Technology seen as revolutionizing practise of law
Stabroek News
December 13, 2001

Rob Milen, the recently appointed head of the Carter Center in Guyana, painted for young lawyers a vista of unlimited opportunities because of the impact of technology on the practise of law.

Addressing the Guyana Bar Association dinner and dance on Friday at Le Meridien Pegasus Hotel where he was the guest speaker, Milen said that the impact of technology would be far-reaching and challenging.

Himself a lawyer, Milen told the gathering of elegantly attired lawyers-- including Chancellor of the Judiciary, Desiree Bernard; Chief Justice, Carl Singh and a smattering of the 34 recently admitted to the Bar--what it would take to successfully address the challenges. He asserted that it was only a profession and a Bar that were cohesive, knowledgeable and forward thinking that would be able to begin to address the issues ahead of them.

An advantage, he said, was that Guyana was a small society of not many lawyers and that it allowed them the opportunity of finding ways of accessing and successfully applying the technology to the future needs of the Bar. If they did this, Milen said, they could become pre-eminent not only in the Caribbean but elsewhere.

He said that the young attorneys had a lead role to play in all of this. "You need to set and maintain high standards; you need to ensure those high standards reflect your role as officers of the court so that you set examples for young attorneys and you are always there to mentor them.

"There is a whole new world out there and it is going to be maybe five to ten years before that whole new world catches up to you here. If you have some dreams about going into law always continue to dare to dream. Limit yourself only by what your imagination is."

Milen, in pointing out the opportunities that lay ahead, asserted that it was the lawyers who were making the world a smaller place.

He cited as an example the People's Republic of China, which was making efforts to slash barriers to trade. He said that it was a country that had political and economic systems that were not geared to international contracts and commercial arbitration. Milen said that it was the British Columbia Bar Association that was working with the Chinese to develop new systems to enhance the rule of law and the respect for law. "So you have a strong Bar and a strong profession in one country working in another country."

He said that their law degree also opened up opportunities for them at home and overseas, observing that with it, they never knew where they could end up.

Commenting on the impact of technology on the practice of law, Milen opined that "technology was changing the way that we work ... in our practise of law" and that "technology is really the way for the law profession in the future."

Citing his own experience, Milen related that he lived 1,000 miles away from his law firm in Canada and he did everything thing long distance, by way of technology. "I used e-mail every day to deal with my law practice; sometimes I used the phone."

Milen said that the Internet as a tool "makes the law accessible to all of us, and that a firm with 150 people has no competitive advantage over a much smaller firm which has access to the same information."

Another innovation, he said, was the use of web cameras, which transmitted voice and picture and attached to the computer, "allow you to not only converse with your colleague but you can actually do legal proceedings long distance."

Citing another example of the advantage being derived by the application of technology, Milen said that in Canada, documents could be served by fax and the day was not far off when documents would be served via the Internet, making transactions for land titles paperless.

He said that the technology was available to verify signatures so that this could be done over the Internet.

Milen said that soon the profession here would need to address the question of having law libraries in the courts or terminals strategically placed from which counsel could access the information that they need.

The affair, sponsored by the Guyana Bar Association and the Guyana Association of Women Lawyers, also included the presentation of Lifetime Achievement Awards to attorney-at-law Sheila Chapman and Senior Counsel Ashton Chase. Chancellor Bernard presented the award to Chapman and Chief Justice Singh presented the award to Chase's daughter, also a lawyer.

There was also a toast to the new attorneys and Christine McGowan, who was the best graduating student this year responded on their behalf. Bar Association Vice-President, Nigel Hughes, excused the absence of the new attorneys, explaining that many of them were working outside Guyana.

Besides the members of the judiciary past and present, who were among the gathering, there were representatives of the diplomatic corps including British High Commissioner, Edward Glover and Charge d'Affaires of the US Embassy Andrew Parker who represented the US Ambassador.