Bridging the Gap, Doing More, and Doing it Better

As Satya Nadella so simply put it, technology enables people to do more.  Personally, I have to agree with Nadella, and I can see so many places where technology can make lawyers’ lives easier.

I am a little older than the majority of my classmates at law school, so I remember when phones were attached to the wall, information came from books, and the internet was a cutting-edge thing, only available by dial-up – where the little blinking light on the front of a modem was exciting, because it meant that you were now connected to the world.  Each technological advancement has undoubtedly enabled people to do more, and legal expert systems will be no exception.

The legal profession is notoriously slow to embrace change, and law schools suffer from largely the same adoption rate.  A lot of pressure is put on law students to take a traditional set of courses and to keep with the tried and true.  However, whether law students are aware of it or not, what they really learn in law school is how to use their brains like lawyers.  Law students learn how to comprehend a focused area of law, in a relatively short amount of time, by synthesizing the relevant legislation and cases along with any additional situation-specific information.

In September of 2017, I decided to break from the larger herd when I chose to take a class on Designing Legal Expert Systems. This is a class where law students design and build their very own (legal) expert systems; I don’t mean in an abstract sense, I mean I signed up to build the expert system that would be capable of being used by its targeted user group. Admittedly, it was a last-second transfer in to the class, which required me to rearrange my entire schedule and join other classes two weeks into the semester, but I am so happy I did. By making the change to get outside the box of conventional law school classes, and outside my own comfort zone, I pushed myself to learn so much more. I made a few posts about my experiences in Designing Legal Expert Systems both on my LinkedIn ( as well as on our class blog ( as the semester went along. Like any new adventure, there were ups and downs, and for anyone reading this who has ever ventured outside their comfort zone, you will likely be familiar with how some of those downs can look like nearly insurmountable challenges.

In order to design an expert system, you need to understand the subject matter at a level where you can explain it for an average or lay person to understand. While an expert system is not generally designed to explicitly explain the law, it must work in the background in such a fashion that anyone can use it; this means taking the law and presenting it to the user in a way that the user will understand. The notion of presenting the law so any user can understand sounds easier than it is. I posted to our class blog earlier on about thinking you understand the concept you are trying to explain, and as my group worked on building our expert system, I found our group running into the issue multiple times – where we would have to stop and ask ourselves, ‘but will a regular person understand what that means?’

Law students learn to think like lawyers, but what we often do not learn is how to bridge the gap between the legal framework or infrastructure and the general public. Now, at the end of the holiday break, when law students have been home to see friends and family, is an excellent time for law students to evaluate the differences in thought process between those in law, and those not in law. For those of us that are first-generation lawyers, the differences are likely to be far more obvious. This is by no means to say that people in the legal profession are in some way smarter than everyone else, just that our brains work differently, sometimes very differently, and unless you take the time to actually interact with people who are not in the legal profession, these differences may remain hidden.

The expert system can bridge the gap and assist the lay person with some fundamentals or basics regarding their issue, as well as make the life of the lawyer easier. It is worth noting that, despite many concerns, the expert system does not replace the lawyer, but that is a topic for a different post. To do these things effectively, the expert system needs to be easy to use, and easy to understand – remembering that we expect the lawyer to understand the lay person’s situation, but that we do not expect the lay person to understand the law.

By integrating expert systems into the legal practice, there exists the potential to unleash the brains of lawyers on higher-level problems to solve, nuances to find, and creative solutions to be discovered. I think I am safe in saying that applying a legally trained mind to an issue that an expert system can answer, is not a good use of anyone’s time, money, or other available resources.

Many industries have already experienced changes from technology, and will continue to experience many more in the future. There is no question the tide is changing for the legal profession too, and the time to pivot into efficient law practice is upon us.

When clients seek out a lawyer, they are looking for a solution to their problem. Clients call upon us to find a solution, hopefully the best solution, to their issue, and we as the lawyers seek out all the options available.

For what is likely to be my final blog post for the class, I leave anyone reading with this: the legal profession is about customer service and problem solving / solution finding, so if technology can help us be better at those things, we should, at the very least, consider how technology can enable us to do more.

