The interaction of law and technology is set to become an increasingly important component of legal studies at UNSW Sydney following a review of the University’s Law curriculum.
Law is one of a growing list of areas being disrupted by technology and lawyers need to understand what that means both for the legal profession and for the administration of justice, says UNSW Professor of Law Michael Legg, who conducted the review.
The review recommends making technological innovation and its impact on legal practice, law and society a major theme of the curriculum, as well as adding new elective subjects that deal with technological change and new technologies.
The review comes as UNSW cements two new strategic alliances, one with Allens, the other with the Law Society of New South Wales, that tackle the challenges presented by digital and other technological transformations for lawyers and the legal system.
Some legal practises will be completely automated or even eliminated by technological innovation, but new law-related occupations will also be created, says Legg, who is also Director of the Law Society of NSW’s Future of Law and Innovation in the Profession research stream at UNSW Law.
“The practise of law could splinter because of technological innovation and new careers evolve, which means students will need different skills,” says Legg, who suggests new degrees may have to be created to cater for new law-related careers in the future.
“For those people to be able to do their job they will need to understand the law as well as being equipped with non-legal skills, such as project management and data analytics,” he says.
“UNSW’s holistic approach to revising our Law curriculum puts us at the forefront of dealing with how technology will affect the law and legal professions.”
Technology is already being used by many major Australian and global law firms for research, document review and risk or outcome prediction, while smaller firms operating outside central business districts are using technology, such as tele-conferencing and document search software, to run their businesses more efficiently.
Australia is yet to follow the US lead where the courts use algorithms to assess the risk that a defendant will skip bail or reoffend. However, the Australian judiciary and governments are keeping a close eye on how artificial intelligence can be deployed in the law, says Legg.
When that time comes, lawyers will need to be able to challenge or critique the results of technology, he says, such as looking for biases or reliance on incomplete data sets.
Legg’s review recommends, among other things, that all Law School academics consider how technology may affect the content of their existing courses. New electives could include Start-up Law, where students learn how to advise start-up entities or entrepreneurs, Legal Practice, Ethics and Technology, and introductory classes to computer programming.
The Law School should also work with the student Law Society and other student groups to support extra-curricular activities that develop skills and experience with technology, such as regular Law hackathons.