Alexander Hamilton

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By Maille Halloran

The “ten-dollar founding father without a father” and the subject of a Broadway musical that took home a bagful of Tony awards, American founder Alexander Hamilton was also a lawyer. Born in the British West Indies, Hamilton began working to support his family at the age of 11. He impressed his Scottish employers with an intelligence beyond his years and was eventually sent to the North American colonies for his formal education. The lure of politics triumphed over Hamilton’s scholarly pursuits, and he left before graduating from King’s College (now Columbia University) in New York City to join the patriots’ cause. In the Revolutionary Army, Hamilton met General George Washington, and become one of General Washington’s trusted advisers. Peace with Great Britain and France meant the end of Hamilton’s military career and he studied law instead. Hamilton opened his own legal practice in New York City, mainly defending British Loyalists and their property rights. Hamilton represented the defendant in the landmark case Rutgers v Waddington, which set the precedent for judicial review. His legal prowess made Hamilton an invaluable adviser to the government of the day, and though he didn’t help write the U.S. Constitution, Hamilton’s advocacy made its ratification possible. When Washington became the first president of the United States, Hamilton was appointed to be the first Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

In Review: Making a Murderer

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last 8 months or so, you’ve at least heard of the Netflix documentary series Making a Murderer. If you haven’t gotten on the bandwagon, or even if you have, this review has a look at the series, its message and whether it is a good thing for a legal mind to feed from.

A very long story short, Making a Murderer surrounds the life of Steven Avery of Manitowac County in the US. In 1985, Avery was convicted of the rape of a woman, which 18 years later DNA evidence proved he did not commit. It is seen that the County Police fixated on Avery as the suspect at the detriment of good police work, as Avery was an outcast of the community with some criminal history. Astonishingly, this horrible injustice isn’t even the focal point of the overall series.

After being released, Steven Avery returned to his family property on the outskirts of Manitowac, which primarily caters as a scrap metal salvage yard. Having the conduct of the police department 18 years ago found to be sound with regard to criminal law, Avery files a $36 Million civil suit against the Manitowac County Police Department. Wouldn’t you know it, as the civil case begins and a photographer for an Auto Trader magazine, Theresa Halbach, goes missing, the police turn up on Steven Avery’s door.

However I shouldn’t be so facetious, Halbach had visited Avery’s property to take photos of a car he wanted to sell, so he had in fact seen her the day of the murder. That’s the only connect though, now I know what all of you defence attorneys are thinking, but wait, it gets worse.

What follows in the 10 episode series are step after step poor police proceedings, incorrect judicial ruling and generally mind boggling injustice and illegality. Whether or not Steven Avery did murder Theresa Halbach is anyone’s guess, but the procedure of the criminal investigation and court case was so terrible it made me want to throw something at the TV.

Let’s take, as the best example I’d argue, Brendan Dassey. Who’s that? Oh, that’s Steven’s nephew who is 16 years old and clearly not the brightest crayon in the packet. Both before, and more remarkable after, getting legal representation, Brendan is interviewed numerous times without a parent or lawyer present. Yep, that’s illegal. Therefore any evidence he gave would be inadmissible in court right? Say a confession that the police have on tape where it’s clear that Brendan is being fed the correct answers. Oh wait, that was allowed in. A confession where Brendan not only implicates his uncle in the murder, but himself too! What’s made worse is his lawyer allowed him to be interviewed without a parent or legal representation. Was Brendan allowed to get a new lawyer? No, not initially. At least eventually that was rectified.

How about this one. The ‘crime scene’ of Avery’s residence is searched more than ten times. Though a glimmer of hope is that it was supposed to be dealt with by a police department other than Manitowac County due to the law suit, many times after the initial search, Manitowac officers decided to search themselves and simply walked onto the property without clearance and just looked around. Suspiciously enough, on the seventh visit, one of the Sheriff’s named in Avery’s civil suit happens to find a piece of crucial evidence in Avery’s bedroom, the key to Halbach’s car with his DNA on it. Right there in the open. Gosh! What are the odds? Why had no one seen this? Or, you know, fell over it, it was so prominently placed.

While Making a Murderer is a very interesting and thought provoking series, it is for all the negative reasons. All the stereotypes that the Australian legal profession has regarding the American system are completely founded according to this documentary, which I don’t believe is actually true. The viewer, particularly a legal minded one, sits watching with their mouth gapped open, yelling at the TV like a sports fan at some of the judicial rulings that could not possibly have been ruled with that interpretation, and yet they were.

The system works against Steven Avery almost seamlessly and SPOILER ALERT, both Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey lose their case. Despite appeals on both parts, both men are still in prison and there is no release date any time soon.

