One of the hottest topics in the legal community of late is the expected impact on their profession of super-fast computers with the capacity to simulate human intelligence and decision-making, a.k.a. “artificial intelligence” (AI). Ever since Queen’s Law Professor Hugh Lawford initiated the computerized database QUIC/LAW in the 1960s, AI has been creeping into the legal field. The latest example of this is Watson, an attempt by IBM to create a “cognitive computing system” for use in medicine, data analysis … and law. Queen’s Law Reports struck a panel of alumni with varying perspectives on the issue to discuss the influence AI is likely to have on the practice of law. Professor Art Cockfield, Law’93, was moderator, with participants Janet Fuhrer, Law’85, Canadian Bar Association President and law firm partner; Jordan Furlong, Law’93, strategic consultant; and Jeff Fung, Law’08, and Addison Cameron-Huff, Law’12, both lawyers and online entrepreneurs.

How do you think AI will be used in the legal profession over the next 10 years?

FURLONG: I think we’re going to see the adoption of AI in the legal market, more broadly speaking, rather than in the legal profession for quite some time to come. Lawyers are sort of naturally disinclined, for cultural reasons, to disrupt the way they work and go about their jobs. Technology tends to generate that aversion.

I expect we will see the lead taken in AI by other segments or sectors of the legal market: large corporate clients, major consumer law start-ups, or stealth competitors to law firms. I would be shocked if IBM’s Watson team, for instance, had not yet spoken to any of the big four accounting firms. I tend to think lawyers will come last on this train.

CAMERON-HUFF: I think the change is people being more proactive. Right now lawyers are very reactive; somebody has an issue, and a lawyer researches it using books and databases. There is an opportunity for software to make that first pass, to highlight new issues. When a new case comes out, you shouldn’t have to wait weeks for a newsletter. It should come into your inbox. That proactive aspect is something computers can deliver, because no lawyer on the planet could possibly read all of the cases, laws and regulations that come out. Depending on your scope, you could be talking municipal, provincial, federal, international.

FUHRER: I agree lawyers are slow to change. That said, I’m seeing change all around me. I think lawyers are embracing more and more technology. Disruptive technologies are causing us to change and re-think the way we do things and provide services. And the change is quite rapid; I think in 10 years we will see astonishing change. We are already seeing innovative ways of providing services. One example is After getting clients to fill in a form and provide information, it uses algorithms to try to predict how the divorce will progress and then provides services to their clients based on that prediction. Examples like this lead me to think we will see a very reformed legal marketplace, not just from service providers to the legal profession, but also from the legal profession itself.

COCKFIELD: IBM now has a research project with their supercomputer and former Jeopardy! champion Watson in which they have partnered with certain universities, looking to create a computer tax accountant and a computer tax lawyer – so yes, this research is already underway. IBM has put Watson in the cloud to give access to it – at this stage, I think primarily to university researchers and certain industry partners. This type of AI is now much more accessible to the world, and in particular to professors like me. I’m working with staff here at Queen’s Law trying to get hold of Watson myself.

How do you think an IBM Watson-powered lawyer will have an impact on the legal profession?

FURLONG: In the broadest sense it should certainly make that lawyer much more informed about the law. When I’m talking to audiences about this, I use the example of Gregory House from the TV series House. It would be like having Greg House as your in-house or on-site legal consultant: someone who would have access to every case, every piece of information, every regulation and legislation in the world fed into it. The difficulty, of course, is just because Watson can make you a more knowledgeable lawyer; it’s not necessarily going to make you a better lawyer. Look at House – he had an absolutely abysmal bedside manner and personality. I’m inclined to think that a lousy lawyer with instantaneous access to all the legal information in the world is still a lousy lawyer. You still need to have the qualities we consider to be outstanding features of good lawyers, which include analysis, empathy, good judgement and all sorts of different things that Watson doesn’t pretend to have. But those are the qualities that are going to mark the lawyers who can work with Watson rather than the lawyers who will be shoved out of the way by Watson.

