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This is how law schools should embrace technology

Technology is changing the world around us every day — what was innovative last year is now obsolete. Old industries are going extinct and new ones are being created. This massive disruption — and all of its positive and negative consequences — has impacted nearly every industry.

The legal profession seems to think it is different. Ask any articling student or lawyer about the courts and they will tell you about all the inefficiencies that technology could fix. Maybe one day these inefficiencies will be addressed — but the impact of technology is going to be so much more than digitizing courts. The impact will be about transforming the practice of law, both in substance and in form. Students need to be ready for this.

Last summer, I took a seminar at Osgoode Hall Law School called “Using Digital Technology in Law Practice,” focused on the way that technology is changing the legal profession, both in terms of substantive law and in terms of how the law is practiced. It made me realize that law schools need to embrace legal technology — both in their curricula and in their classrooms.

Teaching substantive legal tech issues

Law schools across Canada should be teaching courses focused on the changing legal landscape, like the course I took last summer. These courses could cover emerging issues like artificial intelligence, blockchain and cryptocurrencies.

Furthermore, instructors of traditional areas of law should be actively considering technological change in their courses and using these situations as examples to force students to think outside of the box.

For instance, torts professors across the country should be challenging their students to think about what happens when a self-driving car gets in an accident. This issue was raised in a recent article by Adam Goldenberg, of McCarthy Tétrault LLP. Criminal law professors need to raise issues of cybercrime — increasingly important with the permeation of technology in peoples’ lives. There are endless examples in every area of law. 

Teaching about legal technologies

Law schools should also be teaching students about legal technological platforms in their courses, preparing students not just for the practice of law in its most basic sense (such as drafting contracts), but also in its most innovative sense.

Legal technology has already transformed legal research and I would guess that every law student knows about Westlaw, Quicklaw and CanLii. But, would most students know that legal technology is also transforming litigation and how law firms operate?

Consider Court Analytics, a program created by Canadian start-up Zoom Analytics. This technology is changing the way that litigation works. It allows lawyers to predict the success of their case and to map out potential strategies, accounting for the party, issue, type of proceeding and judge.

Consider also Firm Central, created by Thomson Reuters. This technology is used by some firms to bill clients and track file progress. Students should know about this technology and be aware of how it will impact their practice.

What is the point of teaching about these technologies? Will most articling students be using a platform like Court Analytics? Maybe, maybe not. But there are two things to keep in mind: first, that these technologies will only become more common in law firms and agencies; and second, that teaching about these technologies creates awareness and changes students’ mindsets from the very beginning of their legal careers.

Giving students practical skills using technology

Legal tech programs also have the potential to transform not just what students learn, but how they learn. I was first introduced to the concept of virtual legal education when I learned about the Law Practice Program, hosted at Ryerson University. The first half of the program features a virtual law firm, where students work under instructors on virtual files. Law schools should adopt this practice to give their students practical skills.

Law schools are increasingly embracing experiential education, but legal clinics such as the University of Toronto Downtown Legal Services necessarily have limited spots for students.

A course which provided a virtual law firm experience could be a great option for students who either do not secure a clinical position or do not want one, perhaps for scheduling reasons.

Such a course could provide students with the hard and soft skills of managing a file and working in a law firm. Skills of strategy, drafting and communication could be sharpened in a legal setting with no risk.

Embracing and Fostering Technological Innovation

Truly innovative law schools can look beyond just integrating technological change into their courses—they can help foster legal change.

Once again, Ryerson University could show the way forward. Ryerson hosts Canada’s first incubator focused on legal tech, the Legal Innovation Zone (LIZ). The LIZ acts as any incubator does, bringing innovators together to connect, share ideas and create tech solutions and innovations. However, it is focused purely on legal tech.

Law schools across Canada should be adopting their own, in-house legal tech incubators. Law schools should be funding these programs, partnering with the private sector to procure seed money for innovative students. These incubators could then be used by the students, who could transform the law as they learn it.

John Wu, an Osgoode student, and Director of Codify Legal Publishing, urges law schools to adopt incubators.

“I see in so many students an appetite for innovation,” he says. “The establishment of legal incubators will support these students in creating new career opportunities for themselves, and encourage faculty to explore innovative approaches to pedagogy.”

If law schools could harness the innovative spirits of their students, they could actively shape the future practice of law.

Change, change, change

Much like the world around it, the legal profession is changing. Law schools have an obligation to their students to teach them about these changes. They can also harness this change to transform and enhance legal education. Lastly, they can be truly innovative and help foster that change through legal tech incubators. Change is ever-present, and legal education needs to keep up. 