All in all, I honestly don’t know if I would recommend Making a Murderer or not. On one hand, yes, because it is compelling, well documented and the storyline very much fits the saying “reality is stranger than fiction”. If someone wrote a fictional crime novel of the same story people who scoff and say “how unrealistic”. But on the other hand, as a legal mind you will be so incredibly angry at the unfathomable legal entities in this, from enforcement to judicial, that you can barely put it into words. I say, if you’ve got a 10 hour gap in your life, give it a go for sure, at the very least you’ll finally know what everyone is talking about at the water cooler!

The Chaser (TV series)

chas_licciardello_30_april_2007_2

Legally trained Chas Licciardello of The Chaser

 

By Maille Halloran

The satirical news writers and television stars of The Chaser are perhaps best known for erring on the wrong side of the law. A knowledge of legal rights might come in handy when planning stunts such as the notorious APEC security breach. Fortunately, Chaser members Dominic Knight, Julian Morrow, Chas Licciardello and Craig Reucassel were all graduates of the Sydney Law School. Journalism graduate and fellow member Chris Taylor even worked as a court reporter for two years before joining The Chaser team.

Consumer affairs television series The Checkout, starring Julian Morrow and Craig Reucassel, showcases something not unlike legal advocacy. Viewers are reminded of their rights as consumers and product claims and guarantees are tested. The show itself has not been immune to legal controversy. The ABC faces legal action over The Checkout segments on A2 milk and Swisse vitamins.

Chaser member Dominic Knight is the least recognised of the group, writing rather than presenting on most Chaser programs. In 2009, Knight published a novel, Disco Boy, about a disenchanted law graduate.

Tech Disruption and the Future Role of Lawyers (part 3)

futurama-robot-lawyer

By Phoebe Churches

This is the third post in a series on this topic. If you missed the first two, you can catch up on the first one here and part 2 here. This post looks at

SkyNet, Tech Singularity and the End of Lawyers

“I don’t blame you,” said Marvin and counted five hundred and ninety-seven thousand million sheep before falling asleep again a second later.[1]

So far this discussion has focused on the contracting role of lawyers, and the indications that this contraction will continue apace. Now I want to look at how close this event horizon might be. There are differing views on the immediacy of impacts of automation and technological change on the legal sector. From one side, a headline screams ‘Robots replacing lawyers a ‘near certainty’,[2] and a Deloitte Insight report claims ‘that 39% of jobs (114,000) in the legal sector stand to be automated in the longer term as the profession feels the impact of more “radical changes”’.[3]

On the other side experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology tell us that ‘[a]utomation is advancing, but we are still far from the day when machines can do complex physical and mental tasks that are easily and cheaply done by humans’.[4] Similarly, an attendee at the CodeX Future Law Conference at Stanford Law School in May this year recounts much discussion teasing out the difference between ‘what’s real and what’s marketing buzz in artificial intelligence’.[5] A quick survey of Twitter dialogue hash tagged #futurelaw discloses general agreement that the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for the foreseeable future will be to assist lawyers rather than replace them. There is some consensus that ‘the notion of the robot attorney is pretty much hype and we still have a long way to go to realize the potential of a fully AI attorney’.[6]

The Tech Paradox

One of the paradoxes of technology is that “simplification complicates”, that is, the more technology you throw at the problem in order to simplify it, the more complex it actually becomes.[7]

While automating transactional processes and other areas of simple decision making has already been a particularly effective tech intervention, complex decision-making processes are still not especially well suited to automation.[8] Moreover, some claims about technology really need to be properly put to the proof. For example, the facial analysis software which can purportedly pick criminals and terrorists by their visage sounds a bit too much like phrenology for comfort.[9] Similarly, apparently accurate predictions can prove to be a fluke. The potential for complex systems to rely on the wrong data is a stark reminder of the shortcomings of current AI. One anecdote which provides a good example is the AI system designed to detect the difference between dogs and wolves. After ‘training’ the system, it had a hit rate of close to 100%. Unfortunately, the system was simply detecting the presence of snow as a common element in all of the wolf photos, where the dog pictures featured none.[10] There are also troubling possibilities brought about by operator error and/or bugs introduced during coding of systems. These are not trivial concerns in the context of legal processes, and it may be a long wait for ‘the arrival of ultra-reliable and verifiably crash-proof code … a holy grail in the development of increasingly complex systems’.[11]