FUHRER: I think what Watson can do, depending on where it’s at in terms of assisting lawyers with providing legal service, will level the playing field to some extent. A junior lawyer will have access to a 25-year-plus archive of experience and legal knowledge, but a 25-year-experienced lawyer may not have access to the technology that younger lawyer is using. What still will be a factor is the ability to look holistically at a client’s issues and come up with strategies for solving a legal problem or challenge.

The House analogy is a good one to some extent, but I look at it a bit differently. With all that medical knowledge in his head, House was a walking Watson. But being able to observe the patient is what gave him the ability to make those sharp diagnostics that others were unable to spot.

CAMERON-HUFF: For lots of things, lawyers have no idea whether something will happen or not, and that’s something computer analysis can really deliver on. It’s hard to do, but a better prediction of case outcomes – getting a high/low or an X per cent chance that the outcome will be this or that – it’s something that institutional clients don’t really ask for but something I see with small clients all the time. They expect lawyers to know. Large clients don’t because they know how the system works.  But should it work like that? There is a lot of demand for better outcome prediction.

FURLONG: In terms of the programming ability to manage something like that, I think we’re probably right on the doorstep. The major obstacle is more data based in terms of the different types of information that is fed into the computer. The famous case of Watson in the law, which we have all heard about in the last several months, is ROSS [a legal research tool built using Watson software], and the results that ROSS can generate up to this point are pretty meagre, largely because the programmers have not been able to acquire all the case law and all the data they need to make it more robust. Data has been an issue for the law for quite some time. If you’ve worked in a law firm, you know how incredibly difficult it is to acquire, collaborate on and pull together knowledge in a meaningful and applicable sense. For a while yet the technology itself will probably be some distance ahead of the legal community’s willingness or ability to provide it with the information it needs, the fuel it needs to run.

Do you think AI will terminate jobs for lawyers, create new ones, or both?

FUHRER: I think both, quite frankly. Some of the lower-level tasks that currently articling students or junior lawyers or newer lawyers often get assigned to do could easily be taken on by technology, whether it is Watson or some other system. Certainly there are still lots of opportunities for lawyers, even with technology, to provide services.

FURLONG: I recently came across a survey of large U.S. law firms that asked whether Watson would replace various timekeepers in these firms in the next five to 10 years. Half the respondents said it would replace paralegals, 35% said first-year associates. Look at the American experience, where 55 to 60 per cent of all law graduates in the last few years have law-related, full-time work nine months after graduation; that reflects the reality. The other interesting aspect of that survey was the response to the option “Computers will never replace human practitioners.” That got a 46% affirmative response four years ago; this time around, just 20%. That’s a huge drop.

A lot of the talk in the AI world is around automation, where the machine does everything, versus augmentation, where the machine helps the person to accomplish the task. If you have a lawyer whose job consists almost entirely of work that could be done adequately and more cost-effectively by another source – a paralegal, an outsourced attorney in another country, or a machine – then yeah, that work is going to go away. I’m not sure that is a tragedy, if what we are going to lose is the drudge work. Anybody who has spent any time doing due diligence on a case or document review in those basements with no windows is unlikely to look back fondly upon that part of their career. I’m not sure that the jobs that are going to be replaced are ones that we should necessarily mourn.

COCKFIELD: I was one of those lawyers doing due diligence in downtown Toronto for several years and left as a junior associate. It was tedious, but it was also an extremely well-paying job. Some of the drudge work will be gone, but is that a good thing for lawyers? The outsourcing that Jordan referenced poses a similar situation, but there are a lot of jobs in big law at least that could potentially disappear as a result of AI.

What opportunities do you foresee for junior lawyers in a profession that could be revolutionized by AI?