  • A List for Educating Lawyers' "Technology Competence"

    Ken Chasse
    Consider these issues of fact and law as to lawyers' "technology competence": 1. Using courts' and tribunals' own, technology facilities in legal proceedings, e.g., for presenting and displaying evidence, etc.; 2. Technology in the practice of law for greater cost-efficiency in office administration & serving clients; 3. Counsel being able to challenge the technical sources of commonly used evidence; e.g., (1) records are now the most frequently used kind of evidence, but lawyers don't know how to challenge the reliability of the electronic records management systems (ERMSs) that produce and store them. Because there is almost no legal infrastructure controlling their management and operation, ERMSs have a high incidence of poor management, and they operate on software that has high error rates. Other such types of technology-produced, frequently used evidence are: (2) mobile phone tracking evidence because we all carry mobile phones, which continuously tell the electronic world where we are; (3) TAR devices (technology assisted review devices) that are very frequently used in civil e-discovery proceedings to review ("read & sort") very large quantities of records for "relevance and privilege"; and, (4) breathalyzer/intoxilyzer devices. Most of these systems and devices operate on tens of millions of lines of software source code, which the technical literature warns, frequently has errors, and therefore, we trust software-based technology far too much. See for example, the discussion of the Oland murder case admissibility voir dires in, 2015 NBQB 245 & 244, and in this article, “Guilt by Mobile Phone Tracking Shouldn’t Make ‘Evidence to the Contrary’ Impossible” (SSRN, pdf., October, 2016; 91 pages), at: Such knowledge of technology that produces the most frequently used kinds of evidence is a large hole in our legal education, which is as much the duty of the law society as it is of the law school. And it is a continuing "competence problem" for the law society and law school because technology is constantly changing and therefore, so is the nature of the evidence it produces. CPD/CLE materials, seminars, and conferences don't yet provide the necessary technical information with which to prepare adequate cross-examinations and arguments. 4. Law societies being able to protect lawyers' markets from commercial retail legal service providers of automated services (e.g. automated undefended divorces & immigration applications & due diligence searches of several types. Are their software programs merely providing legal information, or are they into areas of legal advice, and therefore, "the unauthorized practice of law"? The dividing line is much blurred by such technology. Law societies will have a difficult time investigating the hundreds of small "start-up" services as well as the big retail legal services that are provided by the large commercial producers such as, LegalZoom, LegalX, and RocketLawyer (a "fast food" industry strategy for the production of legal services). In 2011, LegalZoom carried out 20% of the incorporations in California, which has a population slightly larger than that of Canada (about 40 million). LegalZoom, et al., have begun service in Canada. In the U.S., they are well on their way to displacing the general practitioner and small, unspecialized law firm. In Ontario, the per capita number of lawyers in private practice has been shrinking for decades. There are relevant statistics going back to 1985. These commercial producers will speed-up that process. So, what are the candidates for the Law Society of Ontario's current bencher election saying about that? Vote only for those lawyers that put forward an outline of a program for solving the access to justice problem (middle & lower income people cannot afford lawyers for services that are more than just simple, routine legal services--such people constitute the majority of the population). Another example of such automated legal services that might provide more than just legal information: Ryerson University's LIZ's (Legal Innovation Zone's) email newsletter for Feb. 13th contains this item: "On January 29th we welcomed Fahad Diwan from SmartBail to the LIZ. SmartBail is using machine learning technology to assess whether defendants released on bail will attend their court hearings or commit new criminal offences. Learn more about SmartBail here and on Twitter." I haven't examined SmartBail. There is a probability that such court attendances and committing further offences while on bail involves the application of principles of law concerning issues of fact and law, and therefore keeping-up with relevant case law. Should SmartBail have to be licensed to practice law in Ontario? If lawyers use SmartBail, OK, but most of these services are working the retail market directly without lawyers. But is it likely that anyone other than a lawyer would be interested in using or purchasing SmartBail? LIZ describes itself as, "a business incubator designed to build and support ideas that will change the status quo of Canada's legal system." See this short article: “Artificial Intelligence: “Will it Help the Delivery of Legal Services but Hurt the Legal Profession?” (Slaw, November 21, 2018), at:
  • Ambitious

    >Law schools across Canada should be teaching courses focused ... emerging issues like artificial intelligence, blockchain and cryptocurrencies. I work with a LOT of lawyers and their staff. Most of them would benefit more from basic courses on how to create a strong password, password management, how to avoid phishing, or even what SSL is. AI, Blockchain, and Cryptocurrencies? *Burst out laughing* The vast majority of lawyers can't even find their own website without a Google search.
  • Innovation in Action

    Check out what Osler is doing to stay ahead in legal tech: