Former Chief Justice, Frank Clarke SC described the introduction of technology in the courts during the Covid-19 pandemic as a “forced experiment” in his address to an audience of legal practitioners and students at a legal technology conference held in TUS Midlands Athlone Campus.
The conference titled ‘New Frontiers and Tech Pioneers’ assembled a range of expert speakers from academia and the legal profession to speak about the impact of technology on the courts, the judiciary, and legal education, as well as opportunities for entrepreneurs.
Organized by the law team of TUS Midlands, the event highlighted the dramatic changes that technology has brought about in legal practice.
The event opened with conference convenor Alison Hough welcoming everybody and introducing the keynote speaker Frank Clarke SC, former Chief Justice. The former Chief Justice spoke about the drive to modernize the courts, accelerated by the pandemic which he described as a “forced experiment”. He spoke of the need for an “iterative interaction between the people who are going to build the system and the people who are going to use the system”. Mr Clarke spoke about the need for equity of access to technological solutions in court, noting the difficulty of achieving dynamic collaboration between judges in online court and also the efficiencies and improved speed that can be achieved through technology.
Informative Conference Panels
Mr. Clarke chaired the first conference panel on ‘Access to Justice’ in which three speakers considered the topic from different perspectives.
Nap Keeling BL, solicitor with McCann Fitzgerald Solicitors and former barrister, spoke about the practitioner’s experience of access to justice through technology during the pandemic, and the positive and negative effects of the rapid shift to online courts during the pandemic.
Dr Rónán Kennedy from University of Galway spoke about the user experience and public access to justice, how technology can impact on the emotional aspects of court for the public, and the social wellbeing considerations, referencing principles applicable to the use of AI in law, drawn from his research.
Dr Brian Barry of TU Dublin gave a summary of research he had carried out with Dr Rónán Kennedy on judicial attitudes to the changes brought about by technology in the courts, which were broadly positive, and the potential for automation of the judicial function through AI and automated courts which judges were less enthusiastic about.
The second panel on Entrepreneurship in Legal Technology brought together three speakers who had experiences of very different kinds of legal technology start-ups. Mark Tottenham BL, barrister and founder of Decisis.ie spoke about the increasing volume of legal decisions and how his experience as a barrister navigating the legal information overload led him to set up Decisis.ie to provide practitioners with improved and streamlined access to legal information, particularly un-indexed raw judgments from the Courts Service.
Gavin Sheridan of Vizlegal gave an engaging account of his journey from a computer programming and access to background information to legal tech entrepreneur via a Supreme Court Case regarding access to information against NAMA in 2010. He spoke about the importance of access to legal information for access to justice, and the National Archives UK project to turn court judgments into xml data so that it can be rendered more accessible and interoperable to software programs.
Annemarie Whelan BL, CEO of Regsol, which provides technology based regulatory and compliance solutions to businesses, spoke about her journey from junior barrister to CEO of a regulatory compliance company, and the breadth of areas in which compliance services are now required. Regsol covers diverse areas such as anti-money laundering, consumer protection, data protection, markets in financial instruments, insurance distribution. She went on to discuss other areas of “Reg-Tech” such as ID verification, client screening, credit checking, environmental compliance, standard setting.
The third panel discussed Legal Education and Legal Technology. Rory O’Boyle from the Law Society spoke about the integration of technology/tech skills into the solicitors training course, PPC Hybrid. He presented on the Peart Report and diversity and inclusion in the profession, allowing trainees to complete the course while living in rural areas.
Fiona Lacey, Assistant Knowledge Services Manager with A&L Goodbody highlighted the challenges and opportunities posed by technology for corporate law research, including the creation of new roles, improved processes, better research and broader skills. At the same time issues arose around access and security, maintenance and training to use proprietary systems.
Dr David Cowan of Maynooth University Law School outlines the work done there to introduce legal technology modules, and why they chose to make them mandatory. In his opinion, technology is a tool that can be used by humans to drive change rather than a driver of human change, and he highlighted his concept of the “augmented lawyer”.
The event marked the launch of TUS’ new Bachelor of Laws in Law (CAO Code US850 ) which will run on the Athlone Campus from September and offer modules in legal technology, cybersecurity, as well as skills necessary for business and start-ups like financial management and entrepreneurship, and large scale societal challenges like climate change, environment, white collar crime and intellectual property.
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