BLDC 2020

Today I had the opportunity to participate in the 2020 Boston Legal Design Challenge (#BLDC2020). It was the first year this competition was held online, and they were therefore able to include teams from outside of Boston proper.

Throughout the day we were invited to participate in exercises with our team members. Our team, the TRU Legal Architects was the only team from Canada. We were accompanied by a facilitator from Liberty Mutual Insurance in a zoom breakout room. Our facilitator led us through a collection of exercises where we collaborated through Mural.co in order to strategize and discuss what we were going to pitch to the judges.

At the end of the day, we competed against the 9 other teams and presented our idea to a panel of 3 judges. Ultimately we pitched the idea of an automated legal consultant who would provide assistance to small firms and sole practitioners looking to digitize their practice at little to no cost. We wanted to provide a resource that would help facilitate a seamless transition online for those who do not have the same resources available to them as would be found in a larger firm. We were thrilled to come in 3rd overall.

A lot of the presentations focused on access to justice and products that would help move the legal profession into the future. It was a very valuable experience and I think the people who participated will undoubtedly do great things for the profession in the future.

Incorporating Intersectionality in User Profiles: Accessibility and Inclusion.

The need more for accessible legal services or information is well known and unnecessary to recount, but it is clear that a major problem facing access to these services is the amount they cost; very few people can afford them. This leads to average-income and particularly low-income groups or individuals not having access to justice and many of these low-income groups or individuals are also from other equity-seeking groups, which makes this an intersectional issue.

The transition into offering legal services or information online can help address the access to justice issue by allowing these groups to have access to answers or information regarding their legal problems at low or no cost. However, what about those groups or individuals that are at the intersections of disadvantage? For example, minority groups with none to limited English proficiency that also have low income or disabled people with low income. The impact of A2J initiatives for them will undoubtedly be less unless the online tool can address these intersectional issues.

When making user profiles, it is critical to consider users that may fall outside the majority but for whom the services offered may still be essential. Accessibility, usability, and inclusion are important concepts to address in user-profiles and then work towards implementing solutions within your online platform to help address the needs of these groups.

For example, how will the online service help those groups of people that do have limited or low English proficiency or those that have visual impairments and may not be able to read the text? The need to address questions such as: Is there a way to translate English to another language; is it possible to have audio prompts for those who cannot read or have visual impairments, etc.?

Now, by no means am I an expert in technology. I am only addressing some of the potential issues that may come up as legal professionals or students work towards developing online tools to help people with legal needs – presumably, those who cannot afford to pay for them.

I believe that online platforms can accommodate these groups further by having these added features. For example, web services that enable two systems to interact and share information. Online legal applications can take advantage of these services to deliver new online capabilities, like translating text between two different languages.

This is not to say it is a perfect solution. I recognize there are real challenges with the interpretation or translation of languages that may compromise the accuracy of the information translated. Therefore, preliminary testing to ensure the translation of the text is accurate by an expert is recommended.

Services like screen readers allow visually impaired persons to use the internet by reading a website text aloud. Video conferencing can be a great tool for hearing impaired people when used to provide sign language interpreters, particularly if a firm is using technology to provide services or for rural courts who may need the help of sign language interpreters.

This post was just a friendly reminder to incorporate equity-seeking groups into our user profiles, if possible or applicable, to the legal services online platform to be developed. I acknowledge that some online platforms will be targeted to professionals or users that will not have English proficiency as an issue, for example, “BC lawyers”. However, some online platforms that are directed at the population may face some of these issues. For those of us moving forward in this profession, we should not only be aware of these issues but advocate for solutions when possible.

Can Law Really Catch Up To Technology?

Irene Chan

Ever since I was allowed to touch my mother’s computer (at the tender age of 7), I have been sucked into the world of security. Back when the WWW was still developing and applications were not as sophisticated as they are now, the level of information security was equally poor. Nowadays, many users take for granted encryption algorithms like AES, triple DES, RSA, etc. All of which, practically speaking, don’t allow potential intruders without prior knowledge of the keys to read the encrypted data, provided that the algorithm is properly implemented. Ask yourself these questions: do you use the same password over and over again? Have you ever used really easy passcodes like ‘1111’ or ‘1234’? Do you have a passcode for your electronics?

Cryptography and information security has evolved so much that users don’t think about breaches until after an attack. On the other hand, because security has gotten so evolved, it’s now a hassle to remember long passwords, two/three-steps verifications, and all the other features that are meant to protect our information. How do you balance accessibility and data security?

So here’s the thing. Law has always been resistant to change. As we have seen with past jurisprudence, changes only come when specific circumstances are fulfilled and society’s mindset and values have changed. It takes years, sometimes decades, to effect change in the law. Why change something that works, right? This is the complete opposite of technology. Every day, technology is trying to change, for the better or worse, it’s ever changing. If you want an example, look at the Apple iPhone. Every year a new model comes out. How about laptops? CPU chips are getting smaller and more powerful every day.

Due to COVID-19, the legal system scrambled to implement technology into its daily functions to try and keep the institution running. Even for institutions that have already integrated a sufficient level of technology for remote learning/working, we’ve see how that went down earlier this year. Our law school completely shut down on the first few days of the Fall semester despite having 5-6 months to prepare. Now that we’ve marginally solved the problem of accessibility, the next question is security. For example, it’s easy to have security when you’re locked in a windowless room with your client (let’s ignore the fact that listening devices exist for a brief moment, because then we’re getting into ‘spy stuff’). How are you supposed to ensure your video-conferencing call is secure? What happens if an intruder hacks into your private video call with a client? What of the solicitor-client privilege? What happens if someone from another jurisdiction perpetrates these attacks?

It’s true that in our Criminal Code that we have various provisions for cyber crimes, but is it really enough? One thing we know from the last 8 months is that the more reliant we become on technology, the more demand there is for legal protections to prevent harm to society and its institutions. Cyber crimes can have such devastating consequences and can be performed anywhere in the world. Perpetrators come up with new ways to perform cyber criminal activities everyday. How can the law respond to the fact that our lives are now more intertwined with technology than ever? How will the law respond to that? Is it even possible for the law, as it is now, to protect the society and individual interests?

God Save the Legal System

Dave Barroqueiro
Constructor of Legal Apps and Lover of the Digital Age
https://twitter.com/rawklawbster

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…

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.