Lawyers, embrace the new and different, reconsider the things you do simply because you have always done it that way before and ask yourself: is there a better way?


by @Faymester

God Save the Legal System

Dave Barroqueiro
Constructor of Legal Apps and Lover of the Digital Age

In June 1977, to coincide with Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee, The Sex Pistols released “God Save the Queen”, their second of only two singles. It was a raucous, rebellious condemnation of the rigid, class-based politics of what was at the time a seemingly immovable British culture, confined by tradition and an overblown sense of propriety. Whether intended or not, it was taken on as the anthem of the disillusioned; Johnny Rotten became their poster boy.

To call the release of “God Save the Queen” a disruptive event does not do it adequate service. The Pistols faced (actual) assaults and insults from disgusted and indignant passers-by on the street. The song was banned by the BBC. The Pistols were dropped by two record labels for being simply “too much trouble”. The machinery of government, culture and business conspired against them at every turn. Charts wouldn’t even mention the name of the song or the band by name.

And yet, the single sold by the boatload.
(Despite outselling Rod Stewart by a yard, conspicuously, the single charted at #2)

This wasn’t an accident. The song was representative of the long-bubbling frustrations of a subculture ignored and actively repressed by the hegemonic powers of the day. Love it or hate it, this song, and the punk movement as a whole, changed the game. Undeniably, rock n’ roll would never be the same again. British culture, in a many ways, would never be the same again. The cat was out of the bag, and those who gripped tightly to the “old ways” found themselves becoming increasingly irrelevant in the new environment.

The digital age is the disruption. The legal system is the confining culture, primed for its own revolution.

It is no secret that the legal profession is careful, quiet, and risk-averse. It is no secret that the legal profession in Canada is bound up in the rigid, proper culture – the pomp and circumstance – inherited from the 19th century upper-middle-class British tradition. It is no secret that the gatekeepers of the legal profession resist technological innovation because those gatekeepers themselves profit immensely from their own inefficiencies under the billable hours paradigm. They do not wish for the legal profession to change because it is to their personal benefit that it does not.

Other industries — banking, transportation, healthcare, and myriad others — have all undergone their own quiet revolutions in the face of the changes brought on by the digital age. They have embraced the tremendous decision-making power and efficiency that the information revolution has brought along with it. The legal industry, however, resists it. Why?

“If it ain’t broke…”

Legal technology bloggers frequently bring up the notion that the legal profession is averse to technological innovation because of the structure of the profession and the law business itself.

Law firms themselves are not “open” to external investment in the way that businesses in other industries are. In law firms, because lawyers do the legal work, and profits are not shared with non-lawyers, this closes them to investment (and alternative ideas) from the outside. The firm model, in itself, is a “bubble”. There are many who seek to keep this bubble from popping for any number of reasons: investment in tech costs money; the “billable hours” paradigm makes (and keeps) them wealthy; the “exclusivity” of legal help keeps it expensive and elusive; it’s the way things have always been done; lawyering is too “personal” of a business; etc., etc.

This is the death grip of the “old ways”. Decentralization has already begun, and new tools emerge on a daily basis that are re-forming the legal landscape. The grip is loosening. Independent, creative, and agile lawyers will do well. More people will be able to access justice than ever before. Big firms will continue to exist, surely, but their relevance will undoubtedly diminish. Good riddance.

Those with the mind to serving clients as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible will reach more people. As clients are becoming more tech-savvy, their expectations are changing. Consumers want agility; they want speedthey want the experience of seeking legal help to be as painless and affordable as possible.

That “BIG” disruptive event…

Disruption by way of innovation happens everywhere you look: in culture, in business, in human relations… everywhere. It is inevitable. As it relates to the legal profession, this is a good thing – it opens the doors to innovators, rewards incumbents who look ahead, and ruthlessly punishes those who don’t (the scythe is swift and without remorse).

