How is Artificial Intelligence affecting the legal sector?

As technology is becoming more advanced with the introduction of smartphone apps providing a wide variety of services, how long will it be before you can get legal advice from your smartphone? It may be closer than you think.

In 2016 a second-year student at Stanford University created “the world’s first robot lawyer”, called DoNotPay, which has helped to overturn over 160,000 parking tickets. The creator of DoNotPay, Joshua Browder, told Venturebeat.com that he is also going to use the programme to help people with HIV understand their legal rights and to collect compensation for people whose flights were delayed beyond four hours.

Although at an early stage, the advancement of technology into the legal sector is evident. There are a number of examples, including NextLaw Labs  – a global collaborative group focused on developing new technologies to transform the practice of law around the world.

One start-up that has been helped by Next Law Labs is Ross Intelligence. Ross Intelligence has developed an artificial researcher, which uses a legal databases, such as Westlaw and LexisNexis, to find information based on questions that you can input into the programme. This may significantly reduce a client’s bill. If the artificial intelligence is doing  most of the research then the solicitor doesn’t have to – less time spent  leads to lower bills for the client.

Many other areas are being heavily influenced by technology – take self-service apps for the taxi industry,  for example. So the case for a cheaper way of accessing legal information is understandable. The legal sector has historically been seen as a very high end area of expertise, and therefore the price reflects the amount of work and skill that goes into the job.

The question then is:  should there be an influx of artificial intelligence which is capable of doing a majority of the preliminary research needed for a case. And where do the trainees fit into any new system?

One of the main jobs a trainee will do is to draft documents and undertake research to be passed onto a supervisor. Should the use of artificial intelligence increase, and these jobs taken by artificial researchers, the need for trainees may slow down somewhat. The legal profession is already very competitive – the Law Society reported that from August 2013 to July 2014, there were only 5,001 training contracts available, for the 16,116 students who graduated with a law degree during the same period.

The need for trainees will always be essential to a large and expanding law firm, however as a law firm is a business, smaller firms may see it as more cost effective to use artificial researchers rather than hire trainees in the future. It will be interesting to see how this develops. Of course, there is still a need for a personal approach to tailor the services to the client’s business, so it is unlikely that we will see practicing robot lawyers any time soon.

Reece

This blog post was written by Reece Trammer. Reece is a final year student studying at Northumbria University in a business firm in the Student Law Office. Upon graduating, he will be looking for a Training Contract or Paralegal work in a commercial law firm. His interests outside of law include football, rugby and snooker. 

 

Brexit and the Northern Powerhouse: Doom & Gloom or New Opportunities on the Horizon?

It’s not just the ‘Fog on the Tyne’ which appears to be casting a dark cloud over the North. On 23 June 2016, the United Kingdom (UK) voted in favour of leaving the European Union (EU) and the aftermath has left the future of the North of England in considerable uncertainty.

For some time many have considered the region to be the ‘poor relative’ to the South East of England, the financial heart of the services industry continuing to beat strongly. Those in the North may be forgiven for the pessimistic whispers whirling around the region. The North was once recognised as the industrial heartland of the UK but many now associate the region with the particular low-points in its history. Ship building sailed away from the area in the 70s, the mines closed in the 80s and 90s, in the 00s the global recession significantly damaged the economy of the area, and in the current decade the furnaces of the steel industry have been extinguished.

Prior to the referendum, the 2010 coalition Government coined the term the ‘Northern Powerhouse’. This was a proposal to boost the economic growth of the area by supporting the inter-connected development of the region’s ‘core cities’, Newcastle, Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool to move the UK economic reliance away from the South East. The vote for Brexit has since cast some doubt on the commitment to this plan to strengthen the North. However, there is an argument to suggest that such a pessimistic outlook may be misplaced.

One of the tenets of the Northern Powerhouse is to create transportation improvements between the core cities in order to increase productivity within the area. The North-East corridor has already established strong transportation links by land (A19 & A1), sea (Port of Tyne, Teesport and the Port of Hull), rail (East Coast main line) and air (Newcastle and Durham Tees-Valley Airport). These links have already been utilised by many international corporate investors such as Nissan, however further improvements may soon be on their way. In the 2016 Budget, the UK Government pledged £60 million worth of investment towards the development of ‘High Speed 3’ (HS3). This is the concept of a rail link between Manchester and Leeds decreasing the total travel time between the cities to just 30 minutes. Not only will this bring productivity improvements by way of decreased travel times but also the opportunity for regional stakeholders to get involved. This may be by way of the creation of HS3 or the future sustainability of the scheme and will likely secure a significant amount of jobs for those who are currently finding opportunities for work hard to come by.

