This year, a Summer School in Legal Technology saw 55 participants from around the world come together in the culmination of a project that was one of the recipients of the Edinburgh Global Innovation Fund. We spoke to Professor Burkhard Schafer to find out more.
By Sophie Craik
Legal technology is a relatively recent development - Daniel Newman, a contributor for Forbes, has explained that “the legal industry was slow to adopt digital changes brought about by the digital transformation,” however considering that between the years of 2012 and 2016, patent applications for legal technology increased by nearly 500% (Thomson Reuters, 2017), it seems that the pace has certainly quickened.
This year, the University of Edinburgh made further strides into the arena by hosting a Summer School in Legal Technology.
Supported by funds from the Edinburgh Global Innovation Fund, the Summer School aimed to give Scottish students the opportunity to present their research on legal technology and regulation of artificial intelligence to a group of international experts, as well as giving them exposure to talks from experts and practitioners in the subject from the UK, Germany and Japan.
Burkhard Schafer, Professor of Computational Legal Theory at Edinburgh Law School, led the project and spoke to us about the process of getting the Summer School off the ground.
“The summer school had many parents. A driving force, however, was the students from my Robotics Law course, who constituted themselves as the ‘Law and Technology Students Association’ and with great energy organised themselves a number of activities in fields that we do not (as yet) cover.
Our undergraduates, and even more so our LLM students, come from all over the globe, and one of the issues they flagged was how little information was available in an accessible form from countries other than the US and other anglophone jurisdictions.
Hence the idea of a global event that invited speakers from some technology powerhouses, which would not normally publish in English. The students helped tremendously with the organisation and the publicity for this event.
Another parent was the Law Society of Scotland, with whom we had begun discussions about the future of the legal profession, and what skills the lawyer of the future will need.
Once again, I was struck by how many similar discussions are taking place in many of the jurisdictions that I know, and how little of the effort is co-ordinated internationally, and how little knowledge and experience is exchanged. A meeting in Edinburgh by people who are involved in the process in their home jurisdictions, or who know these processes intimately, was a first step to address this.”
Although the Summer School was up against some challenges, such as the week occurring close to the end of financial year, as well as concerns about attendance due to especially warm Scottish weather and the World Cup, it was a success with 55 registered participants and speakers from speakers from Japan, Germany, Mexico, the Netherlands and the US, resulting in some great outcomes.
“It was a tremendously stimulating and invigorating experience.
We heard perspectives from industry, legal practice, academia and the regulatory body. Some of the connections I had hoped for quickly materialised, in particular between people responsible for developing the professional standards for lawyers and technology in Scotland and the Netherlands.
One high point of the event was the presentation of the teams that participated in the week-long hackathon. We organised this stream of the week together with the Political settlements research programme at Edinburgh’s Global Justice Academy, which supplied us with the dataset and also two judges for the competition. The two winning teams (and we could not decide between them) had excellent ideas on how one could add value to the database that this project had accumulated - some of which we hope to follow up. The teams were also highly interdisciplinary, with law students and informatics students working side by side, which showed the power of cross-disciplinary research.
I was able to report some of the discussions to an expert hearing by the Law Society of England and Wales on the use of technology in the justice system, and similar discussions continue in Scotland. We hope to deliver together with the Law Society a new online training course inspired by the experience from the Summer school, directed at legal practitioners in Scotland and worldwide, and using some of the material the speakers made available. This MOOC will also be a teaching resource for our students (and maybe Summer School 2019).
We also began discussions with the industry participants - with one of them, Nalitics, we are planning a joint funding application to explore computational GDPR compliance, which had been the topic of their presentation and generated quite a bit of interest in the audience. With both them and NEOTA logic, we are discussing on how to incorporate their products into our teaching programmes.”
Just as the future of legal technology is bright and exciting, so too are the outcomes of the summer school project.
Burkhard explained that:
“As part of the week, we launched a new collaboration between the Leibniz Centre of the University of Amsterdam and the SCRIPT Centre at the School of Law.
We hope to see an exchange of research staff and research students between our centres, and we have started a collaboration for a Horizon 2020 project on smart city governance - one of the key themes that emerged during the workshop.
I was invited to present our work at a similar summer school that one of the project partners, the Universitate des Saarlandes, will be organising in August. Together the two events will also form the seed-corn of an international network for our technology law PhD students.”
Read more about the programme of the Summer School:
Sophie Craik is the Digital Communications Officer for Edinburgh Global, spending her days chasing runaway punctuation and divining with the magic that is social media.