Big Law, computers, courts, dispruptive technology, law, Law Society of BC, lawyers

The Legal year that was-2018

Once again this year I succumb to the lazy pundits’ content creation strategy of posting a retrospective on the highlights of the legal year now drawing to a close. And why Not? Not only has it been a busy, busy year, but I have a hunch that a few years down the pike, analysts will be opining that 2018 was a watershed year in the evolution of the profession.

Locally, the legal landscape was significantly overhauled, with the introduction of a brand new, online court (the Civil Resolution Tribunal). After cutting its teeth resolving low-end small claims cases where less than $5,000 was at stake, its jurisdiction is about to be expanded to  to deal with motor vehicle injury claims of up to $50,000 in value.

The advent and expansion of the CRT shifts a significant volume of litigation out of the hands of independent, Federally appointed judges, and into the hands of private adjudicators hired at the will of the Provincial government. The gig economy has come to the court system, since most adjudicators will likely be lawyers looking to pick up some part time work from home (since everything is done online).

The CRT gives the Attorney General new power to throttle the flow of cases through the court system, as more motor vehicle injury cases can be forced into the CRT simply by moving the jurisdictional threshold. Will the AG be tempted to force other types of litigation through the CRT as well?  Its certainly more economical to operate a judge-less , lawyer-less court, which is what the CRT is. The Tribunal requires the litigants themselves to take the lead in the resolution of their cases, with the assistance of lawyers being discouraged, or outright not permitted, and part- time adjudicators, logging on from home in their robe and slippers, work much cheaper than do Federally appointed Supreme Court judges.

Perhaps this is why the BC Supreme Court remained under-strength in 2018. Notwithstanding a baker’s dozen of new appointments, all of whom were simply replacing judges who were retiring or resigning, the Province still lacks its full complement of judges for yet another year. Could this be a contributing cause to the growing waiting times to obtain a trial date?

2018 marked not only the shift into online courts devoid of  both lawyers and  judges, but an end to lawyers’ centuries old monopoly on the provision of legal services, with the quiet passage late in the year of the Attorney Generals Statute Amendment Act 1018. This legislation authorizes the Law Society to create, and regulate new categories of non-lawyer legal service providers. BC’s lawyers at their December AGM did a passable impression of King Canute as they resoundingly instructed the Benchers of the Law Society not to proceed with the implementation of any such programme, but one has to think that the tide is still coming in anyway.

Some other events of note this legal year included The Supreme Court of Canada delivering a resounding 7-2 smack-down to Trinity Western University’s attempt to start a law school where  students would be required to swear to a controversial Community Covenant, and the long awaited start of construction on a new Abbotsford Courthouse.

With the court system being overhauled, and the role of lawyers under attack, it  may be difficult to grasp that probably the most significant change in the legal landscape this year was actually a technological one. 2018 was the year that AI (artificial intelligence ) went mainstream in the legal profession, adopted pretty much en masse by Big Law, with the legal tech sector in general reaching critical mass and attracting the attention of venture capitalists in a big way.

The AI watershed came largely unheralded and unnoticed, even by lawyers themselves .

Who has ever heard of ThoughtRiver (risk analysis and pre-screening of legal documents) Seal, (contract management and analysis) Diligen (document review) RelativityOne (e-discovery) or Allocate (legal billing using machine learning)?  They are but a handful of the burgeoning number of  legal tech start-ups. Legal Engineering wasn’t  even an  industry until a very few years ago, but now firms in that hi-tech sector compete in Global ‘Legal Hackathons’ to brainstorm new ways to use artificial intelligence in the legal arena. It has become a multi-billion dollar industry.

Most small firm lawyers reading this will probably scoff and suggest that I must be smoking too much of that newly legal weed (growth in cannabis related law being another significant legal trend this year) to suggest that bots could start to replace lawyers,  but Big Law has already got it figured out. Bots beat caffeine fueled junior lawyers hands down when it comes to mind numbing jobs like proof reading,  document review, contract analysis , and the like. Besides, they work cheap, don’t take vacations, and don’t get pregnant. AI is here to stay.

And that’s what 2018 was all about. All in all, it was quite a year.


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