Modern Law Magazine: Embarking on an Era of Abundance in the Legal Industry

Here is my latest post from Modern Law Magazine.

By Joseph Raczynski

Over the course of the next five years, the legal industry will be flush with opportunity. While much of the rote legal work will be done by automation, producing a period of interstitial angst at law firms, burgeoning areas of technology necessitating legal counsel will flourish.

As a brief preface, I will bypass the normal discussion surrounding how tools are making lawyers more productive and law firms more profitable. That is a given. These tools are plentiful; including research services that coalesce information intuitively tools that comb through millions of documents seeking relevant words; or, artificial intelligence (AI) enabled applications reviewing 10,000 contracts in hours compared to months required when done manually. While these applications constantly improve, they are becoming commonplace for law firms. This article’s focus is preparing for the next legal transformation for law firms—prompted by technological advances.

A near trite concept at this juncture, technology is advancing at an exponential pace which is creating incredible possibilities in many industries—especially within the legal industry. One example which typifies this acceleration is a recent creation at MIT Labs with ‘AlterEgo’.

The white device below wraps around the ear, hugs the lower jawline, and rests below the lips. It contains four sensors that can hear your internal thoughts. Yes, AlterEgo can read your mind. Practically, without verbalizing a word one can communicate with Internet connected devices, like a TV, a computer, or a car. A conversation with another person wearing AlterEgo could occur without verbalising a word. This is a single example, of a possible myriad, which exemplifies our current era of swift technological change.

alterego

AlterEgo, MIT Labs http://news.mit.edu/2018/computer-system-transcribes-words-users-speak-silently-0404

With this sort of mind boggling technology available, it raises the question, what will the legal landscape look like in the future and how can lawyers and law firms adjust to this sort of rapid change?

Algorithms

Specific instructional processes (if/then statements), known as algorithms, have existed in computer language for decades. Over the last five years algorithms have matured, but perhaps more importantly so has the flood of data—widely considered the new oil. The synthesis of the advanced algorithms and the ability to process that data has ushered in new industries.

One such industry is driverless cars. These vehicles are already being used around the world, and algorithms are a main operational feature in the car’s computer driving programme. This area of technology, alone, will be a significant boon to the legal industry. The implications of rules, regulations, laws, and ethics in this space are immense. Lawyers will need to be trained, or at the very least be far more familiar with how various algorithms work. Who decides culpability when driverless cars go awry? How do we navigate the legal ethical dilemmas of onboard computers deciding between hitting a child or an elderly person crossing the street?

autocar

Politico Europe https://www.politico.eu/article/should-a-driverless-car-kill-the-kid-or-the-retiree-future-of-driving/

 

Algorithms are a platform and will permeate most applications, propagating throughout most of our lives. Lawyers will likely need to understand their uses and implications, in the near future, in order to provide adequate representation to their clients.

Biotech

Over the last decade, engineers have deciphered how to modify the immune systems of bacteria to edit genes in other living organisms, like algae, small mammals—and now humans too. Over the last month, Chinese doctors claimed to have created the first designer baby by enabling one to be born which is resistant to HIV, by genetically alerting the embryo. CRISPR, pronounced “crisper”, allows scientists to easily manipulate genes far faster and cheaper than ever before. Soon there will be significant work for law firms in this space. The implications are vast beyond how an IP lawyer would practice. A multitude of various specialised practice areas will now join the IP lawyer. When new genetically modified humans arrive, smarter or with greater athletic ability, opportunities will bloom for many other practice areas. This will also impact the insurance industry, as two classes of humans will evolve creating different playing fields. Will genetically modified humans receive better insurance rates, because they are less susceptible to disease? There are countless other legal impacts with CRISPR and gene alteration impacting multiple areas of law and business.

Internet of Things (IoT)

With as many as 50 billion devices connected to the internet over the next ten years, we need lawyers able to understand the legal ramifications of this rapidly expanding technological reach. The depth and breadth of these interconnected gadgets cannot be underestimated, including devices connected to our brain, such as AlterEgo, to every appliance in a kitchen, car, phone—which will soon be a MR (Mixed Reality) headset. Within this scope, countless questions of data ownership, privacy, regulation, and intellectual property will arise. Education of how these devices work and what information is being gathered, perhaps surreptitiously, will all need to be understood by lawyers.

