Bracing for Impact – The Future of AI for Legal Practice


Pankhuri Malik is an Osgoode LLM Graduate, IPilogue Writer and IP Innovation Clinic Fellow.


Photo by Buda Photography

On November 9, IP Osgoode, Reichman University and Microsoft hosted the first in-person Bracing for Impact Conference since 2019. The conference focused on “The Future of AI for Society.” While AI is full of exciting possibilities, real-world application and integration are relatively nascent. Implementing AI technology in society requires complex interdisciplinary engagement between engineers, social scientists, application area experts, policymakers, users, and impacted communities. At the conference, an esteemed lineup of speakers across disciplines discussed the forms that interdisciplinary collaboration could take and how AI can help shape a more just, equitable, healthy, and sustainable future.

York University and IP Osgoode have been frontrunners in conversations surrounding AI since 2016, before it was cool. The Panel 2 discussion – “AI for the Future of Legal Practice – Self-Regulation, Access to Justice and the Importance of Legal Data” – is a prime example of the forward-thinking nature of the organizations, which seek to use their diverse and interdisciplinary structure to have well-rounded conversations about incorporating AI in legal practice.

The Panel discussed:

  1. AI in law school curriculums;
  2. AI as an aid to Access to Justice; and
  3. The interplay between AI and Data.

Chaired by Osgoode Prof. Jonathon Penney, Panel 2 featured Sari Graben (Associate Dean at Lincoln Alexander School of Law, Toronto Metropolitan University), Nye Thomas (Executive Director, Law Commission of Ontario), Professor D’Agostino (who needs no introduction) and Ryan Wong (Osgoode Hall Law School alum and Associate at Smart & Biggar, Toronto).

Incorporation of AI in law school curriculums

Bringing her knowledge and experience in devising law school curricula to the table, Sari discussed the delicate balance that must be achieved between law and technology in academics. She highlighted that due to AI’s evolving nature, the rapid pace of innovation in the space, and the lack of conversation between legal and technological experts, AI is a difficult subject to teach in law schools. Sari elucidated the need for innovative and critical thinking when approaching AI’s interplay with law.

Broadly, Sari discussed that to incorporate AI into the practice of law, we must first recognize that human involvement in legal decision-making traverses just a series of rules that must be applied uniformly to a situation in an automated manner.

Sari stated that human sensibilities, the feeling of being “heard,” and the trust placed by the public in a human authority figure who makes rational decisions are irreplaceable in legal practice. Using AI to crystallize a set of rules depersonalizes the law and isolates persons from the human element of justice.

Keeping these considerations in mind, Sari discussed that these challenges might be overcome by connecting technology and law, such that technically qualified and capable people become integral for implementing AI in law and in the use of law to regulate AI. Only dedicated persons actively working towards advancing the field can build a longstanding relationship between the two.

AI as an aid to Access to Justice

Nye Thomas discussed the incorporation of AI in mitigating Canada’s prevailing Access to Justice crisis. To mitigate the challenges of a slow, expensive, and opaque system characterized by racial bias and unequal means to access the judiciary, Nye recommended promoting conversations around trustworthy and legal AI. Nye stated that AI-related policy needs to be developed as AI must be incorporated into the due process of law to increase transparency, reduce costs and implement a more uniform justice system.

Nye proposed that a primary tool for this would be the regulation of AI. He highlighted that not all systems that fall within the definition of AI impact society. Nye recommended devising a system to identify impactful AI and developing a regulatory system to monitor and implement it to ensure equal access and transparency for the public.

AI and data protection and ownership

Osgoode’s own Prof. Pina D’Agostino discussed the need for different academic fields to come together for an interdisciplinary approach to AI. Prof. D’Agostino stressed the need for the university to lead the debate and conversation around interdisciplinary AI since different departments within the university are already working on various aspects of AI related innovation.

Prof. D’Agostino discussed the need to investigate AI-related data ownership. Through the IP Innovation Clinic, IP Osgoode has undercut 2 million dollars in IP-related services. And while offering pro-bono services to start-ups and individuals looking to grow their business through IP development, Prof. D’Agostino and her team have created a bank of commonly asked questions in the field of IP and developed the AI-driven IP Innovation Chatbot.

Ryan, an Osgoode Alum and Associate at prominent IP Boutique firm Smart & Biggar, demonstrated how the ChatBot’s bank of intent-based questions provides free and instantaneous IP innovation information without the need for human intervention.

Key takeaways

Since its inception, AI has been received with scepticism. While some warn of it replacing humans, others are optimistic about the scope of innovation AI provides. This panel expressed optimism and presented a picture of AI technology combatting prevalent issues in legal practice.

In the debate about whether technology is new to the law or just another challenge that the law must overcome, the panellists gave me the impression that technology will be the law’s best friend in the coming years. 

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