FURLONG: I teach a couple law courses and sometimes say to students, imagine when planning your career that there are no law firms and nobody is hiring associates. How would you deploy your time and resources? Where would you go and how would you arrange to find employment? One outcome is a focus on being very entrepreneurial, as flexible as possible, seeking ‘agile’ work: contract-based, project-based. The skills that are going to be required of future lawyers will be quite different from the ones that served previous generations. A lot of things you have been able to do up to this point won’t be as important. What attributes are going to be important? Insight, ingenuity, counsel, judgment, leadership, creativity, and risk assessment – being able to actually assess risks rather than default blocking or negating risks. Are law schools teaching these elements? No. Are bar admission courses testing for them? No. Are law firms training for them? For the most part, not really. There are some exceptions, which are great, but I don’t think there are enough.

FUHRER: My understanding is the LPP – the Law Practice Program offered by Ryerson for articling students who have a difficult time finding a conditional articling placement – reclaimed this in Ontario. The program is encouraging that kind of thinking among prospective lawyers. It covers innovation, business plans, how to practice and use technology in practice. These students may have an advantage over articling students in traditional articling positions. I also think combined degrees in law and computer science or even a triple degree like a JD/MBA and computer science will be the way of the future. Those types of degrees will become very useful as technology becomes more and more integrated in the marketplace.

FURLONG: I would even add law and engineering to that list. I also agree that the LPP in Ontario is a terrific development. It was introduced ostensibly to address the ‘articling crisis,’ but has real potential to open up an entirely new approach to how we train lawyers, how we segue lawyers into the legal profession and the legal market and how we establish what I like to call ‘initial professional competence.’

CAMERON-HUFF: Established people in the legal business have great businesses. Why change? Younger people, however, see that maybe things won’t be so great in 30 years. Maybe it’s not going to be everybody doing the same things they were doing 20 years ago, and those young people are thinking, how is technology going to change this and make me rich? People read every day about software companies taking off. I have talked to many lawyers of my vintage, a few years out of law school, who are talking about start-ups. They have read a lot about this and they see a lot of promise with technology. That same need or drive isn’t there with the people currently at the top end of the legal market.

FURLONG: It’s the old story: revolutions don’t start inside the castle. The inherent institutional motivation for any number of business entities is not going to be especially conducive to saying, ‘Well, let’s blow this all up and start again.’ That’s really hard to do, but I have seen a handful of firms trying to pull it off. It’s not just the big national firms; the ones based in major cities. Just this morning I was reading an article written by Allison Speigel, a lawyer at Speigel, Nichols, Fox in Mississauga, talking about how she has led her litigation firm’s transformation into a flat-fee, value-oriented, value-building kind of law firm. Technology is just one part of it; it accelerates this process of changing which law firms generate money and how lawyers deliver value. If I’m a new lawyer coming into the profession right now, there are three things I would like to know. First, what is happening in the legal marketplace?  Secondly, tell me what kind of skills, attributes and knowledge I need and who out there is going to engage me for that kind of work. And third, I need help being assimilated. This is a tremendous opportunity for law schools and for law societies. I agree it’s a very intimidating prospect to be looking out into this landscape and thinking, ‘oh my gosh, I’ve got to go make a living in that.’ At the same time though, I think there are just boundless opportunities out there. All we need to do now is mobilize the profession to start taking advantage of those opportunities as quickly and as diversely as we can.

FUHRER: There are lots of moving or integrated parts. The CBA’s Futures initiative is a roadmap for how the legal profession can transform itself. There are many options and permutations – there are segments on innovation and on legal education – all of which need to be looked at. To some extent, it’s daunting because we’ve done things in a certain way for so many years, but again, change is happening all around us and there is a really good opportunity for the CBA or law schools to think about how we’re training the lawyer of the future.

It would be nice to have people show us how the technology could be used. I think there is a real training gap at the moment, leading to inefficient use of technologies. How do you use them? How do I integrate them into my practice? I think that is really where lawyers could benefit from some extra training and mentoring.