Deep Fakes

One of the more distressing developments of the last few years has been the creation of videos known as the Deep Fakes. The Deep Fakes are very realistic videos of someone famous, but are made by superimposing a computer-generated face on the real video and swapping out the audio with something nefarious. (Example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLoI9hAX9dw ) Lawyers will need education and access to tools to help verify what is real and what is not for litigation purposes as well as transactional, as people increasingly make claims using video attestation. We will soon get to a point where we cannot trust video documentation and lawyers will have to contend with these issues.

Blockchain

The ’trustless’ nature of a distributed ledger will undoubtedly have an impact on the legal industry, since transactions will be put on a blockchain. Increasingly there are whispers of a legal blockchain controlled by law firms in a consortium. This will impact most areas of legal practice.

In the transactional practice, self-executing ‘Smart Contracts’ will be something everyone working in the legal profession will need to understand. Ethereum, the first blockchain platform to popularize the idea of the Smart Contract allows for people to code ‘if/then’ statements onto the blockchain or database with ease. Here is a scenario that uses a smart contract on the blockchain in the legal transactions.

A lawyer writes a will for their client. The will stipulates that upon the parent’s death—their two kids must be married, respectively, in order for them to receive a share of the estate. If one kid is married and the other kid is not, the kid that is married receives all assets. For simplicity the assets are all liquid in this example.

The will is written and saved to a blockchain. It is in an immutable state, and the only people that have access to this document is the lawyers that drafted the will and her client. Once it is on the blockchain in a codified state, the smart contract starts checking every day through a trusted source, called an oracle (affirmed public record), to see if both parents are alive. One day the computer identifies that the parents have both died. The computer jumps to the next task to determine if both kids are married. Through another computer call to that oracle, it determines that one kid is married and the other kid is not, and subsequently sends 100 percent of the liquid assets to the kid that is married. This is a self-executing smart contract on a blockchain as shown below.

smartcontract

JoeTechnologist.com https://joetechnologist.com/2018/11/15/forum-magazine-blockchains-promise-verifying-value-one-block-at-a-time/

Drones

A drone superhighway is coming. These are roadways in the sky where drones will be able to operate, away from the likes of Gatwick airport and other important safe zones. The ’droneification’ of our delivery systems will alter city landscapes. Lawyers will be called upon to interpret zoning laws, environmental conditions, insurance issues, labour law, privacy matters, liability issues, and construction law—as more people build landing pads off their flats. The age of drones will create a beehive of activity for law firms.

Cybersecurity

By nearly all accounts Cybersecurity is the top concern for corporations and law firms outside of profitability. Data leakage and hacks are rampant the world over. Ransomware will likely continue for the next several years at least. According to one government official I recently met in the US, the world is simply waiting until the first significant cyber event which takes down a country’s infrastructure—such as the electrical grid, banks, or water systems. Law firms have rightly responded to the rapid increase of cybersecurity considerations over the last eight years. Increasingly lawyers will need to better understand the dynamics of cyber-breaches for their own operation as well as client needs. The opportunity for law firms is immense in this space from litigation to advisement of mitigation measures for cybersecurity.

How Law Firms Can Thrive

A renaissance in the legal industry is ahead, after a bit of discomfort based on some traditional legal work fading. As some of the rote work legal work dissipates in the coming years, an abundance of legal activity will commence in the emerging landscape driven by technology innovation. What I have discussed with law firms around the world is how they plan to prepare for the changes ahead.

