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.



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.

By @faymester

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.