The Power of Perspectives

The Canadian Bar Association
Q&A

Benjamin Alarie on intuition versus the data

By Yves Faguy June 16, 2017 16 June 2017

Benjamin Alarie on intuition versus the data

 

Over the last few years, we’ve seen artificial intelligence make inroads into every sector of the economy, from health care and education to finance and law. At the CCCA’s National Conference in April, Yves Faguy interviewed Benjamin Alarie, CEO of Blue J Legal, which uses machine learning to help predict tax case outcomes, about the promise that AI holds for law firms and possible pitfalls.

CBA National: There are quite a few legal outfits, here in Canada, moving into the AI space. How do you explain that?

Benjamin Alarie: There are a few different reasons why it’s happening now. One is that legal research for a very long time was purely analog. And then we saw the advent of digital in legal research and now we’re seeing the advent of computational legal research where you’re using applied mathematics to extract information from the digital content. And what facilitates that is the computing power that’s now available and the algorithms that allow us to harness that power and engage in computational legal research.

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Conduct becoming

First come, first served: Revisiting the cab rank rule

By Gavin & Brooke MacKenzie June 16, 2017 16 June 2017

First come, first served: Revisiting the cab rank rule

 

Lawyers agree about the importance of competent legal representation for accused persons in criminal matters even when the charges relate to the worst offences imaginable. But do Canadian lawyers have any responsibility to represent unpopular parties in civil cases?

In Britain, barristers are bound by the “cab rank” rule: barristers, like taxis, must accept work on a ‘first-come, first-served’ basis. Barristers must accept matters appropriate for their experience irrespective of the client's identity, the nature of the case, or “any belief or opinion which [they] may have formed as to the character, reputation, cause, conduct, guilt, or innocence of the client”.

Canadian lawyers are not subject to the cab rank rule per se. We are entitled – in criminal and civil cases alike – to decline a retainer because we disagree with a client’s cause or conduct, but our regulators discourage this. 

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Agents of Innovation

A new sheriff in legal services town

By Ava Chisling June 16, 2017 16 June 2017

A new sheriff in legal services town

 

They go by many names: Chief of staff; chief of legal operations, director of legal ops. Their tasks range from strategic planning and team building to litigation support, communications and financial management.

They’re legal ops professionals. Still largely unknown in Canada, this new breed is shaking up how legal services are delivered to everyone from small business to Fortune 500 companies in the United States. And when it comes to organizational leadership, they’re starting to elbow general counsel aside.

“General counsel do not have the training, skill sets, or time to manage complex organizations and perform the other tasks charged to them,” says professor, author and legal future evangelist Kenneth Grady.

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Closing argument

Standing up for vulnerable litigants

By Omar Ha-Redeye June 16, 2017 16 June 2017

Standing up for vulnerable litigants

 

It is very easy to turn a blind eye to areas of law that fall outside of our professional expertise. This is especially true of family law – but it would be a mistake to do so because we have a shared interest in ensuring the system functions properly.

By all accounts, family law is in crisis right across Canada; some courts report that between 60 and 70 per cent of litigants represent themselves. As the CBA’s Equal Justice Report notes, self-represented parties typically experience poorer outcomes. The cost of family law trials, however, means litigation is inaccessible for everyone except the very rich or the very poor.

That’s not to say family law hasn’t changed for the better in some ways. It has adapted to reflect changing social norms, including reforms geared to the realities of same-sex couples, surrogacy laws and changing family dynamics. 

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CBA community

Justice for East Africa's children

By CBA/ABC National June 16, 2017 16 June 2017

 

When 15-year-old Edith was charged with robbery for allegedly stealing a cellphone, there were some unexpected consequences.

Her mother lost her job at a food stall in the Nairobi slums because she had to accompany her daughter to court. A widow with five children and no income, she couldn’t pay the cash bond to secure Edith’s release, so the teen was sent to the Nairobi Children’s Remand Home.

But Edith (not her real name) was able to get some help from the Kenya National Working Group, which offers legal advice and psychosocial support for children and youth in contact with the law. A pro bono lawyer got her bail reduced to a free bond so she was able to go home. Now she receives counselling and guidance while she waits to be able to afford to go to school. She dreams of being a teacher.

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CBA community

A conversation with Kerry L. Simmons, Q.C.

By CBA/ABC National June 16, 2017 16 June 2017

A conversation with Kerry L. Simmons, Q.C.

Kerry L. Simmons, Q.C. was a high school student working part time at a small-town law firm when one of the partners was elected president of the CBA-BC branch. J. Parker MacCarthy went on to become the CBA national president. And that left an impression.

“I just watched what he did,” she says. “This was part of being a lawyer – which I knew I wanted to do. As a lawyer, you were part of the CBA and there was an opportunity for leadership in your professional association. I thought I’d like to do that one day.”

Simmons, a partner at Cook Roberts LLP in Victoria, followed in her mentor’s footsteps, serving as president of the BC branch in 2012-13. And on Sept. 1, she takes office as CBA’s next president. National spoke with her about her commitment to public service, the role of the CBA and life outside law.