  • Firms are beginning to create highly customizable technology education plans for their lawyers. They are inviting specialist from the newest industries: AI, blockchain, automotive, cybersecurity, IoT, and biotech. At a minimum, these required firmwide classes promote a basic understanding of each technology. The goal is for lawyers to be conversant in the technology when speaking to prospective clients. The plan creates a pathway for deeper levels of education if their practice necessitates it, which will be likely for many.
  • We are also seeing the early stages of more technical lawyers emerging. Traditionally, an IP lawyer carries this torch, but this is changing. Recently a blockchain consortium disclosed that lawyers make daily inquiries about how they can code blockchain enable technologies. Certainly not all lawyers will need to code, but those that have a proclivity for it will be better positioned for success.
  • Law schools around the world are pivoting. They still hold fast to the core curriculum, but quickly programming around emerging technologies is taking root. Law schools are connecting with startups—creating a synergy between the nascent legal minds and innovation. Universities are also partnering with some of the traditional legal sector vendors to aid students in understanding various technologies, processes, and applications for more efficient work with the business and practice of law. Advanced institutions are pushing students to understand algorithms, code, and become further enmeshed in technology.
  • Law firms are also sponsoring hackathons. The goal here to figure out better ways to improve process, which does not always have to be technical. Legal tech incubators have also started to proliferate by vendors, but also among some law firms.
  • When gaps in technology exist within a law firm, tighter partnerships with companies who can assist on the legal technical aspects surrounding the mentioned fields will start. Boutique firms will arise with a focus on these technologies to help their clients, but also serve as consultants to the larger mid-sized firms without expertise.
  • There is little question that litigation will thrive going forward in each of these disciplines. Lawyers that become more technologically savvy will have a decided advantage in obtaining business.

 

The era of abundance in the business and practice of law is on the horizon. The technological shifts that are occurring all over the world are setting up law firms, who are prepared, for bold new opportunities. One of the most important changes in the legal industry will be a need for lawyers to be educated on new technologies. As AI and blockchain become mainstream, those platform technologies will impact nearly every industry—meaning nearly every practice area lawyer will have to understand the basics of those technologies. The firms that embrace these changes afoot, will be best positioned to thrive.

 

Images from article:

Legislating for the future: Drones in the UK

Portions originally published in The Guardian.

by Joseph Raczynski

 

1. What are your thoughts on the UK’s drone regulations/regulatory approach, and how does it compare to other approaches around the world? Are there any ideas we should borrow from Australia, the US, etc?

 

Drone enthusiast beware, a new era of regulation is about to hit the air.  On July 31, 2018 a new set of laws will go into effect in the UK.  The rules are more restrictive than in the past, stating:

  • Do not fly higher than 400 feet
  • Stay at least one kilometer outside of the airport walls
  • Keep the drone in constant direct eyesight
  • Fly no closer than 150 metres from crowds of 1,000 or more people (think stadiums)
  • Kept it 50 metres away from people and private property

 

  • On November 30, 2019 everyone who owns a drone that weighs 250 grams or more will need to study up. After that date you will need to register your drone with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and then pass an online drone safety test.  Failure to do both will land you a fine of £1,000.
  • There are multiple sights that drone owners can go to understand the landscape better. Drone Safe UK is one of them.

 

These rules are not the most restrictive found around the world, but they are certainly not the most lenient either.  In fact, if you strictly adhere to these rules, it is more than likely that your drone will remain grounded, unless you live in a very rural location.  The most challenging of the above is keeping the quadcopter 50 metres away from people and private property.  Just launching your drone in an urban or suburban area will break this rule.  Operators will need to do considerable research before taking flight.  To that end, numerous mobile apps are available to assist in your planning before you fly.

 

Every country around the world seems to have issued guidance in this area.  While the UK is more restrictive than most, the norm, also the rules in the US, seems to be keeping the drone within eyesight, flying no higher than 400 feet, staying away from crowds, possibly registering the device, and not flying closer than five miles from airports.  There are more restrictive countries like Morocco where drones are now completely banned.  If you bring a drone into the country without declaring it, they will confiscate the device.  Australia has very similar rules to the US which are less onerous than the new UK rules.  I have flown in UAE, Costa Rica, US, UK, Colombia, Switzerland, and several other countries and most allow you to fly following the aforementioned rules.

 

All countries are grappling with their policies on drone usage.  The concerns range from privacy to safety.  Privacy issues will always be a concern with a small minority of pilots flying over private property recording video where a private citizen has the expectation of privacy.  The safety concern is one most likely to fade away over the next five years, when the devices become even more reliable and safe.  Currently there has been marked improvement in the way the software on drones handle a dying battery, location awareness, and object avoidance.  These are now standard on most new drones, so that the devices can return home safely and therefore tend to drop out of the sky far less frequently than a few years ago.

 

2. How do we balance regulation and technology to ensure drone innovation isn’t held back? Do we have a good balance so far?

