In conversation with Ruth Ward, Head Librarian at Webber Wentzel

  • Ruth Ward is the Head Librarian at Webber Wentzel, she plays a critical role in ensuring advisors in one of Africa’s largest law firms are equipped with the information they need to service client matters quickly and efficiently.

    Earlier this month, Afriwise caught up with Ruth to hear about her experience using our legal-intelligence solution.

    Afriwise: Ruth it is great to speak with you. I know you use the platform a bit differently to many of our end users who tend to be inhouse counsel, compliance officers or lawyers. Given your role at a large Africa-based law firm, we would like to hear from you what challenges you face when sourcing legal information in Africa?

    Ruth Ward: Great to chat with you. Sourcing legislation from African countries is a challenge. If you find information on a Government or even a regulators website, there is no guarantee that it is correct or recent. Very often the information on these sites is not consolidated, so if there are amendments, they may not be visible to a person who is visiting that website for information. Overall, reliable and actionable legal information is hard to source. Information requests can also be very diverse (across subject matters and countries); many databases are very costly and more often than not you have to subscribe to the full database, even if you only require content for specific issues / jurisdictions.

    Afriwise: Thank you for sharing that, within this context, are you able to give more details on how you are using our platform to support your role at Webber Wentzel?

    Ruth Ward: Typically, our lawyers will approach the library seeking research support.  We find that information requests tend to focus on a particular topic. If people are looking at the position in more than one country, the “compare country” feature is useful feature to quickly see the different requirements side-by side at a high level. The access to primary legislation in Afriwise is also very valuable, due the difficulties we experience in sourcing accurate and up-to-date laws for many countries.

    If more detailed information is required, we use the Afriwise Q&A function. As a contributor to Afriwise, we know the thorough validation process ourselves and this gives us confidence in the technical expertise on the platform.

    Afriwise:Yes, you are in a unique position as both contributor and subscriber. What are your thoughts on the vetting of information available on Afriwise?

    Ruth Ward: Reliability and accuracy of available information is essential. The Afriwise content team makes it clear to the subscriber whenever there are new legal developments. Afriwise tightly manages updates to information and regularly follows up on developments in the public domain with contributors. As contributors we have experienced this first-hand.

    Afriwise: Are there any aspects or features you would like to highlight and that you find particularly useful in your role?

    Ruth Ward:Afriwise is very user-friendly - information is easy to find and is clearly presented. The interface is intuitive and appeals to even less tech-savvy lawyers. The versions are also controlled and the date on which the information is last updated is clearly stated.

    The content is also well-categorised, browsable and searchable. These are all definite plus factors. The alert feature is also helpful and simple to set up. Because alerts are arranged by country and topic, it is easy to forward relevant content to appropriate people.

    Afriwise: What have you used the platform for most recently?

    Ruth Ward:Usage patterns have changed a bit due to COVID-19. Most recently, we actually used one of our own Afriwise contributions as a resource for a high-level summary of the legal developments in South Africa for clients investing in South Africa.

    Afriwise: Are there any challenges that you have experienced when using Afriwise in your role?

    Ruth Ward:The biggest challenge with all information platforms is ensuring that our stakeholders are aware of the platforms we have access to and available content. The webinars that Afriwise has recently hosted have been a great way to engage people who might not be aware of this resource.

    Afriwise: As you know from one of our most recent webinars, we have been running a tech for the legal sector campaign, we would be keen to get your thoughts on this topic. Do you think COVID will have an impact on your role or the legal sector more widely?

    Ruth Ward: Technology is critical to the legal sector. COVID-19 emphasised the value of our electronic access to information. It is no good having things in hard copy or manual processes, if they are not accessible 24/7. The need for technological change and digital transformation has been accelerated by COVID-19.

    Afriwise: That is certainly the impression we are getting. Are you looking to get more legal information put online or have you had to change things in the short-term?

    Ruth Ward: We fortunately already had an online information strategy and we will continue to build on this going forward. One challenge for all information professionals is that some core materials are not yet available digitally. In Africa, digitisation is not a priority focus area as the need for access to older data in this market is limited and is unlikely to generate sufficiently high returns for those who undertake the task. This means we will have to rely on a mix of both hard copy and electronic resources for a long time to come.

    Partnerships will be critical to digitising – public, private and non-profit sectors as it is not just information that is of commercial value that needs to go online but public interest information too. The opportunity for collaboration is huge as there is a massive amount to be done; we cannot afford to duplicate efforts.

    Afriwise: Thank you Ruth, that is a really powerful way for us to round-up the interview. Particularly around this need for collaboration and partnerships in Africa to ensure digitisation of legal information.

    Afriwise provides organisations with online access to up-to-date legal and regulatory business-critical information on African countries. Book a demo now to learn more about how Afriwise can help your business.