Accomplishment

Well, it’s just after 11:30 pm, so it must be time for one of my little blog posts.

Our app works.  It’s ready for presentation, and everything about it works.

There were ups and downs – to be honest, not a lot of downs, but the downs were large and frustrating, and they came with moments of ‘how much do I really need this feature’ or ‘what about just not having this bit’.  But no, that is not the attitude that got any of us into law school, and it’s certainly not the attitude our clients or colleagues will want to see in us in practice; so for our features and all the little extra bits (if they were possible) were going into the app.

For me, the ups were more like little *yes, I do know what I’m doing* moments in my brain – right up until tonight, which caused this post.  Tonight I’m both excited and pleased, and maybe even a little proud of what we have created.  I don’t know anyone that goes to law school right now thinks they are going to learn what we have learned in Designing Legal Expert Systems, but I have to echo one of my original posts (which I may have made here or on my LinkedIn) – transferring into this class at the last possible second was definitely the best choice I made this semester.

What about the really poor and marginalized?

I have to preface this post by saying I am a AI skeptic. That’s not to say that I don’t see the value in certain technologies and apps, especially where they help lawyers save time and therefore help the client save money. However, I would argue that this kind of technology is more likely to help the middle- to upper-class client save money.

What about those people who are in the lowest socioeconomic rungs where access to this technology is either impossible or impracticable? Even gaining access to the internet at a public library may be beyond the grasp of certain clients who either cannot physically get to the library or understand the technology in the first place. Persons with disabilities and senior citizens readily come to mind here. I think that we’re moving in the right direction with classes such as Designing Legal Systems and the CRT Knowledge Engineering courses offered at TRU Law. However, the more we use computers and such technology to increase access to justice for some people, are we dramatically reducing it for others? Are we in fact increasing the gap in access and leaving the already marginalized behind?

Food for thought.

From Denial to Acceptance – My Stages and Perception of the Reality of Artificial Intelligence in the Practice of Law

Throughout the last semester and a half of law school, my understanding of the significance and reality of artificial intelligence (AI) in the practice of law has grown. From ignorance to acceptance, I would consider this my modified version of the cliché, “five stages of grievance.”

 

Pre-Stage – Ignorance is Bliss

During my undergraduate degree, I had the inspiration to attend law school, become a lawyer, and enjoy a job with strong stability. My idea of technology and AI was limited to simple computer programing, like Word and Excel, or things I had seen in movies based in a far distant future. It had never dawned on me, not even for a second, that the tasks and jobs of lawyers could ever be replaced, especially not by some computer program.

 

Stage 1 – Denial

Near the end of my first semester at law school, upon talking with a few of my friends who were pursuing computer science and engineering degrees, they mentioned that law was a place that was ripe for AI. Like many lawyers and law students, I simply scoffed at this and simply found it too hard to believe that some computer program would ever be able to replace all but the simplest jobs that my future career was going to hold. I thought, innovations and technology will disrupt factory workers and low-level jobs but it will never affect a profession as complex as law. How ignorant I was.

 

Stage 2 – Anger

It is hard to say that I was really “angry” at people saying that AI would start replacing the jobs of lawyers. I would simply believe that those who thought this were simply being optimistic, thinking of ideas of how they could better their careers in computer science and engineering. These fools, I thought, they don’t know how complex the profession of law is. It’s difficult to see the other side when you have narcissistic blinders on.

 

Stage 3 – Bargaining

However, the more I thought about the idea, the more curious I became. Throughout my 1L summer, I began doing some personal research on AI and law. The articles I read seemed to range from very optimistic to those who figured that we should just pack our bags and let technology take us over. Although many of these articles made me uncomfortable, I thought to myself, if AI is coming, I had better make the best of it. I had better ensure that I am ready. As such, I decided to enroll myself into the course, “Lawyering into the 21st Century.” Am I ever glad I did.

 

Step 4 – Depression (not really)

Although the original fourth stage is typically labelled “depression,” I would consider it to be, for myself at least, the stage of uneasy uncertainty. One of the first tasks Professor Katie Sykes had us do in Lawyering in the 21st was to read Richard Susskind’s book, “The Future of the Professions.” This is where reality started to sink in. The more I read, the more I felt that there were many areas of our profession that could use improvement. As access to justice was becoming more and more of an issue, other resources were going to be needed to combat this problem. If lawyers weren’t going to provide the solution, someone else was.

 

Step 5 – Acceptance

Fortunately, for us in Lawyering in the 21st Century, Professor Sykes brought in a number of meaningful guest speakers who were already working as lawyers in the field of AI. Many of these speakers had no doubts that AI was coming and that AI had already been introduced to the profession of law. However, they seemed optimistic. Many of them believed that AI wasn’t going to replace lawyers as an end all, be all. At least, not for a long time. However, they did suggest that there were many parts of a lawyer’s job that could be improved by AI. Many of these jobs included the mundane tasks that lawyers dread doing. By having technology that will assist lawyers in improving the services they deliver, and as a result, having them provide cheaper legal services, this benefits both the lawyers and the general public. This is why I decided to take a second legal tech course with Professor Sykes, “Designing Expert Legal Systems.” After working through this course and with the technology, like Neota Logic, I feel more optimistic about the blending of AI and law. For now, at least, I can sleep better at night.

When it’s easier to start with a Clean Sheet

No one likes starting over; it’s frustrating and annoying, you feel like you’ve just wasted a bunch of time, you feel like you’ve failed, or worse, that you’ve been defeated by your own tangled brain (but you’re supposed to be smart!).  However, sometimes it is not only necessary, but very worth it in future time and frustration saved.

Today’s shared thoughts also appear in my Mistakes Log; which, I probably won’t post at the end of the month, but who knows, maybe I’ll be bold enough to share my mistakes.

After many collaborative changes, and much time spent trying to make all sorts of little modifications along the way work, the logic driving the app had to go, and a fresh decision tree had to be made.  3 hours later, the app works.  There are definitely still pieces missing, the aesthetics are still at default, and the report wording says things like ‘wording for report X’ or ‘insert question about Y’, but the logic flows where it is supposed to, which makes my stress level decrease just a little bit.

So, I leave readers of this blog with an 11pm thought: Sometimes the answer is to start over.

When you Think you Understand

This will be my first post on this blog about my adventures in the Designing Legal Expert Systems course with Katie Sykes at TRU Law.  I have made a few posts on my LinkedIn previously, but I am hoping that by posting here, others in our class may post here as well and that future years of law students will take the leap and try this class too.  I love that I transferred into this class at the last possible second, it was possibly the best decision I made this semester.  The class is pushing me to understand subject matter on a deeper level than a traditional law class tends to do.

As law students and future lawyers, we like to say we are both logical and problem solvers.  However, until you have to put your strict logic on a page, I suggest that what you think you understand and what you actually understand may not be the same thing.  When you build an app, each step has very definite inputs and outputs – which may seem contradictory to law, but think about the legal tests you do, and when you apply the facts to those tests.

I will leave my thoughts here for the moment and get back to building!