 

The newest drones are amazing!  My current version can fly four miles away, shoots in 4K video, and can go at least a mile high – not that I have flown it that far.  The technology is well beyond what we are currently allowed to do.  The alarm bells sounded recently, and subsequent regulation created when some operators did dumb things.  People have been caught flying over football stadiums during games, others have flown in the path of airplanes or over forest fires putting emergency helicopter workers in danger.  The issue is that these devices are powerful and now put into the hands of the masses, some have made poor decisions, which could impact general safety and people’s privacy.  I think in the short term we are going to see more restrictive rules like what the UK is enacting now, but in the long term these will ease.  They will relax, as the devices become safer with newer technology – software and sensors.  They will have better obstacle avoidance and baked in no-fly zones will be a norm across all manufactures.  Currently a handful of drone producers have software that if you try to take off next to Big Ben, the drone won’t even move because it uses GPS.

 

Since we have people sometimes making poor decisions, the current set of normalized rules found in most countries make sense.  I would suggest that the UK has gone a bit further than I would deem reasonable, but still generally acceptable.

 

3. How do you see drones influencing city planning? What do drones mean for residential development (delivery pads on apartment roofs)? What about noise considerations and safety?

 

The next great leap into the future that is happening at an exponential rate will be service drones in densely populated areas.  Clearly delivery drones are coming.  Amazon is testing this now.  So you will be able to purchase your bag of crisps and soft drinks via your mobile and have them delivered via drone in short order.  This will impact how buildings are constructed.  You will see more landing pads off of balconies.  In addition, non-balcony flats will have landing pads on the roof, with autonomous rolling rovers which will pick up the drone dropped package and deliver it to your front door.   If you live by a beach, drones are starting to be used in saving lives.  Instead of a lifeguard having to jump off from their perch, run across the hot sand, battle the waves to get to the struggling person, they will launch a drone fly it above the person in distress and drop the life preserver.  The first water rescue of this manner happened in March down in Australia.  Another plan is to have drones help guide you to open parking spaces in the city.  Do you want to get a closer look at out of reach parts of London Bridge as a tourist?  You will be able to dawn a headset and a mini drone will take you to parts of the bridge unseen by most.  Drones might monitor traffic.  Helping with real-time incident reports for accidents, and giving real-time feedback about troubled areas.  We will also see drones watching over as police helpers. Making sure that areas which might have more crime are being monitored more closely.

 

The noise issue is also temporary.  Companies are now creating “props” or propellers that make far less noise than even a year ago, and this will continue to improve until we have something that is nearly silent.

 

There are countless other areas that will be impacted with drones.  Fire and rescue, compliance for real estate ordinances – did you build a deck without a permit?

 

4. How can drone rules be enforced? What good technologies have you seen in use so far?

 

Right now drone rules are being enforced by the drone companies.  They are baking into their software all of the rules and regulations mentioned earlier based on your location and common standards.  This is being done proactively for fear of the Morocco situation – an outright ban of recreation drones.  Every time I turn on my drone, it asks me to update my software, it adds new “no-fly zones” as more and more areas around the world request a no drone area.  Companies are simply trying to self-regulate.  On the other side, honestly it is very difficult for enforcement to go after operators.  They essentially need to witness a drone flying in a restricted area, then find the person flying the device.  They typically find them as the drone runs low on battery and the pilot brings it down.  It is only a matter of minutes for the enforcement to find that person before they take off.  In very restricted areas, some countries have devices to scramblers the communications of the drone operator, which can do a few things to the misguided drone; drop it out of the sky or take over the flight from the owner.

 

5. How do you see drones actually being used in the next five years? What use cases are over hyped and which are realistic?

 

I believe in some areas we will have drone delivery.  I actually think in the next 5 to 10 years we will have the flying vehicles people always dreamed about.  The first human drone vehicles have been made.  The major hurtle will be regulation of these devices.  Drones will routinely monitor forests looking for hot spots to prevent massive forest fires.  I think we will start seeing some policing with drones, observing areas with high crime.  Selfie drones, the size of a deck of cards will be in most tourist’s pockets.  They will have a very limited distance and primarily take pictures and video from cool new perspectives… like you rock-climbing 500 feet above a ravine and you simply call it out to take a video and then returns to your momentarily free hand.  I think you will also start to see ambulance drones – is someone having a heart attack near you.  You call 911 and the drone is dispatched much faster and arrives in a few minutes compared to the ambulance itself.

 

This tech is just about to take off.  The next few years are going to be a mix of tech pushing the boundaries and regulators having to make new decisions.