Ultimately though, these issues are about the rate of progress, rather than the inevitability of change. The writing on the wall is clear. Humans are no match for machine intelligence and efficiency in an enormous range of tasks. For example in the 80s and 90s, a large chemical company ran work done by its in-house legal staff through new data-mining software and found a human accuracy rate of only 60%. That is a lot of money spent on salaries for outcomes only ‘slightly better than a coin toss’.[12] It is indisputable that data-driven models can help make better legal decisions; yet, for the moment at least, and ‘for the appropriate tasks, the age of quantitative legal prediction is a mixture of humans and machines working together to outperform either working in isolation. The equation is simple: Humans + Machines > Humans or Machines’.[13]

The Regulatory Challenge

There is another factor limiting the speed of development in the sector: the full impact of rapid technological development continues to be throttled by slow regulatory change. Current regulatory barriers compromise services to consumers on both ends of the spectrum – on one end, entry barriers have created the monopoly which has facilitated a false market in legal services, and has limited competition from outside the sector which might otherwise weed out slapdash or underperforming firms. On the other end of the continuum, services in the unregulated space can enter the market unimpeded, providing all manner of products and services to unwary consumers with relative impunity.

While America is yet to reform its regulatory framework which enacts substantial barriers to entry and practise, the UK and to a lesser extent Australia have undertaken reforms to allow alternative business structures (ABSs). However, these reforms will need to go further as technology increasingly pushes the existing boundaries of regulation.[14] The Legal Services Board and the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority in the UK are actively promoting extensive regulatory reform to accommodate increased segmentation in the legal services market.[15] In Australia, incorporated legal practice and multi-disciplinary partnerships have been permitted for some time, however these models are still tightly confined by the regulatory framework.

The need to tread a careful line between freeing up the sector to embrace change, and protecting clients and society generally accounts in part for the sluggish rate of change to regulation. Witness the story of Justin Wyrick Jr who, in 2000 became the most asked for legal expert on AskMeHelpDesk.com. ‘Justin’, as it turns out, was in fact Markus Arnold, a 15-year-old secondary student who had never opened a law book in his life.[16] Mr Arnold was not prosecuted, to the American Bar Association’s abject horror, however his efforts are a pretty clear indication that consumers need some protection. Free online services are not currently regulated by consumer laws, so minimally we need some accreditation based regulation as assurance so the community can have some faith in what its (not) paying for.

At the other end of the spectrum, regulation unnecessarily interferes with potential improvements to the accessibility of the legal system. For example, in the US State of Florida, Rosemary Furman assisted people wanting a divorce by preparing and filing the necessary legal forms for $50.[17]  Ms Furman had previously done this work as a legal secretary under the supervision of an attorney who charged $300 to complete the same work. She thought the cost of filing for divorce was unconscionable, particularly for women unable to afford to leave violent relationships. [18] Unfortunately Furman was a victim of her own success, because her business attracted the attention of the Florida regulators who sentenced her to 120 days in gaol for her efforts. It was only by intervention of the Governor that she did not actually serve time.

Ultimately in the context of a disaggregated sector, regulators need to find ways to protect the interests of clients, but without erecting unnecessary barriers to entry, and constricting innovation. This has not proven a problem for the legal work increasingly undertaken by accountants and conveyancers. It is difficult to see why there is any barrier (other than the self-interest of lawyers themselves) to employing the same flexibility to encompass the increased segmentation of the legal sector. Mayson makes the case for ‘maintaining sector-specific regulation, rather than leaving legal services to be covered only by general consumer and competition protection’.[19] Where the stakes are particularly high for clients, such as ‘the potential for irreversible loss, misuse of clients’ funds, or abuse of a privileged relationship’,[20] there needs to be specific consumer protection, above and beyond the current regime. One way or another, regulators must recognise that the unbundling of legal work has at once opened up opportunities to address unmet legal need, and a potential space for the uninitiated and unannointed to wreak havoc.

Previously: The Contracting Role of Lawyers | Next Time: The New Frontier


[1] Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1982).

[2] Miklos Bolza, ‘Robots replacing lawyers a “near certainty”’ (22 Feb 2016) Australasian Lawyer.

[3] Deloitte, ‘Developing Legal Talent: stepping into the future law firm’, Insight Report (February 2016).

[4] Timothy Aeppel, ‘Be Calm, Robots Aren’t About to Take Your Job, MIT Economist Says’ The Wall Street Journal (25 February 2015).

[5] Miguel Willis, ‘Robot Lawyers: Kill Law Jobs or Augment Expertise?’ (24 May 2016) The Innovative Law Student .

[6] Ibid.

[7] Frank McKenna, ‘In the zone: Is technology helping or hindering lawyers’ decision making?’ (September 2013) LexisNexis Australia Discussion Paper.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Debra Cassens Weiss, ‘Company claims its technology can pick out criminals by facial analysis’ American Bar Association Journal (24 May 2016).

[10] Ibid.

