In September of 2016 Precedent Magazine posted an article that was titled “Will a robot take your job?” This question has become more relevant as we witness technology advance in an array of sectors and industries, even in the legal field. The question is particularly troubling for my colleagues and I, who are young soon-to-be-lawyers fresh out of law school, and just three short months into our articling term at Harrison Pensa LLP.
Novel and innovative applications like Beagle Inc., Kira Systems and Blue J Legal have cornered certain markets of legal work such as contract analysis, due diligence and trial preparation. However, as Daniel Fish notes in his Precedent article, the job of a lawyer, “takes complex cognitive skills, which computers have yet to fully replicate.” While software might help a lawyer research or draft a brief, the lawyer will still have to review the brief, prepare the argument, and present it in court. Mr. Fish argues the opposite for legal assistants, suggesting that it is their role that is on the verge of extinction, and will be rendered obsolete by advances in technology.
During my time as a student, serving within one of Ontario’s leading firms, I have had exposure to a wide range of learning opportunities from one day to the next. One thing I learned very fast was that the legal assistants are the heartbeat of the firm. Any law student who has worked as a summer or articling student will tell you that what you learned in law school is and will be useful in many ways, but that you learn how to practice law by actually doing that legal work and not by reading your textbooks. Much of this learning is a testament to the lawyers who guide you through the work they give you by explaining the purpose of each assignment in the greater scheme of the entire case, highlighting the important details of each specific type of assignment, or teaching effective communication skills in a client-facing industry. However, you also learn from their legal assistants and clerks who provide you guidance in many other ways, whether it be with respect to unpacking the minutia of the Rules of Civil Procedure or sharing administrative details concerning the courthouse you attend.
I do not believe that lawyers will be rendered obsolete as a result of evolving technology, and I hope the same for legal assistants. I benefitted greatly as a summer student from the knowledge passed on to me by legal assistants and clerks, and I believe that the student experience, and the firm itself, would be incomplete without the presence of legal assistants and clerks and the valuable knowledge they provide.
Rachel Spriet obtained her Honours BA in health studies and Spanish at Queen’s University before returning to London, her hometown, to complete her law degree at Western University. Rachel was also a very engaged student while at Western, working as a caseworker at the Sport Solution Clinic, career events coordinator at Western Health Law Association, and committee member for both the Obiter and Law Games events.