It’s difficult to say if the legal profession will face the kind of “shockwave” the music industry did with the introduction of iTunes (RIP HMV), or rock n’ roll did with the introduction of punk rock into the public consciousness. Rest assured, however, that the technological revolution in the legal profession has begun with companies like RocketLawyer, or via online tribunals, such as the Civil Resolutions Tribunal in British Columbia, or by way of cloud-based practice management like Clio. No one innovation, on its own, has blown up the legal profession, but, in aggregate, they are democratizing access to the law and enabling practitioners to do and be more of what their clients need. Power is being wrested away from the gatekeepers. This must — and will — continue. The machinery is large, their pockets are deep, their influence is wide-reaching, and the culture is rigid.

And yet, the wave will swallow them all.

But for now… God Save the Legal System. We mean it, man…

A2J – Altruism or Something Else?

In the poetic lyrics of the late Gord Downie, it “coulda been the Willie Nelson, [it] coulda been the wine.” As I sit here late on a Wednesday night after a few glasses of wine and a few too many hours of legal research, I feel my mind wandering. My mind wandering to thoughts about my team’s upcoming access to justice app and to notions of access to justice in general.

In the recent months, I have taken an interest in following and discussing the recent developments in access to justice. Whether it be through artificial intelligence or a redesigning of the legal system, there are many good ideas that will, if we can hope, assist those who currently do not have the resources to address their current legal needs. However, the more I read and the more I look into the developments, the more it makes me wonder, are these developments purely to help those in need or is there always some underlying, ulterior motive?

Now don’t get me wrong, even if there is an underlying motive, if the developments in the end are providing more people with access to justice or allowing people to resolve their legal problems at a more affordable cost, then how or where the ideas come from doesn’t matter. However, it seems that many of the ideas for and discussions about access to justice appear to be coming from those who have a monetary stake in the successful development of their idea, those who are using the promotion of access to justice as a “feel good” initiative, or those who are wanting to be perceived as someone who cares.

Whether or not the ideas are coming from altruistic or self-interested motives, if the results provide greater access to justice, then this is a positive for society. Nonetheless, I find it hard to believe those stating that they want to promote access to justice are doing so because they solely want to help those in need. But I may wrong. So kudos to all those who are making justice more accessible regardless of where your intentions lie.

Full Disclosure

Dave Barroqueiro,
Constructor of Legal Apps and Lover of the Digital Age

Full Disclosure: I’m not a blogger. Maybe I should be.

To blog isn’t really something I typically would do. I was never really one to keep a journal. I was never really one to comment too much in message boards, or on Facebook, or Twitter, or anything of the like. Thinking about it now, for someone who spends as much time behind a computer screen as I do, and as actively interested as I am in issues related to legal technology, digital media, intellectual property, and so on, I wouldn’t ever really say that I have much of a “web presence,” per se. Though woefully behind the curve, the importance of blogging is beginning to dawn on me, particularly given my decision to pursue a career in law — a profession that depends as much as it does on name recognition. The areas of law I’m interested in — IP, technology, legal innovation — only reinforce this further. It’s the new way of the world; time to get on the horse. One has to start somewhere… may as well be here.

Full Disclosure: I’m a bit of a computer nerd. Always have been. Always will be.

It may be difficult to believe — rugged rock n’ roll exterior and all — but I’m a pretty big computer nerd. Like, Revenge of the Nerds kind of nerd. From the time I received my first computer at age five (they didn’t come with a mouse then), there has always been something about computers that fascinated me. The very thought that this “magic box” had limitless potential to do anything my imagination could conjure up has been a driving force in my life — from dismantling and rebuilding the family computer as a child (it didn’t go over well – maybe should have asked permission), writing programs in BASIC as a nine year old, building websites and learning graphic design as a teenager (and later, as a component of my job), and now, combining my interests in the law and technology by developing a legal applications. Many don’t get a thrill out of the minutiae and tedium. I get lost in it.