[11] International Legal Technology Association, ‘Legal Technology Future Horizons – Strategic Imperatives for the Law Firm of the Future’ (Report, 2014).

[12] Bregman, above n 18, 12.

[13] Daniel Martin Katz, ‘Quantitative Legal Prediction—Or—How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Start Preparing for The Data-Driven Future of the Legal Services Industry’ (2013) 62 Emory Law Journal 909, 929.

[14] Steven Mark &Tahlia Gordon, ‘Innovations in Regulation—Responding to a Changing Legal Services Market; (2009) 22 The Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics 501.

[15] See e.g. Legal Services Board, A blueprint for reforming legal services regulation (September 2013); and Solicitors Regulation Authority, SRA Regulatory Reform Programme Improving Regulation: proportionate and targeted measures (April 2015).

[16] Clifford Winston, Robert W. Crandall and Vikram Maheshri, First Thing We Do, Let’s Deregulate All The Lawyers (2011).

[17] George C. Leef, ‘The Case for a Free Market in Legal Services’(October, 1998) Policy Analysis No. 322 – the CATO Institute, 1, 2.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Stephen Mayson, ‘Beyond the Legal Services Act’ (27 July 2015).

[20] Ibid.

 

Tech Disruption and the Future Role of Lawyers (part 2)

futurama-robot-lawyer

By Phoebe Churches

If you missed my first post on this topic, maybe head here and read it first. This post takes up where I left off – looking at how the sector is already changing very quickly.

The Contracting Role of Lawyers*

Historically, in Australia and similar common law jurisdictions, ‘legal work’ has been the exclusive domain of ‘lawyers’, and a ‘lawyer’ is generally defined as someone who undertakes ‘legal work’. This circular, self-serving definition has created a closed loop and the creation of a monopoly-based false market for legal work. Unfortunately this market, rather than ‘protecting clients from the exploitation of the inevitable asymmetry of knowledge and power … has actually encouraged and condoned an exploitation of the privilege’.[1]

Not all legal systems share this definition of course. In contrast to common law’s concept of a lawyer as ‘a single type of general-purpose legal services provider’, civil law systems ‘consist of a large number of different kinds of law-trained persons, known as jurists, of which only some are advocates who are licensed to practice in the courts’.[2] The distinguishing feature of civil systems is their reliance on statute, with judges applying, rather than creating law. The common law system not only creates law, but its dispute resolution process is primarily adversarial, where it is the legal representatives who must research, investigate and present arguments supported by evidence before a passive fact finder. This makes the adversarial system especially opaque and characterised by significant asymmetry in power between client and lawyer.

Technologies’ Role in Equalising Alignment, Balance, and Equivalence

There are three types of asymmetry in the justice system: unequal information about the services a client is seeking and what it is worth; unequal knowledge in the area of expertise for which assistance is sought, and unequal power – which is a function of the preceding two. However, the inequality of information between lawyer and client is beginning to level through the electronic marketplace, with a multitude of start-ups providing prospective clients with accurate and reliable reviews of law firms.[3] Additionally, big-data driven quantitative analysis can illuminate costings of complex matters to provide far greater cost certainty from the outset.

Lawyers have traditionally played a role as ‘equaliser’ – specialists required to balance this asymmetry of knowledge. However, exploitation of this role has established a market for lawyers that is clearly disproportionate to its need. For example, if lawyers maintain the rule of law, the fact that the United States has ‘17 times the number of lawyers per capita as Japan’, [4] should mean that the American rule of law is 17 times as effective, and Americans 17 times more protected than Japan. This is an assertion which appears to be wholly unsupported by evidence.  In fact, a recent study of 30 years of legal development in 22 countries ‘shows that in every instance, the population of lawyers is growing faster than the underlying population’.[5] In response to this oversupply ‘lawyers have created an artificial market for their services’,[6] creating work to do ‘by encouraging the spread of law into areas that were not necessary … and in which they have been protected by unnecessary and unreasonable regulatory barriers’.[7] Ultimately, this oversupply and the attendant over-reach of the legal market has created fertile grounds for disruption and the previously monolithic legal sector is segmenting in a way which means there is no longer any reason for many of these disaggregated tasks to be restricted to lawyers.

Increasingly advisory, facilitation and transactional practice is being subsumed by other indemnified professionals: accountants are providing tax advice, conveyancers are conducting property transactions, employment and industrial relations matters are handled by Human Resources Consultants. Many facilitation services have already been integrated into a range of technology enabled companies providing online access. It is possible to set up company structures or create self-executing smart contracts stored on the blockchain faster and more securely online than ever before. In the near future we can expect to see more platforms allowing a growing range of online transactions; from the resolution of consumer or welfare rights disputes; the creation and facilitation of wills, probate, and estate matters; to complete property transactions and company management.

