Creativity and innovation are not traditionally associated with the discipline of law. As a profession, lawyers tend to follow rules, not break them. This may be because the study of law is inextricably bound up in the doctrine of precedent. Lawyers are trained to focus on past cases to support their arguments, so they are generally approval seekers, rather than innovators. So how do we educate and train our law students to become the forward-thinking NewLawyers of the future? Are computational law, AI and Blockchain technologies going to change our profession beyond recognition? Will the justice system be networked and Uber-ised to make it more accessible and affordable? Time is of the essence as we are at the precipice of change.
Academia and law have long been regarded as noble professions. Both disciplines use intellectual rigour to pursue knowledge and justice respectively. In the words of the poet Henry van Dyke who lived from 1852 to 1933, to “strive to be of some service to the world, to aim at doing something which shall really increase the happiness and welfare and virtue of mankind - this is a choice.” Choices are even broader than ever before due to 996% growth in internet access across the world between 2010 and 2018. With over half the world now connected, the law has never been more accessible.
Where academics can add value, is by turning this connectivity into collaboration. A technological platform match-making students, academics and industry, opens the door wider to serving humanity. Einstein said “imagination is the highest form of research”. Research that is interesting in theory but has no practical relevance, is arguably the lowest form. Instead of long literature reviews where old ideas are just restructured with references, collaborative research amounts to efficient, tangible outcomes.
Pedagogy in higher education urgently needs to adapt, to connect and engage 21st century students. In a 2007, a survey of 200 students at Kansas State University, showed that the average lecture size was 115, only 18% of Professors knew their students’ names, only 49% of the assigned readings were completed, many bought $100 textbooks that were never opened, but skimmed 2300 webpages and visited 1281 Facebook profiles. We are at a cross-roads where NewAcademics can make the choice to use technology, gamification, social media and mainstream public discourse to disseminate their ideas, or risk getting shelved alongside those dusty textbooks.
Distinguished Professor Ben Shneiderman, inventor of the hyperlink, recently guest-lectured in Melbourne about the “ABCs of collaboration”. Connecting inter-disciplinary students with industry, to respond to contemporary problems, can facilitate the application of new technologies and increase ambition. At the post-lecture drinks, the Pracademix TM pilot idea was discussed where IT students from Monash University’s Caulfield Campus will be connected to Law students from Clayton’s campus through an online sharing platform for the first time. Student teams will tackle a criminal justice service delivery problem together, and devise working solutions. A prize for the best team outcome will be awarded at the end of semester. Policy Directors at Victoria Legal Aid collaborated with IT and Law academics, to ensure students will be working on a real-world problem. Building a LegalTech solution and receiving both academic and industry feedback, is the kind of satisfaction not provided by high marks alone. As Sir John Monash said, “…equip yourself for life, not solely for your own benefit, but for the benefit of the whole community.”
Traditional academia and the ‘justice lag’, can be contrasted with the rise in the entrepreneurial start-up scene. Many professions and businesses have pivoted to embrace technology, but law has somewhat trailed behind. Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, in a speech at the opening of the Singapore Legal Year in 2017, suggested changes are on the horizon.
“Rapid and unbroken information flows will give clients greater access to resources on the law and lawyers. The traditional practice of retainers may fade in favour of a system that more efficiently matches supply and demand, leading to the “uberisation” of legal practice.”
Currently, there is fragmented information across thousands of law websites. There is no one aggregator or gateway to legal services in any jurisdiction. Before the internet, there were self-help brochures in courts for the public. Most websites are just like putting up glorified fact sheets online, without offering context or guidance. Therefore, most laypeople feel ‘lost’ and disoriented navigating the justice system. The advent of plain-English drafting was one small step towards making the law understandable and more accessible. Unbundling legal services and making NewLaw firm fees transparent was another.
To ensure public confidence in the justice system, LegalTech must be embraced by all segments of the community it seeks to serve. Chat-bots, automated research and online dispute resolution tools are becoming more mainstream. However, the majority of the public still find it hard to envisage a robot advocating for them in a virtual court, or a computer having the empathy to judge disputes. Most clients with a legal problem still turn to human beings for support. For example, there are volunteer 'Court Networkers', who offer non-legal support, information and referral services. They are often the unsung heroes in a judicial system that is stressful and bewildering. Yet legal problems are being experienced well before a person sets foot in a courtroom? Access to early, clear and concise legal information is the ultimate challenge.