Furthermore, the Government has also pledged to reduce Corporation Tax to 17% by 2020. Corporation Tax has already been cut from 28% to 20% in recent years making it currently the lowest within the G20. A further cut will surely make the UK one of the most globally competitive market places for businesses to locate. In doing so this will bring employment, growth and opportunity to the region. The signs are already there that such incentives are bringing new opportunities to the region. Science Central is currently under construction in the West-End of Newcastle City Centre boasting 24 acres of development aimed at promoting science and technology within the region. Newcastle already accommodates world leading science and technology initiatives including Campus North – a programme encouraging digital business start-ups, The Centre for Life – providing world-leading medical research, Siemens – employing thousands of jobs in the region supporting technology and rail development and two National leading universities – Northumbria and Newcastle Universities – creating some of the region’s future business leaders. The North of England has long been considered the home of ‘heavy industry’ however, the promotion of science and technology in the region may suggest the development of a new ‘white coat’ economy within the area. Science Central, and those other similar initiatives, are therefore a significant ‘thumbs-up’ for science and technology development within the region.

Many have suggested that the North is currently heavily sustained by contributions from European Regional Development Fund and without this the North will struggle to sustain growth in the future. Though it is a legitimate point of concern, there are signs that there are initiatives in the pipeline which seek to fill the void this may leave. One of the policies of the 2015 Conservative Government has been to promote the devolution of powers from central government to local authorities, so that resources may be best distributed by regional bodies who have a greater sense of know-how as to areas which most need it. The effects have already been felt in some areas across the North. The Greater Manchester Agreement has delivered not only its first mayoral election, to take place in 2017 but has also secured significant investment in the local economy. This has included a £300 million Housing Investment Fund, powers to share autonomy for health and social care, devolved business and support packages and a consolidated transport budget. Within the North East, similar initiative are already in their infancy such as the North East Combined Authority (NECA), a strategic authority with combined powers over the local economy, transport, development and regeneration. The NECA have recently published targets for securing initiatives in the area creating £400 million investment and 8000 further jobs.

Overall, despite the initial uncertainties which manifested out of the vote for Brexit, there are signs that the Northern Powerhouse will continue to grow and develop with new and exciting opportunities. There are also signs that the Northern economy is beginning to diversify into new industries a world apart from its traditional ‘heavy industry’ heritage. The signs are there that the ‘Fog on the Tyne’ may soon lift and with it reveal the new ‘Local Hero’.

Matt R

 

This post was written by Mathew Robinson. Mathew is a final year MLaw student at Northumbria University and has secured a training contract with Bond Dickinson for when he completes his studies which he is looking forward to. Mathew is a big Middlesbrough FC fan and in his free time can be found on the football pitches around Newcastle.

Visit to the SLO by the President of the Law Society

On the 28th February 2017 six final year law students within the Student Law Office (SLO) met with Robert Bourns the current President of the Law Society. Mr Bourns was on a visit to Northumbria University to enable him to see the pro-bono clinic in action and had the opportunity to meet with students from business and commercial, civil, housing and welfare firms within the SLO.

The meeting took place after introductions by all the students and a brief description of the firms that we are all in. Mr Bourns began by asking us about the type of client we see in the SLO and through discussion it was clear there is a difference within the firms from predominantly just everyday clients in housing, welfare and civil to start-up businesses/partnerships and charities within the business firms.  Not only was seeing the diversity of the clinic of interest to Mr Bourns but it was useful for the students too because it illustrated to each other how different our experiences have been within the SLO. We explained the types of work we have all undertaken from drafting of contracts, criminal appeals and discrimination cases.

Students were interested to hear Mr Bourns views about how it is important to protect the vulnerable people in society who are most at risk and how ensuring criminal defendants are robustly represented helps to avoid miscarriages of justice.

Mr Bourns was particularly interested to hear how our time in the SLO had shaped our career ambitions for after graduation. The majority of students said they were still interested in pursuing a legal career but noted how difficult in the current climate it is for students to obtain the elusive training contract. The students agreed that the work we have undertaken in the SLO has been valuable experience for all our careers, we all have developed practical skills which has built on our academic knowledge.