That leaves litigious and prosecutorial work as the last bastions of the practicing lawyer – yet even this space is contested.** Reform of civil litigation legislation has curtailed personal injury work, [8]  eDiscovery is encroaching on many pre-trial tasks, and legal research, also a backbone of litigation, can be largely automated. Court appearance work is also being eroded by the increasing spread of tribunals and commissions, including the Fair Work and Human Rights and Equal Opportunity jurisdictions, [9] and alternative dispute resolution in which lawyers are often regarded more as a hindrance than a benefit.[10] The private sector is also eroding the litigation domain, with online platforms such as eBay and Airbnb containing their own arbitration systems, displacing as far as they can, the jurisdiction of local courts. In the near future there is no reason that a range of civil dispute resolution tribunals cannot also move their functions to online platforms which ‘can adjudicate small claims … as an alternative to court’ and without lawyers.[11] Additionally, there are a range of ways in which the sorts of issues currently giving rise to liabilities will no longer eventuate in the first place. For example, legal requirements are becoming embedded into our working and social lives,[12] including building designs which pre-emptively identify and correct environmental hazards, and plant equipment which automatically conforms with OHS requirements.

It seems inevitable then that increasingly the role of lawyers will be confined to officers of the court addressing only ‘David and Goliath’ issues.[13] That is, those disputes between individuals featuring significant power disparities, and disputes between individuals and more powerful institutions which remain tied to the adversarial system.[14] Likewise lawyers will remain needed in the prosecutorial space – where the potential tyranny of the state puts individuals’ human rights at stake. Beyond that, here come the robolawyers.

Previously: The Context – The ‘Post’ Society | Next time: SkyNet, Tech Singularity and the End of Lawyers


*See what I did there?

** Oooh, I did it again!

[1] Stephen Mayson, ‘Restoring a Future for Law’ (October 2013), 3.

[2] Balin Hazarika, ‘Role of Lawyer in the Society: A Critical Analysis’ (2012) 1 The Clarion 148, 149.

[3] See e.g. D. Casey Flaherty, ‘Client-led Change: Toward a More Perfect Legal Market’ (9 May 2016) 3 Geeks and a Law Blog.

[4] Rutger Bregman, Utopia for Realists (2016), 5.

[5] Marc Galanter, ‘More Lawyers than People: The Global Multiplication of Legal Professionals’ in Scott L. Cummings (ed), The Paradox of Professionalism – Lawyers and the Possibility of Justice (2011), 72.

[6] Mayson, above n 14, 3.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Commonwealth of Australia, Review of the Law of Negligence (2002) – commonly known as the Ipp review.

[9] See e.g. Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) s 596, which limits representation of applicants and respondents in the Fair Work Commission.

[10] Michele R. Pistone & Michael B. Horn, ‘Disrupting Law School: How disruptive innovation will revolutionize the legal world’ (March 2016) Clayton Christensen Institute White Paper, 6.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Richard Susskind & Daniel Susskind, The Future of the Professions (2016).

[13] Australian Government Productivity Commission, ‘Access to Justice Arrangements’, Productivity Commission Inquiry Report Overview (No. 72, 5 September 2014).

[14] Such as federal discrimination law system, matters can only be heard in the very formal Federal Courts or Federal Magistrates Courts

Superheroes: lawyers and social workers—but where are our Universities?

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By Bevan Warner

Batman and Robin were an irrepressible team, each with unique talents, who fought the good fight. Spiderman fought alone but had powers that made him superhuman. Was the dynamic duo or the singular superhero more powerful or better?

Just like our superheroes, lots of talented staff chose to study law with the express intention of standing up for what is fair and using their skills not to enrich themselves but to benefit and better the community.

They saw the potential for the law to oppress and enable: a force from which people will often need protection, but also a tool that can help individuals obtain protection and to realise their rights and lead fulfilling lives.

Many of today’s law students come to their studies with similar aspirations of fighting the good fight and using the law for social good, but do our Universities equip them properly for this task?

While law and commerce is a popular conjoint degree, few universities have a similar degree option for social justice lawyers. Those who are interested in the operation of the law for everyday people, will often undertake a conjoint law and arts degree. While this combination provides invaluable critical thinking skills it does not provide all the practical skills for effective social justice lawyering.

Why aren’t our Universities offering dual social work and law degrees to better prepare our social justice lawyers of the future?

Why make people study twice and work in two careers when a singular super professional hero would be better?

Victoria has been a leader in incorporating clinical legal education models in basic law degrees.

