Will We Embrace the Future ..or…??

♫ I know you’re waiting and you’re so damn nervous
I know you’re hoping that I could explain this
Look in my eyes
I will try and show you…♫

Lyrics, Music and recorded by Rains.

Two different articles hit my desk this morning and I thought they provided a sharp contrast into the divisions within the legal profession and ultimately, the future of the legal profession.

The first was from Kirk Makin writing for the Globe and Mail. His article, “Courts turn to Wired Justice in Push to Cut Costs” contained some interesting quotes. The article is about the use of Skype enabled testimony in court in an attempt to cut costs.

On one hand we have the forward-looking comments of Brian Gover:

“The legal system is going to be exposed to ridicule if we don’t move forward with innovative ways of taking evidence,” said Brian Gover, a veteran Toronto lawyer at Stockwoods LLP. “One of the great issues for us in a time of austerity is going to be cost control and delivering justice in an efficient way. Technology has provided an answer to the problem.”

On the other hand is the deeply held beliefs of such lawyers as Steven Benmore, who was involved in a case where Skype was allowed:

Steven Benmor, a lawyer who represents Ms. Paiva’s estranged husband, Michael Corpening, said the Skype arrangement approved by Judge Murray threatens the integrity of testimony.

“The very nature of the right to trial is to allow a judge to see, hear and experience a witness’s demeanour so as to assess not only the answers but ‘how’ they are delivered,” Mr. Benmor said in an interview. “If demeanour were not important, we would have trials by affidavits and paper records.”

As lawyers, we have deep divisions on the use of technology within the traditional court process. We have large groups that are against innovations that would ‘tweak’ the court process, fearing a negative effect on the outcome of the court process.

However, in my view this type of debate, while heartfelt, is equivalent to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

The second article is by my friend and colleague Christy Burke. Writing for Legal IT Professionals, in an article entitled: Web-based Dispute Resolution Systems Gain Traction as Court Delays and Low Value Disputes Surge, Christy highlights how Alternative and Online Dispute Resolution techniques are being applied by private companies seeking to compete with court’s claim for ‘customers’. (In the interests of full disclosure, I am mentioned in the article).

While the legal profession wrangles over the relatively minor issue of allowing testimony by Skype and other technologies, there are those that are looking at resolving millions of disputes in ways that are arguably better, faster and cheaper as compared to traditional courts. I see this as the much bigger picture; either courts adapt (in a big way) to embrace technology and their future or they will end up as a place of last resort serving justice to a narrow slice of humanity. Look into my eyes – I think we need to take a hard look at where we as lawyers want the courts (and us as lawyers) to be in 20 years and start to embrace change.

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