The Impact of Changing Technology

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By Tim Brown, Q.C.
Executive Director, Law Society of Saskatchewan

We live in a world where advancements in technology have reached the mind-bending level of science fiction. When I graduated from Law School in 1991, it would have been impossible to imagine a world on the verge of self-driving cars. Today no one disputes that we will share the roads with driverless vehicles very soon or that those vehicles will be built on automated assembly lines by robots.

At the same time, not long ago in our history, the hardware necessary to land on the moon was housed in buildings worth millions of today’s dollars. Now, that level of computing power is found in cell phones which are virtually given away in exchange for entering a usage contract with a cellular service provider and can be found in the hands of our children.

This de-escalation of the cost of computing power per-dollar is a massively dramatic evolution that has happened very quickly. It is also a measurement that helps to describe how computing technologies have exponentially increased the speed at which humans acquire and implement knowledge, which by some estimates, presently roughly doubles each year.

These estimates also suggest that advancements in computing power occur at this pace. Although widely debated, the information leads many to conclude that the “singularity” (the point at which technologically-created cognitive capacity surpasses that of humans) will occur sometime in the middle of this century. Against this backdrop, it comes as no surprise that technologies now exist, and will continue to develop to have the potential to transform many traditional processes associated with the delivery not only of legal services, but also services in every sector of the economy.

In June, the Benchers met in Elk Ridge to discuss strategic directions for the Law Society over the next three years. It is fair to say that emerging technologies were high on the list of key drivers of change for the profession in the years to come. (It is impossible to predict what the world might look like 10 years from now, but the technologies of today were reflected upon to better  understand the world of tomorrow and what must happen from a regulatory standpoint to prepare our way.) Here are some of the highlights of an environmental scan that was prepared for the Benchers on the impact of emerging technologies.

Online Services

Now, almost any legal form you could want is available online and can be customized based on the user’s preferences. Add to this, artificial intelligence platforms are a keystroke away and can create lengthy, complex documents, including such things as: partnership agreements, confidentiality agreements, prenuptial agreements, etc. [1]

There are several such online services available to the public, and there is no reason to believe that this progression will subside. Online services such as Rocket Lawyer, LegalZoom and Avvo are providing a new method for providing traditional legal services directly to consumers. When I wrote my environmental scan for strategic planning in June 2018, I reported that these services had not yet targeted the Canadian market.

A search performed less than one month later reveals that LegalZoom.ca is now open for business in Canada. These service providers do not shy away from expressing that their services represent disruptive innovation in the traditional legal marketplace. They are bold in maintaining that this disruption benefits people who could not otherwise hire a lawyer by expanding access to legal services; in fact, it is their corporate mantra.

Communities of Legal Experience

Instant online communities are available for every subject matter and legal knowledge is no exception. These “communities of legal experience” are online gathering places where non-professionals share practical past legal experiences and crowd-source legal information and opinions. It is essentially a user-built “wiki” approach to the creation of bodies of knowledge intended to augment, or potentially replace traditional forms of legal advice for those who can’t, or choose not to, afford advice from a lawyer.

Online Reputation Systems

We are growing accustomed to providing instant feedback about our online experiences. For lawyers and firms this can include price comparisons and information about the availability of different fee arrangements. These services provide venues for “shopping” that both provide opportunities for lawyers to, in effect, lease space in the “online mall” and put consumers of legal services in touch with lawyers on terms that are appropriate for them. This is likely to place downward pressure on fees and cause innovation in traditional practices and modes of delivery for lawyers competing for visibility in that space.

Legal Tech Start-ups

There is a rapidly growing number of start-up technology companies at various stages of development. These new ventures can quickly offer, create or beta-test new products and services targeting the legal services market. Many of these “start-ups” are receiving venture capital injections from established companies in the legal tech space and others.

At the same time, we’ve witnessed the emergence of innovation zones and incubators at legal educational institutions [6]. Many such start-ups will target lawyers as customers with the hook being increased return on investment (ROI) through efficiencies and profitability.

