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Technological transformation in law

The 2017 Deakin Law School conference delivers contemporary and cutting-edge insight.

International lawyers, judges, academics and legal service providers were among the keynote speakers at the 2017 Deakin Law School (DLS) conference which explored the theme of ‘Disruptive Innovation in Legal Services’.

In the past decade, one of the most significant impacts on the law profession has been the rapid-fire growth of technological innovation.  With globalisation, digitalisation and the commoditisation of traditional legal services, the legal industry now faces growing challenges to the way it operates and competes in the marketplace.

To address these highly-relevant issues, the 2017 DLS conference – organised under a grant from the Australia-India Council – showcased a line-up of global experts who shared their insights into the way technology is impacting the legal profession and its services.

With almost 120 delegates in attendance, the conference covered four key topics – Dispute Resolution and the Courts, Big Data and Artificial Intelligence, Leveraging Technology to Deliver Legal Work Product and The Legal Services Market of the Future – followed by lively and engaging Q&A panel discussions.

Opening the conference, Professor Sandeep Gopalan (Director of the DLS’s Centre for the Legal Profession) explained that reform through disruptive innovation would drive affordable, efficient and humane access to the legal services.

‘The traditional models of practising law and delivering legal services need to evolve to meet the demands of the 21st century and this means embracing the innovations that new technologies provide. The legal system can also take advantage of technology to improve access to justice for all Australians,’ he said.

As justice systems slowly merge with online platforms to resolve a range of disputes, the first session presented speakers representing companies from Australia, India, USA and Canada that now offer cloud-based technologies for dispute resolution.

The presenters included Chittu Nagarajan (Modria, USA/India), Shannon Salter (Civil Resolution Tribunal, Canada), Toby Unwin (Premonition Analytics, USA), MJ Cartwright (Court Innovations, USA) and Ross Paull (Guided Resolutions, Australia).

‘Our organisation grew out of our experience building online dispute resolution systems with eBay and PayPal,’ said Ms Nagarajan. ‘Increasingly, justice systems will become more online as consumers demand one click legal services.’

Shannon Salter, chair of Canada’s first online tribunal, said there was a need for an accessible and cost proportionate civil claims service.

‘People are generally comfortable doing things online … our guiding principles are to make it flexible, affordable and efficient.’

Chairing the session on Big Data and Artificial Intelligence (AI), Justice Ravinda Bhar (High Court of Delhi, India) explained that, ‘Courts are basically purveyors of information and data … and [these innovations] provides us with a greater sense of objectivity.’

Speakers Murray Bruce (IBM Watson, Australia/NZ), Michael Green (BarNet Jade, Australia), Kevin Miller (LegalSifter USA), and Himabindu Lakkaraju (Stanford University USA) covered a range of issues including trust and transparency, effects on the rule of law, evaluation tools, and adding value to the practice of law.

‘The legal system sometimes gets a bad rap about adapting to technology,’ said Kevin Miller, CEO of LegalSifter, an organisation that offers AI-assisted global legal services.

‘We build simple, affordable artificial intelligence products that help people manage their legal obligations and opportunities. We use natural language processing and machine learning to turn unstructured terms, conditions, and words into structured data and insights. Our customers can then make fast, informed decisions saving both time and money.  The truth is that legal professionals think, write and analyse for a living. This technology gets to the heart of [this] … our mission is to bring affordable legal services to the world and improve quality, consistency, speech and eventually, lower costs.’

Two in-depth sessions, chaired by Justice Ravindra Bhat (High Court of Delhi, India) and Professor Ranbir Singh (VC, National Law University, Delhi, India) examined the topic of ‘Levering Technology to Deliver Legal Work Product’.

The speakers for this session included Rhondda Nicholas (Ozpropertylaw, Australia), Alex Solo (Sprintlaw, Australia), Dr Allison Stanfield (SG Legal Services, Australia) and Adrian Cartland (Cartlandlaw, Australia), Peter Maloney (GlobalX, Australia), Kerry Kassam (Ravel Law, USA), Sheree Ip (Curtain University) and Duncan Travis (Allens, Australia).

Alex Solo, co-founder of start-up company Sprintlaw, said engaging the service of lawyers was often a ‘headache’ for small and start-up businesses.

‘So we’ve redesigned a law service that packages online legal information in a way that’s meaningful for clients. This means we’re providing an alternative that’s easy, quick, accessible, cost-effective and transparent – it’s built for the customer and has an agile and lean approach.’

With a PhD in technology and the law, Dr Allison Standfield added that it’s taken the law profession 20 years start embracing the cultural changes and disruption brought by technology.

‘We now have virtual law, lawyers working from home, new ways of communicating with clients, fixed fees and social media communications. The profession has been disrupted but technology has helped remove its mystery. In the future I think we will see lawyers more as service providers, barristers taking on more litigation preparation and the continued development of AI,’ she explained.

Lawyer Adrian Cartland – creator of Ailra (Artificially Intelligent Legal Research Assistant) – said that while AI can never fully replace human thinking, it can deliver systemised, packaged, commoditised and automated legal services.

‘Anything you can do with automatic thinking can be completed by AI – for example e-tax work. Of course we need humans to complete the legal work that requires philosophical and moral thinking, empathy, charisma, context and chance. AI just means you can take out all the dull bits of the law and have it automated.’

The day’s final session featured a a panel of judiciary, law and thought leaders who explored the future of the legal services market and the closing address was delivered by Justice Dhananjaya Chandrachud of the Supreme Court of India.

In his earlier welcome on behalf of Deakin’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Jane den Hollander, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Business and Law, Professor Mike Ewing, congratulated the conference organisers on a ‘superb line up of expert speakers’ and reflected on the evolution of technology and its impact on the law and academia.

‘Accelerating to 2020 … will we still have lawyers and judges?  Most certainly.  Will they be educated as they were in the 20th century?  Probably not.  Will they work as they do now?  I think that much is likely to change.  But the law, like universities, is a resilient institution that has sustained generations of change – from the printing press to the silicon chip … because they have always – always – adapted to the communities they serve.’

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