The Power of Perspectives

The Canadian Bar Association
Cover story

Artificial intelligence

By Agnese Smith September 11, 2015 11 September 2015

Artificial intelligence

In the world of artificial intelligence, one expert’s astonished gasp at a recent breakthrough is another’s ho-hum look of indifference. One academic’s fear that supercomputers could one day threaten civilization is another’s “meh.”

There is little consensus in the scientific community about how close we are to creating AI that exceeds or even approaches human intelligence, also known as “the technological singularity.” It could take 20 or 100 years — or it might never happen. And these debates would have remained in academic corridors had certain technology and scientific luminaries not issued dire warnings that AI might someday destroy humanity.

They include the world’s best-known cosmologist, Stephen Hawking, and Stuart Russell, co-author of the standard textbook on AI, and Silicon Valley titans Elon Musk of SpaceX and Skype co-founder Jaan Tallinn who have also tweeted and commented on the “existential risk” that emerging technologies may pose. The latter have given millions to think tanks and academic associations that explore this theme.

But how seriously should concerns about supercomputers and their intentions be taken? Many leaders in the field say there’s no need to panic — we are not even close to synthetically replicating the human brain. The immediate goal of policy makers, experts say, should be to understand how existing technology affects today’s society.

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Agents of innovation

The rise of the replaceable lawyer

By Jordan Furlong September 11, 2015 11 September 2015

The rise of the replaceable lawyer

“There’s no substitute for a good lawyer.” If any bar association wants to use that as the tagline for its next lawyer image campaign, go right ahead. But it’s also a dangerous and ultimately misleading way for lawyers to view the modern market for legal services.

In economics, “substitute goods” are products perceived by the market as sufficiently similar that raising the price of one increases demand for the other. If you consider McDonald’s and Burger King pretty much interchangeable, you’ll go to McDonald’s if Burger King raises its menu prices, or if the closest Burger King is inconveniently located.

Traditionally, legal services have been considered immune to the law of substitute goods, in part because law has often been considered (by lawyers, anyway) as a “credence good,” one whose value is not fully clear to the consumer even after using it. 

Another more salient reason is that competitors to lawyers in the legal market were banned through regulation. Doing what lawyers did, without being a lawyer, constituted the Unauthorized Practice of Law and was duly prosecuted.

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Q & A

Equal representation?

By CBA/ABC National September 11, 2015 11 September 2015

Equal representation?

Ahead of next month’s election, National caught up with Michael Pal, an expert in election law and advocate for greater voter equality or “representation by population.” An assistant law professor at the University of Ottawa, Pal has appeared before the House of Commons and Senate committees that studied the Harper government’s Fair Representation Act, which added 30 ridings to the 2015 federal electoral map. He was interviewed by BJ Siekierski.

How fair was  the Fair Representation Act? Is voter equality still a problem in this country?

Alberta, B.C., and Ontario were very badly under-represented. All three. By adding seats to those provinces, the Act got B.C. and Alberta up to representation by population — and Ontario close enough. But the problem is within the province.

The Act didn’t constrain the discretion electoral boundary commissions have within provinces under the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, which allows ridings to deviate 25 per cent from the provincial quota (the average riding population after dividing the provincial population by its number of seats). The B.C. and Alberta commissions stuck really closely to representation by population. The Ontario commission took a very different approach that made rep by pop a secondary concern. The Ontario commission was really concerned with municipal boundaries, for example, instead of voter equality. Municipal boundaries aren’t necessarily irrelevant — they’re just supposed to be secondary factors and the commission forgot that.

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The big picture

CBA International Initiatives

By CBA/ABC National September 11, 2015 11 September 2015

CBA International Initiatives

CBA International Initiatives is celebrating 25 years of international justice reform.  Since 1990, the CBA has delivered legal and justice reform and capacity building projects in 29 countries across Asia, Africa, Central Europe and the Caribbean. Here are some highlights.