CAMERON-HUFF: I don’t think there is boundless opportunity. Opportunity is extremely bounded by the very serious regulations that surround lawyers. There are lots of great ideas that people would love to implement. I hear people talking about the Uber of law, but nobody wants that and it would be incredibly illegal. Our rules are for the way law was done 50 years ago, and they are enshrined in law, and this is a big problem for people who want to apply technology to making law more efficient and to creating new opportunities. Opportunity is boundless in deregulated areas, but the law’s regulations certainly “bound” the opportunity.

FUNG: Yet as the industry evolves, new roles are being created. There are roles that junior or new lawyers can play inside and outside the current structure – roles that have more emotional content. For instance, computers can’t really deal with litigation or playing towards the judge (the person deciding your case). Technology is a niche where younger lawyers can play a part in big law firms. I think that lawyers who are technologists, technologically savvy, whether with current or future technology, would be able to find a niche within their law firm.

How should junior lawyers be taught to harness new technologies?

FURLONG: First, embrace these new technologies. There is a great book titled something like “Fight with the machine, not against the machine,” and I think that’s probably the best way to go about it. All these new technologies are tools that can add more value to any given legal transaction, not take value away from you. Be open to these technologies, learn what you can about them. I’m not saying you have to learn how to code. I don’t think that’s especially necessary or even helpful.

 Second, to the best of your ability, try to shift out of the idea that you’re going to have a lawyer job and be an employee with a steady position. You might very well, but I do think that the future of legal employment is going to be more entrepreneurial and independent. I can tell you it’s great to have that control over your own destiny.

FUHRER: It’s difficult to think about the value add in a vacuum. What’s helpful to think about is what kind of clients I want to serve. From my own experience and perspective with intellectual property, I serve a lot of clients in the corporate world. So I ask myself: What kind of associations do they belong to? What are their challenges? How do I find that out? I attend meetings, chat, network. Networking is a really important skill that AI won’t replace in the short term. Figuring out what clients need and want is very essential.

CAMERON-HUFF: I think the people who join software companies today are probably going to be more able to navigate that change than people who go down the traditional lawyer path that we have today.

FUNG: There’s a whole discussion now about getting non-lawyers involved in the legal profession to provide a lot of insight into how we can improve things.  Consultants from different industries could provide insight into how we lawyers can change our system. Our system is outdated and becoming potentially less profitable for some of the big firms. We need fresh sets of eyes to tell us, or to give us advice, about where we can go and how we can improve our model.

COCKFIELD: Thank you all for those comments. It is amazing how quickly technology changes. My youngest son, who is 13, told me the other day that Facebook is for old people. They use Instagram and Snapchat for social networking.

The final question involves two perspectives. On one hand, there is the techno-utopian perspective. Iain Banks, in his “Culture” novels, suggests that AI is going to make the future much better for humans, bringing us untold wealth and prosperity. But last fall, Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk (Com’94) made international media by saying the greatest existential threat to humanity is artificial intelligence. We’re worrying about lawyer jobs and they are worried about AI extinguishing us all.

Do you agree with Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk that AI could someday overtake humans?

FUHRER: Well, as a big fan of the original Terminator movie, I always worry about that a little bit, but I think it’s a long way off.

FUNG: I agree it’s a long way off and I think there are two ways of potentially dividing what humans provide that computers may eventually provide. I would divide it into the brain and the heart. Computers do the logical functions, but can they do sort of the emotional aspects involved with being human? Although I don’t think we’re quite at i,Robot yet, I think we can eventually go there. I agree with these super- intelligent people that computers can probably process information as quickly or as well as us if they are given the right parameters, and down the road they will learn how to do things from their different experiences. In terms of emotions, I don’t know whether a computer can learn or be programmed with emotions. With respect to the heart, I’m not so sure yet whether I agree that artificial intelligence, if we do include emotions in it, could ever overtake humans because that aspect to humanity separates us from computers.

