The Power of Immersion: My Internship at the Stanford Centre for Legal Informatics

Androu Waheeb is an IP Innovation Clinic Coordinator and a 3L JD Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School. This article was written as a requirement for Prof. Pina D’Agostino’s IP Intensive Program.

CodeX: The Epitome of Legal Innovation

I was incredibly fortunate to have been placed at CodeX, the multidisciplinary legal informatics team at Stanford University. The team connects talented computer scientists with expert lawyers to find technological solutions for pressing access to justice dilemmas. During my rotation, the team was committed to developing a platform that would enable the democratization of insurance contracts. Naturally, many of the conversations centred around exploring technical solutions for technical problems and strategic decision-making.

Starting at the Very Beginning

Despite being someone that prides himself on a level of self-cultivated technical savvy and familiarity, my lack of formal engineering and computer science training became immediately obvious. The technical aspects of artificial intelligence, logic programming, deep learning, and computable contracts eluded me. I was way out of my league, and I knew it. I had much to learn to be able to understand the team’s concerns and become useful.

Every member of the CodeX team offered to schedule a meeting with me to explain their work and teach me everything I needed to understand. I enthusiastically took them up on their offers and am extremely grateful to the whole team for their time and effort. I learned the basics of deep learning and logic programming. Armed with my new knowledge, I attended every technical meeting and immersed myself in the team’s work. When I understood the technology and the predicaments the team faces daily, I came to a fundamental realization. The roots of some of the biggest technical complications were the classical legal conundrums that legal professionals continue to struggle with as well.

Dilemma 1: Precision vs Elasticity

First, computer language is necessarily surgically precise and explicit. Thereby, the utilization of technology is predicated on the ability to translate legal documents into precise rules that the computer can understand and manipulate. For computable contracts, every clause of each contract must be coded using logic programming. However, contract interpretation is an art. It requires the interpreter to grapple with inherent linguistic elasticity and ambiguity that produces opposing but plausible outcomes. This is a problem that lawyers are very familiar with. Courts usually grapple with this by retroactively exploring the contractual language for a juncture at which the reasonable minds of the parties met while operating within the bounds of justice, public policy, established legal doctrines, and statutory law. Simulating this process is a challenging feat.

Dilemma 2: Free Public Access vs Protection of IP

Second, the widespread adoption of technical solutions depends on realizing the delicate balance between enabling free public access and protecting key components of the technology. Free public access alleviates the financial burden of adopting platform-based technical solutions, which accelerates the desired universal implementation and expands the solution’s reach. As the platform accumulates users and contributors, it incrementally compounds utility and becomes an essential industry requirement rather than a simple convenience. Ubiquity, therefore, is not only the intended outcome; it is a necessary step in the solution’s implementation.

On the other hand, solutions that require adoption by the private sector must enable commercialization and protect trade secrets if they are to bring value to the very corporate institutions needed to make them useful. This limits the extent to which the free public access that makes the solution indispensable can be granted. This quandary summarizes the quintessential balancing act that intellectual property law has grappled with since its inception in modern society: how can one design a system that protects enough of an ingenious solution to incentivize innovation through the promise of exclusive commercialization while exposing enough to encourage social progress, adoption, use, and future innovation.

Multi-disciplinary Immersion: A Powerful Tool

While I did not personally solve those issues, I look forward to exploring the solutions that the CodeX team will devise. Instead, my immersion into an extremely talented and capable multidisciplinary team at the world’s most advanced legal and technical institution taught me something else I found foundational. Multidisciplinary teams can be extremely effective in bridging the silos of knowledge and skill created by the specialized educational model of today’s post-secondary institutions. CodeX is a perfect example of the interdisciplinary collaboration that is a necessary prerequisite for the accelerated materialization of the robotic age.

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