Others are developing applications directly aimed at the provision of services to the public — including those who are currently receiving these services from lawyers, under-served segments of the population, and unable or unwilling to afford traditional forms of legal assistance.

Artificial Intelligence or “A.I.”

According to Merriam-Webster, A.I. means “the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior”. It becomes possible for computers to imitate human cognitive functionality when different component processes of A.I. work together.

While the ultimate potential of A.I. is debated, extrapolations based on its current capabilities are mind-boggling. For example, A.I. is currently being used in the creation of “expert systems” — systems which mimic some level of human expertise designed to perform tasks normally done by people. There are several illustrations of expert systems now in law:

eDiscovery tools have already demonstrated the ability to outperform junior lawyers and paralegals at identifying relevant and privileged documents [7];

Contract review tools can, within moments, sift through contracts identifying types of clauses, preparing summaries of key terms and heat maps which identify which party to the transaction enjoys the better end of the bargain;

Some legal research applications are outperforming lawyers. Treating written judgements as data, A.I. applications drawing on entire bodies of case law (a much larger body of knowledge than human lawyers would be capable of reading in a year) can analyze and draw meaningful correlations in a matter of seconds. Blue J Legal uses an A.I. platform which scans case law and can provide tax law opinions and notice periods in employment law and produce a brief which categorizes all relevant case law according to high and low outcomes and those that are of the most tactical significance in under a minute.

Online dispute resolution platforms, an example of which is the eBay Resolution Center which resolves over 60 million disputes a year – without human intervention; and

Litigation strategy software “…like Lex Machina can analyze a set of facts against a collection of past decisions and give a prediction of the likely timing and outcome that is more accurate than an experienced counsel can give” [8]. Technology has the potential to fundamentally change the ways in which common law will be interpreted to generate opinions and, from an objective standpoint, weighed against the heuristics of lawyers or teams of lawyers, produce products that are quite clearly faster and more comprehensive.

Blockchain

Blockchain is a revolutionary way to structure data, and the heartbeat of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, though its transformative potential as a discreet technology beyond cryptocurrency, is proving to be revolutionary. This coding breakthrough consists of connected blocks of transactions and has a public digital ledger which allows information to be shared without need for a central authority. No single party has the authority to tamper with the records and cryptography authenticates the entries. It is immutable, unforgeable and can execute smartcontracts.

Blockchain technology is receiving a lot of interest from big business. It has the potential to provide many new solutions for old problems in the market. Large consortiums are working to examine the various use-cases and permissions for blockchain applications in almost every area of human endeavor. This technology is also leading the way for patent applications in the U.S. There are many practical examples of how blockchain might be used to replace traditional processes, facilitate transactions in a secure and independent way, while structuring data to create immutable, searchable, public registries in almost any context.

Recently, at the Law Society of Alberta annual retreat in Jasper, Jason Moyse, CEO of Law Made [9] provided a simple example of smart, or self-executing contracts at work in the context of supply chains. His example was of a shipping container of avocados. Using a self-executing blockchain contract, two parties can agree the avocados will arrive at a specified time and temperature.

A failure of either of these conditions automatically triggers a default and causes a previously agreed-upon abatement of price to occur automatically within a chosen cybercurrency environment – all without the time or cost associated with traditional dispute-resolution methods since there is no human intervention. Supply chain management now has an effective real-time method for disputes to be resolved. Simply put, it is revolutionary.

Blockchain provides a very concrete example of the types of new competencies we should be focussing on as regulators of the profession. We will provide ongoing commentary with respect to the progress of this technology in our twitter feed and our blog, Legal Sourcery.

Our Path Forward

Some technology will augment and assist traditional processes, while others will transform. There are many sophisticated entrepreneurs working in the legal-tech space and interested venture-capital to fund the effort. In fact, Canadian technology firms are currently regarded as worldleaders in the legal-tech space. Although the focus may initially be on larger potential profits in the U.S. market, Canada isn’t immune to global shifts. Afterall, our profession is a $25 billion domestic industry. We need to be at the forefront of leading change in service delivery.

