Ellen Xu Student Writer, Windsor Law LTEC Lab J.D., 2019
On March 28, 2018, a panel of experts gathered at Windsor Law to discuss the challenges and opportunities that the Fourth Industrial Revolution may bring to the legal profession. The event was jointly held by Windsor Intellectual Property & Information Technology student club (“WIPIT”) and LTEC Lab (www.lteclab.com). The panel was chaired by WIPIT President Sukhman Sandhu (JD 2018) and featured three experts in the field: Karima Bawa, Chair of the IP Working Group of Scale-Up Strategy (established by the Ontario Ministry, Economic Development & Growth), Senior Fellow CIGI, and LTEC Lab scholar in residence; Kuyler Neable, IP Counsel and Patent Agent at Clearpath Robotics Inc; and Jimoh Ovbiagele, Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder of ROSS Intelligence.
Acknowledged by numerous Government officials and University scholars, we are currently undergoing the Fourth Industrial Revolution which is marked by emerging technology breakthroughs in the field of robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, quantum computing and biotechnology. The expert panel focused mainly on the rapid evolution and possible impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on the legal profession. AI has several definitions. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines AI as “the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior”. There is a wide range of goals sought through AI development, from building systems that seek to closely mimic human behavior and thought process to using human reasoning as reference but not necessarily as the end goal.
The panel began with questions tailored to each of the panelists, who were asked to describe their area of expertise. Karima Bawa reflected on how technology has changed the way she practices law since she started 25 years ago. She found technology, while helpful in decreasing manual work and increasing efficiency, could also create challenges such as clients having a greater expectation of instantaneous responses. Kuyler Neable, as the sole legal counsel at Clearpath, practices in an unprecedented area of law, and finds his job to be a delicate balance between raising red flags when they appear, but not raising too many barriers to inhibit innovation. He explained that legal compliance can be built into the product itself, as opposed to doing damage control in the aftermath. This requires a degree of understanding of the technology involved. Jimoh Ovbiagele, as co-founder of ROSS Intelligence, an AI search engine designed to assist with legal research, took the opportunity to address the perception that AI will be taking over lawyers’ jobs. Jimoh says that AI is about “augmenting a human lawyer” instead of replacing them, and AI allows lawyers to focus more on the lawyering process, and less on legal databases.
The panelists shared their opinions on the proliferation of robots, and the effect they will have on future employment. This seemed to be a topic that greatly concerned many in the room, but the speakers agreed that technology will have both a positive and a negative impact. Technology will change how we do what we do. Kuyler Neable said that while some robots will inevitably take away some jobs, the reality is that we are comparing our current understanding of the job market with what we think are future variables, and compare our uncertainties with that of past industrial revolutions. When cars were first invented, they would replace horse carriages, which created difficulties for that industry. But on the flip side, cars also allowed many to pursue job opportunities that they previously had no access to, and launched us into a new era of economic development. Karima Bawa spoke to the likelihood that jobs will focus more on human skills, such as people management and client interaction skills, as well as managing risk. Specific to how technology will impact law jobs, Jimoh Ovbiagele pointed out that technology is reducing the cost of lawyering, which opens a large market of clients that lawyers could not previously service because of cost issues. All three speakers also agreed that there needs to be a focus on how to transfer people from one industry to another as the job market changes.
With respect to the types of skills law students should focus on moving forward, the consensus from all speakers were analytical and human centric skills – the ability to communicate, relate, articulate, and analyze. In other words, the skills that a computer is far less likely to be able to do well. At the moment, technology isn’t able to provide the same human centric reasoning. With AI legal tools, the job of the legal professional isn’t to just get an answer from AI, but to be able to explain why the AI output is what it is, and explain it well to clients. Their recommendation to students was to take the opportunity to learn about themselves, be prepared to take risks, and explore unconventional career paths. The most important take away is to keep an open mind and embrace change.
At the end of the day, new technologies might not eliminate profitability, but may simply shift where the money is made in the practice of law. Because corporations want to pay for their legal services based on value, many services that were once billable may become non-billable, e.g. legal research, so technologies such as the one offered by Ross Intelligence are now in high demand. Shifting to a greater use of technology could also give other advantages to law firms. Boutique IP firms for example, tend to adopt several automated processes to send a clear message to their clients that they are embracing innovation and change.
The speakers were also asked to comment on how they felt that technology has contributed, if at all, to social justice. For Karima Bawa, technology certainly has increased accessibility of the justice system to people who previously could not afford it. For example, in British Columbia there is a shift towards small claims court being done through electronic filing, which allows for greater certainty of timelines, and less costs. On the other hand, technology may create barriers for those who don’t have access to technology, or don’t have a sufficient understanding of technology. For Kuyler Neable, how new technologies improve access to justice deals more with issues of adoption. There are risks to using new technologies, and there are also issues in transparency of how this technology works, and how conclusions are reached. Jimoh Ovbiagele added that there needs to be more rules surrounding access to services in the legal industry, because the majority of people who need legal services cannot afford them, and they are the ones who lose out.
Speaking specifically to Canada, Jimoh Ovbiagele expressed his confidence that Canada can lead the charge in the high-tech industry, referring to how Canada has managed to attract big names such as Google and Facebook to open offices here.
In terms of setting standards in the legal industry, the speakers spoke to both what the federal government can do, and what law societies can do. Regulations on the use of AI could be developed by the legal Bar in the future, while funding education in tech leadership is an area that the government could tackle.
Overall, I found the panel to be both enjoyable and informative, with good speakers that were knowledgeable in their respective fields. It was an important conversation to be had, in order to dispel myths and address concerns surrounding the increased use of artificial intelligence and other technologies. The message that the speakers were trying to communicate – that this change, like all industrial revolutions before it, will bring about both positive and negative impacts -really resonated with me. The more we prepare ourselves for this change, embrace new technologies, and learn to incorporate them into our future careers, for the greater benefit of our clients, the more prepared we will be for the fourth industrial revolution.
Merriam-Webster, 2018, sub verbo “artificial intelligence”, online:< https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/artificial%20intelligence>. Bernard Marr, “The Key Definitions of Artificial Intelligence (AI) That Explain Its Importance”, Forbes(Feb 14, 2018), online:<https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2018/02/14/the-key-definitions-of-artificial-intelligence-ai-that-explain-its-importance/#837968c4f5d8>.