The importance of being technologically literate.

I love technology and learning new tech skills. It’s been fascinating seeing technology evolve over the last couple of decades and to see prices go down for ever more powerful technology. I remember paying $100 for a 128mb memory card that held less than 100 songs and seeing a 1gb memory card behind glass at the Sony Store for $1000. Now you can get a 32gb memory card for $10 from a bin on the floor at Best Buy.

In today’s world and to be competitive in today’s workforce, being comfortable with technology, especially desktop operating system environments, is critical. A lot of young people are comfortable with phones and tablets, which typically run Android or iOS operating systems, but can’t competently use Windows or Mac OS.

Android and iOS are simplified operating systems designed for use on smaller screen devices and are best suited for communication and media consumption. I was able to complete my undergrad in business administration using a more simplified laptop running Chrome OS, but my second undergrad in computer science required a more business-oriented machine.

Most office jobs require basic knowledge of desktop operating system environment and productivity software such as Microsoft Word and Excel, with more advanced knowledge (such as VBA and macros) preferred.

I am now seeing more and more jobs that traditionally didn’t require coding skills at all now listing them as preferred if not mandatory. These jobs include financial analyst positions and various marketing positions. How long until jobs in law require the same?

For these reasons, I think it’s great that TRU and Professor Sykes offer the Designing Legal Expert Systems course and I hope to see this area of focus expand at TRU Law. In contrast, Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson Law) has a mandatory coding bootcamp course for their law students.

Technological Competency and the Code

We are all more reliant on technology than ever before, and the legal industry is no exception. Partly due to COVID-19, law firms have adopted new tech for file management, remote work and communication. New technology is a welcome change in a profession often plagued by antiquated systems and thinking. However, the adoption of new technology in the legal field has led to an increase in the amount of data stored and accessed online. As a result, firms may be more vulnerable to cybersecurity threats.[1]


One tactic used by hackers is ransomware. Ransomware attacks can result in millions of dollars spent to resolve the data breach, update security systems and train employees to prevent it from happening again. In April 2020, two Manitoba law firms were hit by a ransomware attack, locking them out of their entire computer system, including their Cloud backups.[2] The amount of the ransom and whether it was paid were never disclosed. Even if firms regain access to their data, there is no guarantee that it has not been corrupted or altered.[3]

In both cases, hackers gained access to the firm’s system using email phishing scams. I was under the impression hackers would use sophisticated technology-based tools to gain access to law firm data. While this is true in some cases, more often, simple tactics such as malicious email links and attachments are used to penetrate security systems. It is quite ridiculous that methods used since the dawn of the internet are still used to hold law firms hostage.

As of November 2022, the Law Society of BC’s Code of Professional Conduct does not reference technological competence. In 2019 the Federation of Law Societies of Canada amended the Model Code of Professional Conduct by including provisions addressing technological competence.[4] Revising the Code is not a new idea, but change is slow in the legal industry. Now may be the right time for the Law Society of B.C. to revise the competency requirement. They may be more receptive to change now in comparison to years past, as evidenced by the Legal Innovation Sandbox.

The Code and Security Training

While firm-specific training and education are critical in this area, introducing data and cybersecurity in the Law Society’s Code and admissions process helps establish a baseline understanding across lawyers in B.C. This would introduce the basic threats commonly targeted at law firms. The trend of innovative technologies in legal services will only increase, making it more difficult for even senior lawyers to avoid utilizing new legal tech.

Therefore, upholding the core principle of “protecting the public” through establishing legal competence should include a technological component related to cybersecurity and data breaches. A self-governing profession undertakes significant responsibility to uphold the foundation of legal services. If lawyers are to maintain the confidence of the public, it seems necessary to update the policies we all follow along with new tech.

[1] “Ransomware attacks have seen a dramatic increase, say lawyers” Elizabeth Raymer, June 29, 2021

[2] “Small and Midsized Law Firms Slammed by Ransomware” Sharon Nelson & John Simek June 3, 2021

[3] “Ransomware attacks lock 2 Manitoba law firms out of computer systems” Sean Kavanagh, April 14, 2020

[4] “It’s Finally (Sort Of) Here!: A Duty of Technological Competence for Canadian Lawyers” Amy Salyzyn, November 26, 2019

Legal Technology and the subtlety of legal research

This semester we’ve talked a lot about the legal field’s resistance to change. I, like the majority of the class, understand the need for legal innovation. Working at a firm this summer, I realized even more the necessity of legal innovation. For example, doing a 5000-e-mail doc review manually showed how useful and cost-efficient document review technology is. However, I understand the hesitancy about automation as well.

This summer, I was at work scrolling through LinkedIn when I saw an ad for Alexsei. I clicked on the website, and for some reason, I was flooded with panic. 