The rise in AI-enabled chatbots are a start. Joshua Browder, launched DoNotPay, a service that automatically challenges your parking ticket, four years ago, expecting only a handful of friends to use it. Now the Bot has helped more than 290,000 people successfully challenge $5US million worth of parking tickets in London and New York. According to a Twitter interview in May 2017, Browder revealed his plans for a “completely redesigned interface where a consumer will just have to describe their legal issue” and get help in (hopefully) all jurisdictions. Browder has since delved further into the UK and US markets to provide bots to assist the public with landlord contract violations, Asylum applications, Maternity leave and Claims against Equifax. What is fascinating explains Shawnna Hoffman, IBM Global Cognitive Legal Co-leader, Watson AI and Quantum Computing, are the chatbots’ unintended but positive consequences. When people begin to use technological self-help tools, by default, this frees up the over-clogged courts and the human lawyers’ time. LegalTech has the power to create extra human capacity, so that community lawyers can get back to helping the most disadvantaged members of our society.
As technology automates various legal practices and disrupts a variety of industries, New-Problem-solvers from multi-disciplines will need to work collaboratively, not competitively. With access to information and data metrics, we are opening the floodgates where NewClients will become empowered and will remain the centre of the process. Teams of transdisciplinary lawyers must cater to the universal need to feel heard. Technology is never going to replace the importance of empathy, building trust, learning agility and maintaining long-standing relationships. These are the softer ‘pracademic’ skills Law students will need in the future.
At the upcoming Global Legal Hackathon on 23-25 of February 2018, students, academics, practitioners, law firms, policy makers, design thinkers, IT professionals and every stakeholder in the legal technology industry, can re-imagine justice. Across 6 continents, communities will be connected in an intense competition to invent creative solutions to solve commercial or access to justice problems.
If Uber uses people’s cars
If Airbnb utilises people’s empty rooms
If Airtasker uses people’s manual skills
Why can’t justice be ‘uber-ised’ to harness the power of people’s minds.
Wikipedia emerged, when people were given a platform to write about their expertise.
Can new platforms enable people to act using their areas of expertise and interest?
When you match people’s skills with an employer and a client on a project, a type of job audition takes place while a problem is simultaneously solved. This is a student’s window into experiencing their future career track, whilst the employer gets a window into the talent pipeline. Tracking team collaboration also identifies relationship management approaches, creative problem-solving adaptability and broad communication skills - essential for the future of work.
Research into the 70 / 20 / 10 model of learning and development supports a collaboration method, instead of traditional one to one training. Experience-based projects are where 70% of real learning takes place. 20% of learning is social from exposure to a diverse team. Only 10% of learning is from formal lectures. This may not be the traditional Universities teach, but this NewModel of Education is more aligned with the future ‘gig economy’ predictions. If law firms and other businesses are moving towards contingent workforces in the future, they need to identify learning agility and quick problem solvers.
As people spend more and more time in the virtual world, it’s easy to forget real people’s problems. Access to justice and being equal in the eyes of the law has been discussed at length in theory, but no-one has achieved the break-through in practice. Many segments of our society are socially, culturally and economically isolated. Can the internet give a voice to people from diverse backgrounds, and reach others remotely? Despite countless reviews into access to justice, we need to stop talking about it and actually do something.
The human need to connect, to tell stories and share problems is innate. Since the emergence of connectivity platforms and sharing forums, our social and professional lives are increasingly connected. What is missing is the part when we use connection, collaboration and technology to make the justice system more accessible than ever before.
About the Author
Rachel Kessel is NewLaw Lecturer at Monash University and Founder of Pracademix TM- Please connect Rachel Kessel, Founder at Pracademix TM via LinkedIn for further insights.
Monash University, is hosting the World’s largest Global Legal Hackathon in Melbourne and on February 23-25 2018. See: https://globallegalhackathon.com
Rachel Kessel is also Ambassador for the World Business Forum in Sydney 30-31 May. Please see https://www.wobi.com/wbf-sydney/.