At the same time, the regulation of the profession must keep pace to support this unprecedented evolution. While conversations about change may feel unfamiliar, the Law Society of  Saskatchewan is committed to the process of providing information in a timely way.

• We are making efforts to re-examine the basics: from the competencies and supporting education which will be required to support the mission of the profession to sustain relevant, highquality and accessible services; to the liberalization of regulation which will be required to match our collective imagination as we seek new opportunities and new horizons to serve the public interest in the years ahead.

• We are launching a renewed website this fall to provide updated, relevant information and enhance usability to support your practice and the public we serve. It is a necessary shift.

You can be assured that as the profession evolves, our team continues to listen carefully so we can be quick to respond to what you may need. We want to ensure our delivery model is aligned with your preference for communications whether that be through e-newsletters, webinars, online dialogue forums, onsite workshops or other.

We are at an important historical junction for our path ahead. Our profession is ultimately responsible for some basic fundamentals in a free and democratic society: the flow of commerce and the enforcement of society’s constitutional guarantees, to name a couple. We serve society’s most vulnerable citizens and sometimes in their most vulnerable moments. Serving the public interest makes us the honourable profession that we are. Advancements in technology will bring change, but it won’t change any of that.

…Stay tuned!

——

1 See Law Depot, online: https://www.lawdepot.ca and Wonder Legal, online: https://www.wonder.legal/en-ca
2 Data Fox, “Rocket Lawyer,” (Date of search: June 14, 2018) online: Data Fox: https://datafox.com/rocketlawyer
3 Wikipedia, “Rocket Lawyer,” (Retrieved on June 14, 2018), online: Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rocket_Lawyer#Growth
4 Wikipedia, “LegalZoom,” (Retrieved on June 14, 2018), online: Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LegalZoom
5 Ibid.
6 Stanford has an incubator called the Stanford CodeX which is promoting new solutions for old legal problems. At CodeX, researchers, lawyers, entrepreneurs and technologists work side-by-side to advance the frontier of legal technology, bringing new levels of legal efficiency, transparency, and access to legal systems around the world. CodeX‘s emphasis is on the research and development of computational law — the branch of legal informatics concerned with the automation and mechanization of legal analysis. See: https://law.stanford.edu/codex-the-stanford-center-for-legal-informatics/; Ryerson’s Legal Innovation Zone (LIZ) is a co-working space and the first legal tech incubator with a focus on building better legal solutions for the consumers of legal services. The LIZ helps support, foster and develop solutions and techniques to improve legal services and the justice system. See: http://www.legalinnovationzone.ca/
7 Richard Susskind and Daniel Susskind, The Future of the Professions: How Technology will Transform the Work of Human Experts, (Oxford University Press, 1st ed.), 2015) at p. 23 (quoting Andrew Abbott, The System of Professions: An essay on the division of expert labor (Chicago, IL, US: University of Chicago Press, 1988) @ p. 69.
8 Dan Pinnington, Perspectives on the Future of Law: How the Profession Should Respond to Major Disruptions, (Toronto: LawPro Magazine, Vol. 17.1, February 2018) online: SLAW
http://www.slaw.ca/2018/02/26/perspectives-on-the-future-of-law-how-the-professional-should-respond-to-major-disruptions/
9 Law Made is focused on the legal space with a particular emphasis on supporting entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship, online: https://lawmade.com/about-us/
10 Ibid. @ p. 8.

[Originally published in Benchers’ Digest, Summer 2018]

One thought on “The Impact of Changing Technology

    Jean said:
    September 14, 2018 at 2:29 pm

    I currently use the Bitcoin Cash blockchain to create proof that a document existed at a certain date and time. It is very handy to be able to prove that a Promissory note, for example, existed on the date it was signed. This proves beyond any doubt that the document wasn’t backdated or edited. It costs less than a cent and takes a few seconds. Very handy.

    Like

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