Former Victoria Legal Aid board member Mary-Ann Noone pioneered this work as she taught a new generation of social justice lawyers at La Trobe University and it is now routine for universities to entice students with some offer of practical experience of the law in their coursework. But still, no cross over single degree between law and social work. You can be Batman or Robin but not Spiderman – I sincerely wish I had a gender neutral superhero to choose from, but alas I do not.

I wonder which Australian University will be first?

Our lawyers at Victoria Legal Aid often reflect on how their role is as much about being a social worker as it is a lawyer. To only help a person with their legal issue, without assisting with the many other non-legal issues that underpin their legal problem, is to not do our job effectively.

Many changes are needed to achieve fairness before the law for everyday people but I venture that bringing social work into our law schools will be an important piece of the puzzle.

A fit-for-purpose degree with a mix of law and social work skills would be a great way to harness the passion I see in many of today’s law students who are clamouring to work at Victoria Legal Aid.

It would build on Victoria’s legacy as a leader in legal education and contribute greatly towards building the workforce we need for our future.

— Bevan Warner is the Managing Director at Victorian Legal Aid

Tech Disruption and the Future Role of Lawyers (part 1)

futurama-robot-lawyer

By Phoebe Churches

Over the course of a few posts I would like to share with you some thoughts about the future of legal practice.  Specifically, I want to look at what future roles will be available to lawyers as technology develops at an increasingly rapid clip (tech disruption is the current buzz term). This rapid tech development has become a ‘disruption’, not least due to the multiple pressures on the legal sector coming from both within, and without. There’s much to consider, and I would like to set them out here over a few posts, so bear with me.

Without doubt, technology is driving change everywhere, and the current rate of technological advancement is unprecedented. We have entered the fourth industrial revolution which is both driving and driven by significant changes to the socio-political and economic environment. In this context, labour in all its forms will be irrevocably changed; and the role of lawyers is no exception. Undoubtedly the next few years will see these transformations multiply exponentially. In this context I’d like to explore what role Australian lawyers might  play in the future. I am especially concerned with legal work which involves relationships and disputes between Individuals and Individuals; Individuals and Corporations; and Individuals and the State. I’m m particularly interested in this part of the legal sector because – in contrast to disputes between corporations – or between corporations and the state, relations involving people potentially feature the most significant disparities in capacity to enforce legal rights.

Unfortunately much commentary on this topic tends to view the legal sector as a monolithic whole – without distinguishing between corporate (or BigLaw) business and the bread and butter of small practice, the community sector and the individual. Lumping the whole of legal practice into one discussion distorts the picture. I hope the following will offer a more focused opinion and a more nuanced view of one specific segment of legal work. Over the next month or two I hope to look at the context for the rate and progress of change in the legal sector, explore the impact of technologies on lawyers’ traditional roles, and close with an agenda for addressing future challenges.

The Context – The ‘Post’ Society

Tech disruption, the resulting changes to the way work is performed, and the environment which produces these changes aren’t separate or linear; they interact causally in iterative and organic ways. Historically the legal sector has been particularly change resistant, however the current economic context goes some way to explaining why disruption has finally come to the role of lawyers.

By creating millions of networked people…with the whole of human intelligence only one thumb-swipe away,
info-capitalism has created a new agent of change in history: the educated and connected human being.[2]

OECD countries have now passed the threshold of the post-industrial society. Fewer and fewer workers globally are involved in manufacture, and a rapidly growing number are employed in the service sector. In tandem, some pundits predict major changes to the political economy, asserting that capitalism has become increasingly unstable and unsustainable; potentially bringing the world to the verge of a post-capitalist era.[3] Undoubtedly technology is a significant catalyst for these changes. The ubiquitous spread of online resources, data, and information has created an inherent contradiction ‘between the possibility of free, abundant goods and information; and a system of monopolies, banks, and governments trying to keep things private, scarce and commercial’.[4] New forms of collaborative production – for example creating and sharing goods and services by network technology which only functions because it is free or shared – must definitively disrupt the market system.

The Sharing Economy

Law is too important to be left to lawyers alone.[5]

Sharing free information is hardly new. In fact thirty years ago, at the height of a burgeoning ‘knowledge is power’ movement, initiatives to freely share knowledge were everywhere. The hippies and lefties and other bohemian types were busy trying to level power imbalances between corporations and people, the state and individuals, and lawyers and laypeople. In 1976 the United States saw the advent of the ‘law commune based on destroying the mysticism which the law holds for many people and explaining how it relates to their lives’.[6] The same era saw the beginnings of the Community Legal Sector in Australia with an agenda of Community Legal Education squarely aimed at demystifying the law for the masses. These initiatives were (and continue to be) based on an understanding that the more informed people are, the more likely they are to either avoid legal problems, or alternatively, the better they can resolve issues without professional assistance.

