Civil Litigation, Personal Injury

Relax, lawyers — robots aren’t coming for your jobs

By Staff

An Ontario Superior Court ruling that capped costs due to the lawyers’ failure to use artificial intelligence (AI) in their preparations should not arouse fears of automation wiping out legal work, Oakville personal injury lawyer Weston Pollard tells

Some media reports interpreted the November ruling as an alarm bell to lawyers that robots were coming for their jobs, says Pollard, partner with Edwards Pollard LLP.

“The decision initially got some attention because of a comment that Justice (A.C.R.) Whitten makes about reducing preparation time, saying that if artificial intelligence had been used, it would have greatly reduced counsel’s preparation time on researching,” he says, adding the judge cut the costs and disbursements in the case by half.

“But I interpret it as a call to action, a reminder to lawyers to use the resources we have at our disposal to make us more efficient,” Pollard says. “When the judge says AI, I don’t think he means robots, but rather searchable online databases like CANLII, Westlaw and Quicklaw that have thousands of cases stored within them.”

Lawyers can pull cases directly on point very quickly from these databases, saving hours that used to be spent pulling books off shelves and searching them, he says.

“What the judge is saying is lawyers have these resources readily available, some of them are free, and he’s reminding us to use these tools to make our practice more efficient and, in turn, offer more efficient service to our clients.”

CANLII is free, while others are subscription-based, Pollard says. He frequently uses WestLawNext Canada’s database when preparing his cases.

“I can input an injury, age of my client, and a number of other factors,” Pollard says. “I can input multiple injuries and get quick summaries on the range of awards those injuries have received. I can narrow down the jurisdiction or go right across Canada. I can even choose the level of court.”

Online databases also contain working templates for pleadings and motions, Pollard says.

“In most cases, it cuts the preparation time for basic motions significantly,” he says. “For small firms such as mine, there’s an advantage because those sites have people working for them who draft research and constantly update it. I recently ran a search on trail design and got a 10-page summary of all the law on that point, a great starting point for my own research.”

Another way technology is making his practice more efficient is through online video calling, Pollard says. In a recent trial he was involved in, the vast majority of witnesses testified via videoconferencing.

“We can question people in Europe in a courtroom right here,” he says.

And the ability to file pleadings online eliminates the need to hire someone to walk papers to a court office, stand in line all day and then bring them back to his office, Pollard says.

“In the past, the courts were slow to embrace technology, but now it seems like judges are the ones dragging the lawyers along. This is what we’re seeing with this case. The judge is saying there’s a better way of doing this and you should be doing it, and if you don’t, your costs will be reduced,” he says.

The court’s call to efficiency is no threat to lawyers’ livelihoods, Pollard says, adding the time saved can be used to take on more clients, conclude cases more quickly, work on firm promotion, or focus on other important aspects of their files.

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