 

FUNDING

CBA International Initiatives receives the bulk of its funding from two streams at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada (DFATD). Partnership Programs supports CBA’s work in countries where the legal profession is at different stages of development. Bilateral Programs supports work with governmental and quasi-governmental institutions to improve access to justice and administration of justice in developing countries.

CII also receives project funding from other sources, including the Development Agency of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the United Nations Development Program.

Les projets d’Initiatives internationales sont aussi financés par d’autres sources, comme l’agence de développement du ministère des Affaires étrangères du Danemark, la Banque interaméricaine de développement et le Programme des Nations Unies
pour le développement.

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CBA Community

Day in the life : Preston Parsons

By CBA/ABC National September 11, 2015 11 September 2015

Day in the life : Preston Parsons

6:15 a.m.

I make my bed and have a quick bite. My days never seem to get off on the right foot unless I do. I try to get out the door within 15 minutes if I’m going to the gym or 30 if I’m headed to work. Sometimes I throw ingredients into a crock pot before I leave. Best advice mom ever gave me! My commute from Richmond to downtown Vancouver takes about 40 minutes. Taking the train and walking part of the way helps my wallet, the environment and gives me time to respond to e-mails, read the newspaper, arrange personal plans and make some phone calls.

7:30 a.m.

On non-gym days, I start work at 7:30 a.m. (8:30 on gym days).  I create a realistic shortlist of to-dos which I compare with my must-dos for the week and my master list then shift items around to account for new priorities. I aim to declutter my inbox by 9 a.m. I find it easier to focus on my billable work once that is done. I often go out for lunch to connect with friends and colleagues.

5 p.m.

 

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Opinion

Access to justice in class actions

By Caitlin Szymberski September 9, 2015 9 September 2015

Access to justice in class actions

The term “access to justice” immediately brings to mind the barriers which individual litigants face when bringing a claim, namely the high cost of lengthy litigation. However, the financial obstacles hindering access to the courts do not merely affect individual litigants. Law firms seeking to represent the otherwise under- or unrepresented are also impacted.

Legal practices, like any other business, must be financially viable to survive. As a result practitioners representing plaintiffs are often forced to take on cases that will generate revenue and to refuse those that will not, regardless of the latters’ actual merits. Class actions, however, provide a solution by grouping together small individual claims whose value, on their own, would normally not justify the cost and time of litigation.

Even so, and despite the potential for a large payout, bringing a class action carries significant risk for a law firm. It can take years and several hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of dollars to bring a case to trial, let alone to a conclusion. Using class actions, therefore, as a procedural vehicle to facilitate access to justice requires legal practitioners daring enough to get behind the wheel. In Quebec, Trudel Johnston & Lespérance LLP (formerly known as Trudel Johnston LLP) is one of those firms, striving to facilitate access to justice through class actions and public interest law.

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Legal innovation

Getting a head start in the new AI economy

By Yves Faguy September 9, 2015 9 September 2015

Getting a head start in the new AI economy

Like many advances in technology before it, new developments in artificial intelligence are driving businesses across a number of sectors, from finance to the insurance industry, to gain a tactical advantage on the competition.

So why should the practice of law be any different?  That’s the question for a growing number of legal innovators.

Indeed, today’s machine-learning algorithms and techniques can be used to do much of what lawyers routinely do at work, namely reviewing, analyzing and synthesizing vast amounts of data.  They can also perform risk and outcome analysis. The more sophisticated tools – think IBM’s Watson – can even reproduce human decisions and make correct predictions based on new, unseen data.

These developments may be unsettling to some law practitioners, but not to a growing group of “early adopters” who are embracing what they view as a new source of competitive advantage over traditional firms.

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Opinion

Who’s afraid of future law?

By Dera J. Nevin September 8, 2015 8 September 2015

Who’s afraid of future law?

We need technology to adapt and grow our existing legal institutions and the very fabric of law. Technology extends our reach; it can also change the way we understand the world, and a different world view can itself be a precursor to discovery, including of new laws.

