget has been allocated to the Judiciary. Out of this, Shs18.2 billion has been earmarked for implementing the Electronic Court Case Management Information System and the Prosecution Case Management Information System.
These deliberate efforts to integrate the use of Information Communication Technology (ICT) in the delivery of justice indicates the government is embracing the digitalization to improve efficiency in the management of legal processes and avoid case backlogs
In Uganda, many startups seek legal services only when they are caught between a rock and a hard place. This is due to a myriad of reasons including but not limited to expensive legal fees and limited access to information that would otherwise enable startups to remain on the right side of the law.
For over three years, Bernadette Nalika had been running a menstrual health startup without proper registration. In efforts to formalize her business, she opted to it registered at Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB), in which he failed to due copyright issues and sought the help of The Innovation Village’s Legal Tech Lab that placed her in the able hands of Daraja Law, a firm that is experienced in dealing with issues like Nalika’s.
It is avoidable situations like these that inspired the establishment of the Legal Tech Lab. The Lab aims to help startups, if not prevent, then solve legal challenges such as these.
Hellen Mukasa, a lawyer well-seasoned by eight years spent serving the legal needs of the corporate world sits at the centre of this Lab. She began her career as a lawyer dealing with high-end clients in the business world who sought legal services. The expenses incurred in acquiring legal services, the lack of knowledge about laws governing businesses makes startups prone to having legal problems that result in hefty legal sums. At that point, it became Mukasa’s mission to make legal information accessible to young businesses.
According to Miss Mukasa, “With leadership comes great responsibility and The Innovation Village leads in the innovation space. For that reason, it is incumbent on it to participate in advocacy for a supportive regulatory framework and be exemplary in steering the ecosystem to adhering to corporate governance Principles and operate in conformity with the Law.”
Beginning with a mindset change, Mukasa wants to shift legal services from the perspective of a curative service to a preventive service.
To achieve this, the Legal Tech Lab provides free legal consultation to startups in The Innovation Village ecosystem.
“When you embrace legal knowledge, you are armed with a tool to use as a springboard to gain a competitive edge. If you are the only formally registered startup bidding with other informal businesses, obviously a client will trust you more. In the search for funding, investors are attracted to companies that have documents that portray transparency. Even at a personal level, going through legal processes to register builds confidence as one is not intimidated by legal terms or the request for something like a term sheet,” Mukasa explains.
She added, “The legal consultation given to startups rotates around one of the biggest issues in the startup world; formalization of businesses. Many entrepreneurs shy away from registering businesses because of fear of imagined costs incurred in the legal processes and costs after appearing on the taxation radar. While they set out to save money, they end up losing out on great opportunities for markets that prefer working with formal businesses.”
The LegalTech Lab also acts as an ecosystem builder that leads conversations that are long overdue regarding businesses and legal matters.
Recently, following the nationwide consultative meetings with startups, the Legal Tech Lab in partnership with Private Sector Foundation Uganda (PSFU) engaged the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Trade, Ministry of ICT and the other stakeholders on the relevance of a National Startup Act. During the convention, the parties concluded that a national startup act would help to define, integrate and regulate the various players in the ecosystem which would eventually encourage innovation.
With every industry and profession already on the digital track, Mukasa says that the Legal Tech Lab has technological innovation, high on the agenda.
“Despite the widespread availability of high-speed Internet and smartphones, there are millions of people for whom legal services are, at least seemingly, unattainable, inaccessible, and just plain daunting. There is a lot that innovation can do to increase access to legal services and justice as a whole,” Mukasa added.