COCKFIELD: One of the concerns is we’re now training computers how to learn and they will in turn teach other computers how to get smarter and smarter, but they won’t necessarily integrate the emotional aspects of human’s lives like love – that’s where the danger comes from. Stephen Hawking is worried that once they are loose on the Internet, they could be vastly more intelligent than any group of humans combined.

CAMERON-HUFF: I’m not so concerned about the Terminator scenario happening 50 years from now, but I actually am a little bit concerned about the move more and more to a winner-take-all scenario, in which the people making these software systems grab a big chunk of the revenue that would otherwise have been split among many more people. We were talking earlier about what happens to the junior associates, but what happens to people who are less skilled? Will all of the profits go to a small number of people? I’ve actually written software that I’m fairly sure does what was once somebody’s job so I’ve considered that. Is that a problem? Lots of people have thought about this, but as we accelerate with greater and greater advancements in technology, are we going to be displacing more and more people? That is a short-term question that is going to be of relevance over the next 10 or 20 years, especially if we see the kind of AI we’ve been talking about in this conversation.

FURLONG: That’s actually what revolutions are for, just like in real life with guns. At a certain point someone looks at the czar and the czar’s palace, and thinks, ‘you know what, that doesn’t seem right to me.’ The thing that strikes me is we’ve been afraid of technology for ages. The first science fiction novel ever written was Frankenstein in 1818. It arose out of the Industrial Revolution and the idea that ‘oh my gosh, we’ve developed and created and invented these machines that are incredibly powerful; what happens if we lose control of them one day?’ The same basic idea can be tracked in pop culture through to the Terminator to The Matrix. I’m not too concerned. One reason I tend to predict computers won’t take over and destroy us is that if they ever do, no one can ever track me down and blame me for it – we’ll all be toast at that point. I even saw someone’s theory on Twitter this morning that if we actually ever do develop like super-intelligent machines, they wouldn’t annihilate us; they’d just ignore us. We’d be incredibly boring and of no interest to them at all. What they’d do between and amongst themselves would be far more interesting to them. I find this both humbling and a little comforting.

FUHRER: I think whether AI can learn to replicate human emotion, thought and analysis, to some extent, may be a data issue. The more data that is uploaded, AI can evolve and then mimic human emotions, at least at the outset, and then learn from that. I don’t think I’ve seen any technology that advanced, but it certainly seems to be moving in that direction.

Since the Industrial Revolution, jobs have been displaced with technological advancement, but where is that 30-hour work week people have talked about for a long time? Technology is supposed to afford us extra leisure time. I haven’t seen it anywhere. If anything, technology has made our lives busier. Maybe eventually we will see more leisure time, but at the moment I still think there is lots of opportunity.

Back to Addison’s earlier point about all the regulations that we are under as lawyers; we are, but we are seeing disaggregation and unbundling of legal services, still within the rules and regulations that currently are in place in most provinces and territories. That is another aspect of change that is occurring all around us.

FURLONG: Back to Janet’s first point, it’s ‘artificial intelligence’ not ‘artificial emotion.’ We can already fake emotions as humans; we don’t need machines to do that.


Art Cockfield, Law’93, a Queen’s Law professor whose research includes law and technology, is also a Surveillance Studies Centre executive committee member. Addison Cameron-Huff, Law’12, is a Toronto-based technology lawyer and founder of,, and Janet Fuhrer, Law’85, is a partner with Ridout & Maybee LLP, Ottawa, and President of the Canadian Bar Association. Jeff Fung, Law’08, is legal counsel with Sym-Tech Dealer Services, Toronto, and founder and first CEO of MyLawBid. Jordan Furlong, Law’93, is an Ottawa-based partner with Edge International, senior consultant with Stem Legal Web Enterprises, and author of Law21: Dispatches from a Legal Profession on the Brink.