When Paul Paton first started paying attention to technology's effects on the practice of law in 2010, the existing rules seemed sufficient to equip lawyers to proceed ethically. But with the rise of tools like ChatGPT, it may be time for more guidance.
"A reliance on predictive AI to substitute for lawyer preparation and judgment is probably the area of biggest risk," the University of Alberta law professor told Taproot. "It's one thing to rely on a new tool. It's another to let it substitute for a lawyer's professional judgment."
Paton will be exploring these themes at the 2023 Legal Innovation and Digital Law Conference on Feb. 10. The student-led conference is put on by the Law and Business Association (LBA) and the Digital Law and Innovation Society.
"We're excited to have a room full of people not only from the legal profession but also business professionals and (people) in computer science and the tech industry," said Sereena Dosanjh, a second-year law student who serves as the vice-president in charge of the innovation conference with the LBA. "We welcome members from all walks of life, and we're excited to have that networking opportunity in person again."
So far, about 110 people have signed up for the conference, which will be in person for the first time since 2020.
Paton was dean of the U of A law school when students came to him with the idea for the conference around 2017. He helped them set it up, then it took on a life of its own. "My students ... were bold innovators," he said. "In many respects, they saw a need that others hadn't."
Technology moves much faster than academia or the law. The Model Code of Professional Conduct in Canada has included an ethical duty to maintain competence in technological trends since 2019, but that's not easy.
"In this space, wait 30 seconds and there will be a new technology that may or may not fit what traditional practice rules have permitted," Paton said.
An extreme example is DoNotPay, an American startup that bills itself as "the world's first robot lawyer," encouraging users to "fight corporations, beat bureaucracy and sue anyone at the press of a button." In January, founder Joshua Browder backed away from a plan to use AI in court to help someone fight a speeding ticket by having a chatbot tell them what to say via wireless earbuds.
The existence of DoNotPay speaks to access to justice even more than it pertains to technological advancement, Paton said. "The bigger issue in that context is how many people can't actually secure legal advice at a reasonable price," he said.
Instead of bypassing lawyers, he said, it would be better to increase access, as lawyers are trained in ethics and are required to serve both their clients and the public interest.
"Part of the challenge for the legal profession is continuing to convince a skeptical, consuming public about the value of actually hiring a lawyer," Paton said.
The rise of legal-tech is part of what got Dosanjh interested in working on the conference. "It's important for us to understand what we're actually getting into and how it can change, and the potential of tech as well as the limitations of tech in the field," she said.
Amir Reshef of dealcloser and Matt Scrivens of Goodlawyer will speak, as will Randy Goebel, a co-founder of the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii), and Doug Schweitzer, Alberta's former minister of jobs, economy, and innovation.
"We're excited to hear how far tech has come since he entered the field, and where he sees it going," Dosanjh said of Schweitzer's keynote.
While organizers are looking forward to getting together in real life again, there is an online option for those who can't make it in person. Registration is free.