A Peek into the Future of Law – Five Quick Question

Ava Chisling
April 26, 2017

If you want to have a chat about the future of law, Erik P.M. Vermeulen is a good guy to have in your contacts list. A professor of Business and Financial Law at Tilburg University and the Head of Governance at Philips Lighting in the Netherlands, Erik also works on “Governance Tomorrow,” a growing collective of law professors, researchers and practitioners whose goal is to develop strategies that enable government, corporations, start-ups and people make better choices in the new economy. He recently co-authored the paper Legal Education in the Blockchain Revolution (LEBR), which examines, among other things, how artificial intelligence and blockchain technology are transforming what it means to be a lawyer, legal advisor or law professor. We start our 5 quick questions by going back to school.

Many law schools now embrace “experiential learning,” commonly known as the hands-on approach. Is this enough to prepare lawyers for the technological revolution that’s already here?

In a legal context, the uncertainties triggered by the emergence of a new digital reality are particularly urgent. But identifying the correct response to the new normal is not easy. What does seem clear, however, is that experiential learning is no longer sufficient.

The new technologies in the digital world force law professors and other educators to return to the drawing board. The task is clear: creating new courses in the hopes of retaining relevancy, while ensuring job opportunities for law students now and in the future. It should be noted that law professors must work in multi-disciplinary teams — not only with accountants or fiscal advisors, but also with mathematicians, software engineers and coders.

My International Business Law program at Tilburg University will soon include courses such as coding, machine learning, the law of open organizations and LegalTech. They will adopt different forms, varying from traditional lectures, lab sessions, group projects, one-on-one mentorship and hackathons.

“The legal profession is one of the most disrupted sectors of the consulting industry today. Legal Tech, artificial intelligence and blockchain technology, the sharing economy, and platform companies are changing legal practice.” — LEBR

Is part of the problem the fact that technology is moving far faster than the education of law (and lawyers and the law…)?

The sharing economy means re-thinking everything we thought we knew about property, privacy and employment. Instead of trying to use the traditional models, methods, institutions and regulations to understand, analyze and structure the very different and fast-changing sharing economy, what we need to do is to develop new paradigms for mapping and understanding the different aspects of our new reality. It is only in this way that the full benefits of the sharing economy can be enjoyed.

What will happen to those who don’t adapt to new technologies? And when?

There is no denying that disruptive technologies, such as AI and blockchain-based technology, have transformed the analogue world into a digital world, and that this new world is increasingly structured around networks, computer code, algorithms and machine learning. I agree with billionaire Mark Cuban that if lawyers don’t study (and understand) artificial intelligence, they will become dinosaurs very soon (three to five years).

“Legal technology has evolved from support systems to fully integrated and automated services for lawyers that increasingly disrupt the practice of law.” — LEBR

How close are we to seeing virtual law firms?

We can already distinguish a spectrum of law firms. As stated in my paper, at one extreme, there is the traditional law firm characterized by a hierarchy with partners at the top and varying levels of associates, paralegals and non-lawyers below them. At the other extreme, we find those firms that adopt an Airbnb-type platform organization, mainly providing a match-making/coordination service. Between these two extremes, there can be enormous variations, depending on the level of implementation of Legal Tech.

In what ways do you believe AI is going to revolutionize law and are we only at the very early stage of these changes?

The opportunities for lawyers are obvious. If algorithms can perform the standardized work and legal research activities, there is more time for assisting the internal client with the specific challenges of the digital world. The exponential growth of AI-related technologies will only further reshape the way lawyers work in the future. It is important to note here that we may still not have approached the “knee” of the exponential growth curve.

The new technology-based economy requires tech-savvy (LegalTech cannot be ignored), business-savvy (we can already see that lawyers become more and more involved in complex, non-legal tasks) and network-savvy lawyers (lawyers will increasingly work through or from platforms). Researching the legal implications surrounding AI and blockchain-based technology is exciting, but the excitement about rethinking everything we thought we knew about the law is magical.

Your paper Legal Education in the Blockchain Revolution talks a lot about the effect artificial intelligence is having on the legal industry and how that effect will only increase over time — which is, of course, why ROSS Intelligence continues to grow.

Ava Chisling

Ava is an award-winning lawyer and editor who counsels creative types, writes about pop culture/tech+law and sometimes creates ad campaigns. She is Quebec counsel for Momentum Law.