Automating legal services will allow more people to afford them, but lawyers could find themselves out of a job.
When we think of the jobs most likely to be automated, we typically think of work in manufacturing or food service. But lawyers' jobs may be vulnerable, too, and a law school in Canada is preparing its students to embrace the change.
This isn't the distant future—it's already happening. Loom Analytics, a Canadian startup, plans use artificial intelligence to build a system that would automate the time-consuming task of legal research. At the moment, a team of lawyers is manually sifting through the data, but the startup is in the process of building algorithms to conduct that same day-to-day analysis. The company hopes to be a one-stop shop for open data from the courts, allowing consumers to have access to hard numbers on case law such as win/loss rates, a judge's ruling history, litigation trends and more.
The ultimate goal is to "have an interactive system that answers users' questions with hard data," said co-founder Mona Datt in an interview.
Lorne Sossin, Dean of Osgoode Hall Law School at Toronto's York University, is preparing his students to face competition from services like these in the future.
"Legal technology can be both an asset and a threat to current law jobs," he said in an interview. "It will open up areas of legal practice that barely exist and make them more robust, and it will take areas that attract a large number of students and shrink them over time."
Datt doesn't believe Loom would hinder recent graduates from finding jobs. She thinks it will allow them to spend more time building arguments around case law rather than hunting for it, a part of the job that many lawyers "detest," she said. This would free them up for more interesting work.
The upside is that legal services will be much cheaper and more accessible for the average person, although individual lawyers may see their incomes driven downwards.
"Far more people need lawyers than can afford them," Datt said. "And the data bears this out: the number of people who are representing themselves in court is growing every year. Tools like Loom may make it possible for lawyers to serve clients they wouldn't otherwise be able to."
"We are going to get to a point where buying a house is something you will be able to do on an app as opposed to a lawyer's office"
Sossin emphasized that law schools need make sure their students are tech literate. At Osgoode, he would like to see all law students undergo a tech audit (an assessment to see how well students use basic law practicing technology, such as word processing and spreadsheets, to complete routine legal tasks) and to develop greater tech literacy to build on existing academic programming, such as a session all students attend on the role social media may play in building a law practice and professionalism issues. These topics should be mandatory parts of the curriculum, just like a legal research and writing class.
This spring, the law school is launching a week-long intensive course that gives interested students an overview of a broad range of innovation, from artificial intelligence to automating contract work to diligence software that corporations may be using. For students who really want to dive deep, there are semester-long classes that allow them to gain hands-on experience with legal technologies such as automated document building and online dispute resolution. The final project involves creating your own law or justice application.
The members of Legal Hackers Toronto are also advocating for the community to embrace legal technology. Started in May 2016, the group is one chapter of a global community of lawyers, policymakers, and technologists trying to drag the legal profession into the digital age. The group has 635 members in Toronto. Amy ter Haar said the group is a mix of seasoned lawyers and recent law graduates looking for networking opportunities.
"Technology is an integral part of our future, and we need an entrepreneurial approach to legal education because it is still such a doctrinal approach," said Haar.
Students need to be prepared for a shifting job market. Any one with an internet connection, time and some dedication can access legal information one way or another. That is no longer a lawyer's advantage.
"We are going to get to a point where buying a house is something you will be able to do on an app as opposed to a lawyer's office; access to information will work even better than it does now; but tech can't problem-solve for you and that's where lawyers are critical," Sossin said. "Technology can't engage in lateral thinking and creative dispute resolution. That can't be automated."
Technological disruption means less traditional jobs. "The overall number of students that are coming into the law society for fewer and the number of conventional practice spot that are open are not well aligned," he said. "So there is a structural adjustment that needs to happen."