Legal Innovation Conference seeks to demystify how practice of law is changing

January event presents expertise from across Canada

Helen Metella - 24 December 2019

For law students who are organizing January's Legal Innovation Conference at the University of Alberta, one challenge rises above all others - clearly explaining what legal innovation is.

The changes happening to the legal profession are so plentiful and widespread that even the name for this transformation is confusing.

To some, legal innovation means leading-edge technologies such as automation, artificial intelligence and data analytics. To others it's about modernizing processes and cultures at law firms. Still others believe its chief goal is increasing access to justice.

In fact, it can be all of those things because legal innovation is essentially about improving how clients receive and benefit from legal services.

"There are changes happening everywhere across the legal profession that defy any sort of cohesive categorization," said Alec McIlwraith-Black, co-president of the student-run Law and Business Association which presents the conference in partnership with the Faculty.

Fittingly, the theme of the 2020 conference is simply, "The Changing Nature of Law," with organizers promising a good overview what those changes are doing to the profession and why the legal industry and its practitioners need to respond to them.

"What we have at this conference is a small sampling of innovations in the law - some involving technology, some focusing on new ways of thinking about the law and legal education - that we hope will inspire attendees to think about what innovation might mean for them," said McIlwraith-Black.

Keynote speaker Jonathan Schaeffer, former dean of UAlberta's Faculty of Science and a renowned figure globally in artificial intelligence research, will explore the myths and misconceptions around AI and the promise and potential it holds for the practice of law.

The Entrepreneurship and Legal Innovation panel hosts lawyers who are working in technology companies to create solutions for areas of legal practice that are already being disrupted by technology. "The idea here is to showcase how some people are using their legal education to make a different kind of impact in the law," said McIlwraith-Black.

For the Rules As Code panel, experts in law and computing science will discuss the notion that laws should also be written as computer programs, to allow for predictive reasoning in some matters and to assist those trying to use technology to promote access to justice.

A presentation titled Innovations in Legal Education will gather law instructors delivering non-traditional classes focused on technology or on other skills that law students are expected to have as they enter an evolving profession.

A windup fireside chat between Faculty of Law Interim Dean David Percy and Kate Simpson, national director of knowledge management with Bennett Jones LLP, will discuss how current law students can best manage the transition to practising law in a technology-driven environment.

The Legal Innovation Conference, titled The Changing Nature of Law, takes place Friday, January 17 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Timms Centre for Arts on the University of Alberta campus. Admission is free.

The day before, on January 16, from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. conference attendees are invited to a wine and cheese reception to network with conference speakers as well as speakers from that day's Women In Law Speakers Series, David Percy, QC, the interim dean of the Faculty of Law, and other faculty members. This event will be held in the Law Centre, adjacent to the Timms Centre for the Arts.

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