Technology, cyber security and AI (artificial intelligence) are transforming every aspect of our lives, including the law.
Dean of Law at the University of Waikato, Associate Professor Wayne Rumbles, recognises this as the lead researcher of the Technology in Legal Education for New Zealand (TeLENZ) project – a project that aims to equip future lawyers with the skills to handle the changes technology is creating in legal practice.
The project, funded by a two year $350,000 grant from the New Zealand Law Foundation, acknowledges that the legal services space is changing rapidly due to technology, so that the environment graduates emerge into is very different from even five years ago.
“My vision is that every law graduate in New Zealand comes out of University with at least a basic understanding of how technology impacts law and the changing marketplace for legal services”, says Associate Professor Rumbles.
To make this happen, the project will create an online community and toolkit for legal academics with a series of resources to be used, ranked into introductory, intermediate and advanced. The toolkit will include lesson plans, assessments and possibly even apps for students and academics to use.
There are many examples of how technology is affecting law, often creating a need for new or updated laws. One of these is autonomous vehicles, or self-driving cars being tested across the world.
“Autonomous vehicles raise a whole lot of legal issues. If someone runs a person over, who is liable? Is it classed as an accident and would ACC apply? Is the liability on the person in the vehicle, or the car/software manufacturer?
“In criminal law, there’s an increasing use of video links to prisons rather than bringing prisoners to court. The skills you need to interview someone via video link are different compared to face-to-face, as you can’t read faces in the same way via video.
“One other example of technology affecting law, and one we’re aiming to address, is how AI is changing how graduates are employed, so students need to be more flexible.”
A unique aspect of this project is that it brings together all the law schools around New Zealand, with representatives from each forming a working group, with subject groups under each.
“This part of the project is really important for the future as New Zealand is a small jurisdiction, so we should be sharing knowledge across faculties.”
Associate Professor Rumbles is also looking at what other law schools are doing with law education and technology internationally, having just returned from trips to the UK and US with more trips planned for the coming year.
“Learning about legal technology is increasingly important for new graduates. Many of the larger law firms are investing heavily in the area, and those who have taken legal technology papers are in high demand.
“It makes them more marketable internationally, and that’s why Waikato University has a large suite of legal tech papers, with more coming on board.”
At this point in time the project is scheduled to run until June 2021, but by early 2020 there will be some resources ready to go.