More recently, a technology driven ‘sharing economy’ has emerged through our constant connectedness. The consequent ‘democratisation of knowledge’ has given birth to a new business subculture. Given markets rely on scarcity, the enormous growth of free and plentiful information “goods” ‘are corroding the market’s ability to form prices correctly’.[7] Tied with the rise and rise of collaborative production, the market for information has irrevocably changed. For example, Wikipedia is the ‘biggest information product in the world’ and it is collaboratively produced by around 30 000 people for absolutely nothing.[8] It is hardly surprising that individuals are questioning the hitherto high price of accessing legal information.

The Justice Gap and Non-Consumption

Meanwhile, the access to justice crisis for individuals in Australia has been deepening.[9] Australia has no safety net for legal help. While successive governments have eroded funding to legal assistance to the point that only those on very low incomes can access these services,[10] by virtue of the rigid system of legal practice regulation, the legal profession has retained a virtual monopoly across all types of legal practice; from advising through facilitation and transaction services to litigation. Additionally, geography plays a significant role, with regional and remote areas often suffering from very poor access to services.[11]

Even among those who can afford to pay, many resist or attempt to avoid engaging a lawyer in favour of self-service or alternative types of assistance.[12] Decreasing legal service consumption has many causes. Chief among them are clients’ declining confidence that they are getting good value for the price, and their increasing options to meet legal needs without engaging a lawyer at all by purchasing unbundled or online services. We are in an information revolution. Technology has put at our fingertips an unprecedented amount of responsive and organised information which potentially enables us to resolve many legal matters without involving lawyers. This is already a feature of many of the growing online legal presences – from blogs to document delivery services.

Next time: The Contracting Role of Lawyers (geddit?)

[1] Klaus Schwab, ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means, how to respond’ World Economic Forum, Global Agenda (14 January 2016) .

[2] Paul Mason, PostCapitalism – A Guide to our Future (2016), 21.

[3] See e.g. Thomas Piketty, Capital in the 21st Century (2014); Mason, ibid.

[4] Mason, above n 3, 25.

[5] Eddie R. Hartman tweeting about the Future Law 2016 Conference at Stanford University.

[6] S. D. Ross, ‘The Role of Lawyers in Society’ (1976) 48 The Australian Quarterly 61.

[7] Mason, above n 3, 16.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Community Law Australia, Unaffordable and out of reach: the problem of access to the Australian legal system (Report, July 2012). According to the World Justice Project, Rule of Law Index 2014, this is equally an issue internationally, with the United States, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Uganda all roughly ranked equally on the basis of the affordability and accessibility of its civil justice system.

[10] According to the Attorney-General’s Department, Strategic Framework for Access to Justice in the Federal Civil Justice System, 2009, ‘98 per cent of legal aid recipients [receive] an income that could be considered below the poverty line. This leaves much of Australia unable to afford legal representation but nevertheless ineligible for legal aid’, at 52.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Legal Services Consumer Panel, 2020 Legal Services How regulators should prepare for the future (November 2014).

Harper Lee

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It should come as no surprise that the inimitable Atticus Finch was conjured up by an author very familiar with the legal profession. Nelle Harper Lee was introduced to small town trials and white mob violence at a young age. Witnessing the injustice of the courtroom for black defendants inspired the Tom Robinson sub-plot of of To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee’s father was a lawyer and a member of the state legislature in Alabama. In 1919, he defended two young, black men against a murder charge. Just as in the novel, the young men were convicted.

At first, Lee followed in her father’s footsteps, beginning a law degree at the University of Alabama. She studied law for a few years but chose to abandon the degree before completion, in favour of dedicating her time to writing. Harper’s sister Alice, on the other hand, was one of the Deep South’s first female graduates of law. Alice Lee practised in her Alabama law firm until she was over 100 years of age. Allegedly, Alice Lee was also her younger sister’s legal guide, helping her to navigate publishing deals and copyright law.

Terminus – Bottled Snail

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by Phoebe Churches

It is practically impossible to experience a fully and flawlessly orchestrated choral experience in the acoustics of a cathedral without feeling profoundly moved. Whenever I go to enjoy live music I immediately wonder why I don’t do it more often. The actual vibration of musical notes in the chest, the tingle down the spine and the hairs on the back of the head which feel the notes, even as the orchestra tunes up in that discordant way just before the conductor taps on their music stand.