Full Disclosure: I’m a bit of a dreamer.

really like making things. Rock n’ roll songs, websites, clay sculptures, legal apps… you name it. There’s a sort-of indescribable joy about taking an idea in your head, putting it into action, and refining it to death until it becomes something tangible. It never really ever ends up manifesting itself as it did when you had originally conjured it, and that’s okay. The real fun is in the journey. As I work away at my own little legal expert system — Mobile Rights Made Easy — I’m not too worried that it isn’t exactly as I’d imagined it when we began to undertake the development of the app. While the app does less than we’d originally conceived, it does it better than I’d ever imagined. Here’s to the journey.

Full Disclosure: I have a bit of an anti-authoritarian streak.

I’m a punk rocker to the very core; an anti-traditionalist, a rogue — especially when it comes to law. I’ve never been one to buy in to the idea that, because everyone else is doing something a certain way, that it’s the right way or the best way to do it. I really hate being told what (and how) to think. It’s on this point that I butt heads with my chosen profession. As we all know, law is just about as culturally conservative and slow-moving as the professions get. We’re not supposed to like disruption. We’re not supposed to like radical change. But… you know what?do like those things — they push and drive us to do more… to be better than we have been. The proliferation of disruptive technologies into the practice of law has already begun. As resistant as the profession has been to technological innovation and change, the cracks in the dam have begun to reveal themselves, and it is only a matter of time before the levees break. We are at an impasse: ride the wave, or be drowned by it. I plan to hang-ten. Cowabunga.

Consumers to Creators: Taking Control of our Tech

Parvej Sidhu

Access to justice is often conceptualized as a gap requiring a bridge. Artificial intelligence (AI) is helping by bridging another gap, between the justice system and the tech world. By drawing on the lawyer’s knowledge and the software developer’s expertise, AI is helping legal professionals complete their work faster and with greater accuracy, but also helping the public address their legal needs on their own. The ground-breaking Civil Resolutions Tribunal in BC is an excellent example of the latter.

I’ve been learning how to build this kind of AI in Professor Katie Sykes’ class, “Designing Legal Expert Systems: Apps for Access to Justice.” It’s been a welcome exercise in creativity and an exciting introduction to artificial intelligence (made possible by very beginner-friendly software from Neota Logic). It’s also, however, made me question my relationship with technology. In particular, I’ve been thinking about another kind of gap, found between what we wish technology could do for us and what we’re actually using it for in our day-to-day lives.

It’s not always obvious that our relationship with technology evolves as fast as the technology itself, partly because we don’t really make a lot of conscious choices about how heavily we’re going to rely on it. None of us woke up one morning, for instance, and decided to designate our cell phone as our hand-held computer, GPS, and mobile personal assistant. Most advances in tech, whether they be in health, communications or artificial intelligence, creep up on us. When we do make choices, they’re constrained by what we are offered on the market as consumers. I think this translates to a lot of wasted potential. The carefully curated features of the latest “smart” devices out there are hardly a response to our cries for help. Many smart products are designed to solve “problems” that don’t exist for a majority of this planet, if at all. I am reminded of this every time my washing machine decides it needs to lock my clothes inside it and I’m forced to unplug it to win them back.

In the course of solving problems that don’t exist, technology also creates problems we’ve never seen before. Earlier this year, news broke on artificial intelligence that can detect, with considerable accuracy, someone’s sexual orientation just from their photographs. My initial awe quickly gave way to concern about the gross violations to human rights and privacy that would result if this AI were abused.  In these murky waters, our relationship with technology devolves further, and we’re relegated from consumers to mere subjects.

As consumers or subjects, what can we really do about useless, invasive or unsettling uses of AI? It’s clear to me that the engineer-consumer divide in how we interact with tech isn’t conducive to socially responsible or responsive innovation. To my mind, challenging this dichotomy is a good place to start, and those of us building “apps for access to justice” have been given the opportunity to do just that. In the legal context there is enormous potential and incentive to harness the power of AI to serve our own needs as well as the needs of our colleagues, our clients, or the public in general. These are specialized needs, and they require tomorrow’s lawyers to experiment as creators and innovators if they are ever going to be met.

Access to justice is a real problem, and real solutions are possible with the use of tools like artificial intelligence. The first step in discovering those solutions is to recognize the role we have to play as creators in control of our tech.