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Creative licence

Word play: Barry Corbin

By CBA/ABC National June 16, 2017 16 June 2017

Word play: Barry Corbin

 

“As a lawyer, words are my stock-in-trade, so inventing an anagram-based game was a natural. Strudel was perhaps the inevitable result because it takes strategic thinking, time management and finding ways to look at things differently – critical skills for any practising lawyer. The seven-year journey from conception to realization taught me the importance of passion, patience and perseverance.”

Toronto estates lawyer Barry Corbin is the creator of the word game Strudel

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Corporate counsel

Modern slavery: How many slaves work for you?

By Lynne Yryku June 16, 2017 16 June 2017

Modern slavery: How many slaves work for you?

 

Freedom is one of the fundamental values in Canadian society. However, almost 50 million people are in some form of modern slavery around the world—including in Canada. As it is often hidden in a vast range of supply chains, a long way from where goods are sold, most of us are unknowingly benefitting from modern slavery in the products we buy, suppliers we hire and companies in which we invest.

To bring more attention to this evil said to be hiding in plain sight, the International Commission of Jurists Canadian Section hosted the panel, “Modern Slavery in Supply Chains: Trends in Global Corporate Liability and Legislation,” in conjunction with the CCCA. Led by leading global legal experts, the pressing global problem of exploitative labour in supply chains, the role of business in addressing forced labour, and legislative responses to address the problem were discussed.

Panelists included Ruth Dearnley, CEO of Stop the Traffik; Jonathan Drimmer, VP & Deputy GC at Barrick Gold Corp.; Mora Johnson, Barrister & Solicitor and Former Chair of the OECD Forum on Responsible Mineral Supply Chains; Kevin McGurgan, British Consul General and Director-General for UK Trade & Investment in Canada; Peter Talibart, Managing Partner of Seyfarth Shaw LLP (U.K.); Mark Trachuk, Partner at Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP.

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Corporate counsel

Blockchain for in-house counsel

By Julie Sobowale June 16, 2017 16 June 2017

Blockchain for in-house counsel

 

Jillian Friedman fell into the Bitcoin world three years ago. After finishing her articles, she started taking notice of the cryptocurrency and began working with the Bitcoin Embassy in early 2014.

“I started reading a lot about Bitcoin and went down the rabbit hole,” says Friedman. “I’m not a libertarian but I was intrigued by the application of libertarian philosophy to a technology and economic system.”

Friedman quickly became an expert in blockchain and the National Bank of Canada took notice. The bank hired her in 2015 to focus on technology law. She believes blockchain will have a big effect in commerce.

“I’m far more involved in the business side of things,” says Friedman. “I’ve been working closely by tech people for two years. It makes my job to identify risks a lot easier. I learn how things work.”

Blockchain is the legal tech darling of the year. Beyond the hype, blockchain is revolutionary technology that could change how we interact with one another. From financial transactions to health records, blockchain promises to be the next major legal tech frontier.

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CBA Influence

Getting technical: Recommendations for billed-basis accounting changes

By Kim Covert June 15, 2017 15 June 2017

The federal government’s policy rationale for repealing section 34 of the Income Tax Act – the billed-basis accounting tax provision for several groups of professionals – may seem sound, but doing so will create uncertainties and compliance burdens that have sunk similar proposals in the past, says the Joint Committee on Taxation of the Canadian Bar Association and Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada.

The federal government announced in its March 2017 budget that it would remove the exemption available to professionals including doctors, dentists, accountants and lawyers to exclude work-in-progress from their year-end income.

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Justice

Senate committee recommendations to address court delays

By Mark Bourrie June 15, 2017 15 June 2017

Senate committee recommendations to address court delays

 

The federal government should amend the Criminal Code to allow courts to order costs or lighter sentences to accused people whose trials are delayed, rather than issue stays of proceedings, a major Senate report on court delays says.

Bob Runciman, Chair of The Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, says no other major country forces judges to throw out cases for delay.

The committee wants new remedies to replace stays granted under section 11(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Supreme Court of Canada, in the 2016 R v Jordan decision, ruled that long delays breached accused’s Charter rights. The court set a deadline of 18 months for provincial court cases, and 30 months in superior court cases, from the laying of charges to the end of a trial.

“The fallout from that (the Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in R v Jordan), stays granted in very serious criminal matters: first and second-degree murder charges, child sexual assault charges, put court delays squarely in the public consciousness,” Bob Runciman, chair of the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, said at a news conference Wednesday.

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CBA Influence

The CBA responds to ILO’s call for input on child labour

By Kim Covert June 14, 2017 14 June 2017

Child labour has largely been eradicated in First-World countries yet people who congratulate themselves for not forcing their country’s children to work for pennies also benefit from that kind of labour elsewhere, by paying lower prices for consumer goods.

It’s part of the reason why child labour is such a seemingly intractable problem – world governments failed in their goal to end the worst forms of child labour by 2016. Now the 2015 sustainable development have reiterated the call for an end to child labour. Goal 8.7 sets a goal of 2025 for ending child labour in all its forms– just eight years from now.

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