BottledSnail’s Habeas Chorus and the Melbourne Lawyers Orchestra (Lawchestra) along with the Monash University Choral Society did not disappoint. The evening started with the fantastic premiere of Last Verses, a work by Australian composer Dan Walker. Last Verses consists of the last poems of Thomas Hardy, Ralph Waldo Emerson (whose poem Terminus gives its title to the performance), Robert Herrick, Elinor Wylie and D.H. Lawrence. It is a wonderfully life affirming celebration of mortality. At once fresh and traditional. I am not sure whether it will be released anywhere else, so if you missed this concert, look out for a further opportunity to catch it live.

The second half of the show featured W.A. Mozart’s last piece – Requiem. It is fruitless to attempt to reduce the experience of Requiem in the beautiful acoustics of St Paul’s Melbourne to words on a page. It was magnificent.

BottledSnail is a great outfit. They donate a substantial amount of their profits annually to the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation, whose aim is to improve the mental health of lawyers.

Terminus is a celebration of life, as Dan Walker says ‘rallying against the idea of death, but not necessarily the idea of dying’.

If you missed it, this short clip will give you the idea.

Money and the Law

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By Dean R P Edwards

Money has no place in politics, goes the tired complaint (ironically, as money seems to have an increasing place in politics and politicians’ pockets), but what of money in the law?

We often hear of generational change when it comes to the evolution of the legal profession into something more humanist, when it comes to women and LGBTI in the workplace, or the flexibility required for mothers and those suffering from mental health issues. We take issue with the cruelty of the old “chin up and deal with it” attitude—the lifestyle of getting wrong the so-called “work–life balance”—but what if there’s a niggling imbalance in the very way we work?

Another oft-heard complaint is the rapacity of lawyers in charging their clients. Many a lawyer has borne the brunt of a client’s fury upon receipt of a bill, and I am not overgeneralising to say that some legal bills are unjustified swindling. But there must be some truth to the charge, so to speak, or why else the recently introduced Uniform Law and all other manners of professional regulation?

I had recently quipped to some friends that not all lawyers are well-heeled (except I imagine some women, pursuant to whatever completely non-sexist company policy). Some lawyers even struggle financially, and I don’t mean the ones who only put themselves into financial straits.

As with all things that involve daily human toil, lawyering is subject to the vicissitudes of the modern-day working life, the model of which has become, over the decades, increasingly larger in scale and corporate.

And there’s the rub: in an age where public funds to legal aid are slashed, the power of private money dominates the concerns of the law and, undoubtedly if suspiciously unwittingly, the legal profession.

There is nothing especially new about that phenomenon, of course, and the issue of power and money in law goes back to the institution’s origins. But today, the profession likes to talk about access to justice, creating a more transparent legal system, a more humane workplace for lawyers facing personal hardships, among other noble concerns. None of this is possible without fundamentally changing how the law operates, both as a public institution and professionally.

Of course, one might argue in defence of the modern legal system that if corporates want to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on enormously complex and time-intensive litigation, so be it. It’s their money and their prerogative. But this begs the question of how money and the power that comes with it fundamentally shape the legal system and the concerns and aspirations of the profession.

We like to give some semblance of truth to the proposition that political democracy is one person, one vote. At the same time, we accept that politics involves a large degree of behind-closed-doors deals and cash—for the Right, it’s the unions backing the Left; for the Left, it’s the corporates backing the Right.

At the same time as admitting to the reality of these backroom tactics, we have chosen to regulate money in politics, to stem the power of donors and unelected powerbrokers to peddle influence and manoeuvre the ship of state.

Why can we not do the same with the law? To even imagine the proposition as a course of action is to demand a total overhaul of how our legal system operates and what we expect of those working in the profession. Our courts are public institutions, but the concept of legal aid—in matters private and commercial as well as criminal and family-related—would need to be radically expanded. Profitability, and with it the nature of how the legal profession operates, would need to be subordinated to the utility of law as a public good, not a privilege.

This post doesn’t go so far as to offer any visions of that radically different future. There are brighter and more dedicated minds who can, and should, lend their wisdom and structure to such a vision. But the proposition takes each lawyer to task on the questions central to their work. I would go so far as to say that the legal profession cannot have a serious and honest conversation on the topic of mental health without addressing the systemic nature that money plays in driving the legal profession as a business (a taboo label for the profession) and the aspirations of its practitioners. Money lies at the heart of access to justice and what forms of justice are prioritised over others, and to whom we give voice for redress in our society, and whom we silence by the power of the dollar or its absence.

If I might be forgiven pirating the concept of how one deals with grief, to deny the centrality of money in law and the profession’s woes is the first stage towards a perhaps begrudging acceptance that something far more substantive must be done than addressing largely (but not totally) peripheral issues of what causes anxiety and depression in the profession.

If we want healthy practitioners, we must ask what role money should, and shouldn’t, play in the development of a more responsive and ethical legal system.