Two of Canada’s most storied universities have joined forces to apply cutting-edge technology to the legal profession.
The Queen’s University Faculty of Law and the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University have partnered to advance the work of the Conflict Analytics Lab, a research lab that will widen access to justice using technology.
“The Conflict Analytics Lab brings together more than 30 lawyers, technology experts, and the business community to provide both citizens and businesses with the tools they need to resolve small cases in a fair way,” explains Samuel Dahan, Queen’s Law professor and director of the Conflict Analytics Lab. “The focus of the lab is on the application of data science to conflict resolution.”
The partnership’s initial projects are showing promise. McGill professor Juan Camilo Serpa and his students, Daniel Indig and Sebastien Correa, collaborated with Maxime Cohen of McGill and Dahan to create an application to help laid off Canadian employees receive fair severance from their employer.
Dahan acquired data from 3,000 employment law cases, and Serpa and his students turned the data into an interactive database where the employees will insert their industry, province, and other key variables to understand if their severance package was in line with the average. Essentially, the application ‘thinks like a judge’ to provide the user with a likely outcome given their circumstances.
“This is an exciting interdisciplinary collaboration, harnessing big data to help these individuals better understand their rights and determine their next steps,” says Serpa.
The Conflict Analytics Lab is working on the model that generates the legal predictions and a platform, such as a website, that will allow members of the public to interact with the data.
Under the supervision of management analytics professors Stephen Thomas and Mikhail Nediak of Smith School of Business at Queen’s University, Queen’s Law students Mackenzie Anderson, Neal Gilmore, Shane Liquornik and Simon Townsend are working on the deployment of this severance calculator through a public platform in 2020. Thomas is also the academic director of Smith’s two fastest-growing Master of Management programs that teach students to make business decisions using analytics and artificial intelligence.
The Queen’s-McGill collaboration also led to a second project working alongside Colin Rule, the founder of the eBay and PayPal Online Dispute Resolution programs. This project aims to help those who, for instance, buy a secondhand item through a platform like eBay and find that it did not live up to what was advertised. It could also help those who find a new item purchased online was damaged during shipping. This customer dispute resolution tool will ensure large online retailers compensate the customer and the vendor, solving their conflicts fairly and transparently.
Cohen, Dahan and Rule recently co-wrote an article entitled “Conflict Analytics: When Data Science Meets Dispute Resolution” that discusses the use of analytics to resolve both legal and non-legal disputes, including customer, insurance, trademark and employment disputes.
“Data science will improve legal transparency, make dispute resolution more efficient and increase access to justice; but at the same time will challenge the traditional functioning of law firms,” says Cohen. “Recent advances in data science have created unprecedented opportunities for lawyers and litigants to approach the task of dispute settlement differently by shedding light on how legal decisions are made and improving the consistency and predictability of judicial decisions.”
“In many of these situations, it would be cost prohibitive for a laid-off employee or someone with a damaged product to obtain legal help,” Dahan adds. “This will not take work away from lawyers and could actually save them time by allowing them to focus on higher-value cases.”
Another research team from the Conflict Analytics Lab will help employees determine their legal status and whether they have been misclassified as contractors. This project unites Dahan and Cohen with Queen’s students Max Saunders and Benham Manavi, along with Professor Jonathan Touboul from Brandeis University.
In addition to the partnership with McGill, the Conflict Analytics Lab holds several partnerships with leading institutions globally. Recently, Dahan; Xiaodan Zhu of Queen’s Engineering; Yuri Levin, Executive Director, analytics and AI at Smith School of Business and Director of Smith’s Scotiabank Centre for Customer Analytics; and Cohen and Serpa of McGill were the recipients of $244,562 in funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) to help develop the first components of the pilot research.
— Phil Gaudreau