The recent CBA Conference in Calgary, AB explicitly invited lawyers to consider the future of law and of legal practice.   As always, this year’s Conference offered the opportunity to network with peers, but also time and space to think about the future and what it holds.  Keynote speakers, including Chief Justice McLachlin, asked lawyers to embrace new technology.   Conference sessions explored topics such as innovative legal practices, work life balance, and protecting confidential client information in the digital age.  Vendors in attendance demonstrated a range of technology to assist in the delivery of legal services and the identification of legal resources and precedent. 

I had the privilege of participating on a panel about artificial intelligence and the law with Ian Kerr, professor of law at the University of Ottawa and Noah Waisberg, CEO of Kira systems (a technology that automates elements of contract review).   These men are innovators in legal thinking and practice and our panel’s discussion ranged from the abstract to the practical, but consistent themes of our discussion were that technology could help lawyers accomplish more with less, but would require us to work, and possibly think, differently.

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Privacy

Accessing subscriber data: Working around the Spencer ruling

By Justin Ling August 28, 2015 28 August 2015

Accessing subscriber data: Working around the Spencer ruling

Many expected that last year’s ruling in R. v. Spencer would close the door on the warrantless requests that Canada’s police departments had grown quite reliant on. Canada’s police chiefs, however, aren’t so sure.

In a resolution adopted at the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs’ annual conference this month, the country’s police brass are calling for “the creation of a reasonable law designed to specifically provide law enforcement the ability to obtain, in real-time or near real-time, basic subscriber information (BSI) from telecommunications providers.”

In Spencer, the Supreme Court ruled against a long-standing practice of police agencies making informal, often undocumented, requests to Canada’s telecommunications providers, to share information on their subscribers.

Police, and lawyers from the Department of Justice, maintained that those requests were merely for that ‘basic subscriber information’ — connecting a name, phone number, and home address to an IP address that had been identified in the course of their investigations.

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Our brave new legal world

By Michael Motala August 25, 2015 25 August 2015

Our brave new legal world

“We live in rapidly changing times …” writes Osgoode Hall’s associate dean Trevor Farrow. Ethical questions are “continuously changing as a result of global trends.” The “complexity of today’s world is an issue for all lawyers.”

Needless to say, globalization has been in vogue in the academy for more than a decade, not just in professional circles. So why is there so much talk and so little impact?

Why do tuition and licensing fees increase year after year while the access to justice crisis worsens? Why is there an ever-growing gap between the supply of graduates and the availability of jobs? Why do students suffer increasingly from mental health issues under internecine academic competition? Why is there a law school in BC that actively discriminates against LGBT? What accounts for the legal academy’s cultural and institutional inertia in the face of our profession’s—and Canadian society’s—mounting social and economic challenges?

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Trade

TPP: Sticking points

By Justin Ling August 21, 2015 21 August 2015

TPP: Sticking points

Negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership may have stalled during their last round of negotiations in early August, but that doesn’t mean lawyers shouldn’t be preparing for the dawn of the TPP in the near future.

It appears that three topics frustrated the talks — agriculture, autos, and pharmaceuticals.

Canada is a big roadblock on all three. For one, its protectionist supply management system for dairy and poultry has long been the bane of export-friendly countries like America and New Zealand.

Then there’s Canada’s automotive industry, which is concerned that the TPP deal could loosen country-of-origin for cars, meaning that cheaply-made Japanese cars, full of Chinese or Thai parts, duty-free — currently, NAFTA keeps cars duty-free, so long as 62.5 per cent of the cars are made of parts from the United States, Mexico, or Canada.

When it comes to pharmaceuticals, the TPP nations are a disparate group.

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Should solicitor-client privilege be available only to individuals?

By CBA/ABC National August 15, 2015 15 August 2015

Should solicitor-client privilege be available only to individuals?

That was one of the questions up for debate between Professor Adam Dodek of the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa and Malcolm Mercer of McCarthy Tetrault at one of this year’s sessions at the CBA Legal Conference.

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