Legal Research, Innovation and the Changing Profession

“We should think about the changing nature of the legal profession by examining the ways in which legal thinking is likely to evolve”

The long standing Associate Dean of Research part of my portfolio is important. In all its aspects, it is well developed and well supported. The newly created aspect of my portfolio, the Associate Dean for the Legal Profession, really emerged from my own interest in how the legal profession was changing as a result of technology and new business processes in particular. I have been writing about legal institutions and regulatory design and change for a number of years. My most recent book, “Innovation and the State: Finance, Regulation, and Justice” (Cambridge University Press, 2017), looked at innovation and financial regulation, and argued that innovation is really the most pressing and fundamental challenge that regulation has to confront these days.

Innovation undermines our assumptions – it erodes jurisdictional boundaries, it introduces a high level of uncertainty, and it often proceeds at great speeds, which is not something that our legal institutions are well equipped to manage. A few years ago, I realized that a lot of what I have written about financial innovation also applied to my own backyard – to the legal profession and to legal education. Innovation is influencing the business of law, the profession of law, and potentially the philosophical underpinnings of the rule of law itself. In my new Associate Dean role, I am motivated by all of the above and by a strong sense of responsibility to our students and to our graduates, as well as the desire to be forward looking as we think about legal education and legal thought.

Sometimes people will suggest that there is a fundamental tension or disconnect between the academic mission of a law school, as a faculty within a broader university, and the law school’s role as a training ground for a profession, which is the practice of law. There are some tensions at the superficial level, but there is really no conflict between these two sides of my Associate Dean portfolio. In fact, I think they are very complementary. Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. said famously that the life of the law has not been logic, it has been experience. What I believe he really meant was that law continually recreates and reinvents itself through the actual experience of people involved with the legal system and of practicing lawyers, through their engagement with the legal system generally.

I think that is true, and those questions are emerging and coming to the surface again as the result of innovation. Predictive algorithms, for example, give rise to some challenging questions. If there was an algorithm that could accurately predict how a judge was going to decide a case, is that the same thing as getting legal advice from a trained lawyer? Is law really about predicting what judges would do? Or, is there something additional to the law, something about justice or fairness or respect, which is also a part of our role in legal education? In my view, law exists at multiple different registers that are connected together. Law is not just the law on the books, or as written in the statutes – law is also interpretation of what is on the books, and it is context, and it is implementation, and all of those things operate together. We should think about the changing nature of the legal profession by examining the ways in which legal thinking is likely to evolve, as well as by considering the impact of, for example, automation, machine learning, and outsourcing. As we try to understand what the core of the practice of law really is, I think that our scholars are able to make a very important contribution.

In return, legal practice and changes to legal practice should inform our scholarship as well. We want to be sure that we are preparing our students for a changing legal profession. That will mean that we should be thinking about how the education we offer equips them to manage within legal profession of the future. I have a few thoughts in mind. The first is that we are preparing our JD students for a changing legal profession, by making sure that the education they are receiving here is appropriate to the challenges they will be facing once they have graduated. However, I also like to think about legal education beyond the JD, and what training and educational opportunities we could offer to non-law students to help as they navigate the same set of changes that are affecting the legal profession.

Thinking about the research that we are doing here at Allard Law, it is very much informed by the Law and Society tradition. In addition, there is the tradition of interdisciplinarity, which means we have a lot of normative, ethical, and practical insight to offer. I would like to connect more interdisciplinary with other UBC faculties on campus, and open opportunities for us to have some broader covariations about why law and legal thinking need to be a part of our social conversations about change, innovation, technology, and our fundamental social commitments to justice and equality.

Additionally, the ways in which a lot of legal practice is changing raises many issues for our scholarship in areas that are as diverse as human rights, evidence, business associations, privacy and data protection, and immigration and administrative law. Therefore, it is good to have somebody in this role straddling what is at times perceived as two different mandates that the law school has. I think that we can learn a lot from trying to integrate these two sides of the Associate Dean portfolio.

More generally, on the research side of my portfolio, we have the incredible gift of fantastic bench strength here at Allard Law. We have an extraordinarily productive, creative, talented group of scholars. In that regard, my goal is to support the scholars we have, and to ensure we communicate to the broader world and community what it is that we are doing here, and how important it is. I want to make sure that our research is easily accessible, available to the broader community, that we are thinking about knowledge dissemination and impact, and that we simply get the word out about all the truly important things that are happening here in the faculty.

Dr. Cristie Ford
Associate Dean of Research and the Legal Profession

Professor Cristie Ford

Dr. Cristie Ford’s research focuses primarily on regulatory governance as it relates to international, US and Canadian financial and securities regulation. Prior to joining UBC, Professor Ford practiced law at Guild Yule LLP in Vancouver and Davis Polk and Wardwell LLP in New York. She obtained her graduate degrees from Columbia Law School, where she also taught in a variety of capacities.

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