Alexsei is an online legal platform that provides answers to legal questions in memo format. To use Alexsei, you submit a legal question with facts to give context and then A.I. and research lawyers “review and synthesize millions of documents to find the most relevant case law and legislation.”[1] Through this review, Alexsei produces a research memo which includes a conclusion, caselaw summaries and a full list of authorities. The part that spooked me most was reading that using Alexsei for legal research saved about “four hours of work per research task.”[2]

I remember feeling genuinely worried that my firm would discover this website and realize that they don’t need summer students. Thankfully, my rational brain came back a couple of minutes later, and I remembered that the sole purpose of a summer student isn’t to do legal research. One thing I wondered was how A.I. could assess some of the more nuanced / context-specific parts of a legal question.  

This same question has come up during my team’s efforts to build a legal advisor app that, to a certain extent, evaluates the strength of a human rights complaint. For context – a human rights complaint has a three-part test – 1. that you have a protected characteristic, 2. That you were treated negatively in a protected area, and 3. Your protected characteristic is at least a factor in why you were treated negatively (a nexus between the discrimination and the protected characteristic). When we came up with this idea, our team’s biggest concern was how do we automate the third question. The crux of a human rights complaint is that there is a nexus. So how do we ask a series of plain language questions that allow us to assess the strength of a claim? Obviously, in the strongest cases, the user/complainant will have some evidence. They were fired the day after they told their boss they were pregnant. An employer fired an employee and said it was because of a protected characteristic. An employer ignores an employee’s formal complaints of racism coming from other employees. However, the tricky thing about discrimination is that often times its subtle.  

 The other day my team had an opportunity to sit down and speak with Laura Track – the director of the B.C. Human Rights Clinic. While she was super excited by our app, she brought up our exact worries. She wondered how a series of questions could accurately capture the subtlety of some discrimination. If our app doesn’t catch that subtly, are we deterring complainants with good claims from proceeding to the forum? 

This is still an issue we’re working through, but I think my worry with our app extends to all A.I. technology that offers a legal opinion. E-discovery and doc review technology obviously doesn’t have that problem to the same degree, and I really do see the value in automation in a lot of areas, but I can’t seem to wrap my head around an A.I. like Alexsei being able to come to a legal conclusion on discrete and subtle legal issues. Maybe I don’t fully understand the capabilities of A.I. (a very likely possibility), and maybe the A.I. just conducts preliminary research that the “Research Lawyers” mentioned on Alexei’s website review and finalize. 

When I looked into more, though, I realized how Alexsei was used in practice. In an article written by Canadian Lawyer Magazine[3], a Saskatchewan-based lawyer explained how Alexsei saves her time. She said that in situations where she needs to research very thoroughly and find specific (what I assume means analogous) cases, she doesn’t stop at the Alexsei memo – she uses Alexsei to save herself “two or three hours” of her own research by getting her the leading cases in the area. One quote stood out to me specifically “I think it makes us better lawyers because we’re on top of things, and that energy can be better spent doing what we’re intended to do – share our experience and advice with the client.” The lawyer even goes on to say that it helps her articling students because they can go on to “finer search” after Alexsei does the initial review of caselaw and legislation. 




The Pandemic, Technology, and Family Law – A Reflection on the Changes.

From my time at a family law boutique firm, I learned that legal processes can cost individuals a lot of time and money.  Access to justice is a problem across all areas of law, but the issue is particularly apparent in family law. The era of the pandemic, while a horrible time for many, was helpful in terms of access to justice in the field of family law. More and more services are offered online, such as motion hearings, ‘To Be Spoken To’ court, mediations, and arbitrations. This saves the already financially struggling client from having to take a day off from work to appear in court. These technological changes also address the root issues faced by clients who need to commute long distances to arrive for their court appearance (and with these gas prices, we all need a bit of help!) More importantly, virtual appearances save the client the burden of having to pay exponential legal fees for their lawyer’s transportation costs, and idle time spent waiting to be heard by the Judge.

Also, the push for more online services has led to a decrease in cost for many services including process servers, printing, in-person filing expenses, and overall lawyer time. Both lawyers and clients no longer feel the need to have in-person meetings. Instead, most have now transitioned to phone calls and Zoom meetings. This shift has naturally made clients more aware of the time they are spending with the lawyer and thus, has pushed both parties to get straight to the point.

Another way the pandemic era has aided family law, with its rise of integrating technology in the legal field, is by equipping individuals with the tools to access the self-representation route. During my time at the boutique firm, I had the opportunity to talk to lawyers about their experience pre- and post-pandemic, but more importantly, I was able to talk to a few clients, potential clients, and people who were calling to inquire about consultations and fees. From those interactions I was able to hear about how pre-pandemic, when a client felt that the legal fees were racking up beyond the point of affordability, they felt trapped and hopeless, thinking that this meant their battle for custody, support, parenting time, or other legal issues, was over. Now, post-pandemic, with the rise of technology and online services, people who feel they can no longer afford a lawyer, while they do still feel a level of hopelessness (especially if their previous spouse/partner continues to have legal representation), are overall less intimidated by the self-representation route.

The rise of technology in the family law field has not been all sunshine and rainbows, however. A disadvantage is perhaps the plethora of online resources, guides, aids, questionnaires, etc. While the move over to using more technology has aided many elements of access to justice in the area of family law, it has also indirectly overwhelmed the field and inevitably pushed people, who were hoping to save money, back to feeling like they need to hire a lawyer. While technological advancements in family law have promised a more accessible route to justice, the best resources for a particular legal issue need to be streamlined to avoid overwhelming the self-represented litigant, or anyone who is struggling financially and hoping to enter the self-representation path.

It’s the end of 2022. Why is this still an issue?: The Legal Profession and Legal Tech

In three years, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the legal system. From filing eDocuments to virtual court appearances, lawyers have had to adapt their ways to facilitate the move to online services. For some, these long-awaited changes are being celebrated as a significant step towards addressing access to justice issues in Canada. Others, however, have approached the move to the “online world” with more reluctance, especially in legal tech. I experienced first-hand this hesitancy from a surprising place during my class project for TRU’s Designing Legal Expert Systems class (DLES).

In DLES, the major class project involves students designing a legal expert system that provides users with tailored legal information. One component of the project involves students reaching out to legal professionals in their project’s field of law. To ensure anonymity for the parties involved, I will say that I reached out to an organization that provides free legal services. I asked Organization X whether they would be interested in testing our app and providing some feedback. Organization X responded with something along the lines of “we don’t support the use of legal advice apps .”As an organization that provides free legal services, I had assumed the organization would happily welcome a legal expert system designed to provide individuals with access to free legal information. The rebuff was unexpected and left me “freaking pissed,” to say the least.

As a millennial who experienced the transition from dial-up internet to Wi-Fi, I am a strong proponent of technological innovation in every field. So after Organization X’s response, I had to ask myself, “Why? Why would you not support the use of legal tech?” Throughout DLES, this question lurked in the background of our class discussions. Greed, the liability for shoddy legal information taken as legal advice, or the belief that a computer can’t do a lawyer’s job were just a few explanations discussed. So when I ask myself the question, I come up with two different answers, one I call the “Pessimist view of lawyers,” and the other the “Optimist view of lawyers.”

In my “Pessimist” answer, I think that the real reason why lawyers are reluctant to use legal tech is that lawyers think they are a lot more important than they actually are. Lawyers have a shockingly huge superiority complex for a three-year undergraduate degree (Yes, a JD is, in fact, an undergraduate degree, despite what some lawyers might try to tell themselves [1] ). This is especially true when it comes to the typical lawyer’s opinion of self-represented litigants, who supposedly lack the proper legal education or training to understand the intricacies of the law. While I agree that the average person will not immediately understand the complexities of the law, that doesn’t mean they can’t learn. If provided with the proper information, any person should be able to represent themselves in court, a significant problem for lawyers whose income relies on the provision of legal services. Legal tech that makes legal information more accessible poses a risk to the average lawyer’s livelihood, which explains the general hesitancy of the profession. In my pessimistic view of lawyers, I fear that lawyers are no longer acting as champions of law. Instead, lawyers are increasingly becoming gatekeepers who limit access to justice by refusing to share legal knowledge while charging exorbitant prices for legal services.

I am not so naïve to think that the world would be better without lawyers. But the requirement to have a lawyer to navigate the legal system is a major red flag. Legal tech, like expert systems, is not a replacement for bona fide legal advice. On the contrary, legal tech can benefit lawyers, bringing me to my “Optimist” answer.

In my “Optimist” answer, I attribute lawyers’ reluctance to use legal tech to a misunderstanding of how it can be used, especially when it comes to legal expert systems. You will never get a straight answer for a legal issue in law. The answer will always be “it depends” because it depends entirely on a client’s circumstances. An expert system’s predetermined answers can be difficult for lawyers to support; however, this is such a limited understanding of what expert systems can do and how beneficial they can be. Expert systems can be designed to make a lawyer’s life easier and, more importantly, efficient. Asking standard questions for legal issues, determining the required documentation clients will need or providing clients with standard legal information are just a few ways expert systems can make lawyers more efficient. What lawyers need to realize is that the application of legal tech is genuinely endless. You can create a program to do as little or as much as you want. That’s the beauty of legal tech.

As I near the end of my law degree and begin looking to the future, I hope the camp of naysayers in the legal community realize the many benefits of legal tech. It’s a shame that we are nearing the end of 2022, and the use of legal tech is still an issue. But with every new batch of articling students, support for legal tech is growing and with it, the boundaries of what legal tech can do.

[1] University of Toronto: Faculty of Law, “So, You Want to Become a Lawyer,” Online: <>