Overall it was a particularly stimulating visit for the students involved because it allowed everyone to learn more about each other firms but also because it gave rise to discussions about pro-bono work and the impact of government cuts to funding and how this makes pro-bono work more important and necessary.

This post was written by Lauren Graham. Lauren is a final year MLaw student currently working in the business and commercial firm in the Student Law Office. On graduation Lauren has secured a graduate position within tax consultation.

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Business & Commercial firm collaboratation with Entrepreneurial Business Management students

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It has been a busy start to Student Law Office (SLO) for the Business & Commercial firms and students in Victoria Gleason’s group have had the opportunity to test their skills early in the year by taking part in a ‘Generator Session’ with  Entrepreneurial Business Management (EBM) Students at the Northern Design Centre.

Lucy Hatt (EBM Programme Leader) and Victoria Gleason (SLO Module Leader) organised a collaborative Generator Session on Wednesday October 26th 2016.  Six final year Law students  joined a larger group of students from the EBM programme to work together on problems and opportunities sourced from the business projects of the EBM.

The EBM programme is one of a small number of undergraduate programmes in the UK incorporating venture creation as part of the curriculum.  Students learn business by doing business. Generator Sessions run as part of the programme four times a year for the entire programme group (all years together).  They offer a chance to show off key strengths, network across the programme, showcase learning, and to apply learning to real business situations.  It is a combination of brainstorming, problem solving and presenting. The Business & Commercial students were invited along to the session to help highlight potential legal issues to the EBM students and also to help participate in the problem solving.

The EBM students found the contribution of the law students really valuable; one commented, “Today was really fun as well as informative.  I feel like I learnt a lot from the external people that came in, as well as learning more about each other.”

The law students also thought the session was a great success one commenting “everyone seemed to benefit from this session, both business and law students” and adding “it allowed [her] to consider different issues which may arise when dealing with a business”.

Sky’s the limit for OpenWorks!

This year has been particularly exciting for students Elena and Dan who have been lucky enough to work with a group of British engineers who are set to take the security and counter terrorism markets by storm.

OpenWorks Engineering Ltd, founded in July 2015, has invented a system that offers security operators a ground-breaking alternative way to defeat nefarious drones. The company has now presented the official launch of their SkyWall100 drone defence system at the 2016 Home Office Security and Policing event and we can expect to see the first SkyWall100 systems in use before the end of the year.

SkyWall100 Front Shot

Chris Down, Managing Director of OpenWorks, said:

“Authorities around the world have been looking for a system like this and we are proud to continue the tradition of British innovation in the security industry.”

Providing OpenWorks with free legal advice and documentation at such an important stage has been a unique opportunity for Elena and Dan to develop their legal skills. Working with Roland Wilkinson, OpenWorks’ Financial Director, Elena and Dan drafted terms of use, a cookies policy and a privacy policy for the company website, and advised on general corporate governance issues. The work has provided a thrilling insight into the issues facing young businesses and the latest developments in the technology and engineering sector.

Elena and Dan said:

“Working with OpenWorks was a wonderful experience. Not only did this allow us to develop our legal skills with a commercial client, but, importantly, we were able to spend time really getting to know the business. We were inspired by their innovative personality, ambitious aims and strategic future plans and we are excited to work with other young businesses in the future.”

Elena and Dan headshots

Dan and Elena in the Student Law Office

Roland Wilkinson, Financial Director of OpenWorks, said:

“As a young start up, OpenWorks Engineering was looking for some legal guidance on website policies. The Student Law Office took on the whole process, delivering complete policies ready to publish with minimal input from myself. Elena and Daniel were professional and knowledgeable with prompt updates throughout. For appropriate legal counsel, I would thoroughly recommend the Student Law Office.”

The Student Law Office would like to wish OpenWorks every success in the future and we look forward to following their progress with SkyWall100.

This blog post was written by Elena Cross and Dan Watson. Elena graduated from Northumbria University this summer. Elena has secured a training contract with Bond Dickinson LLP in Newcastle for September 2016 and is excited to get started! In the meantime, Elena will continue to work as a bridal consultant in a wedding dress shop and enjoys spending her free time cooking and socialising. Dan also graduated from Northumbria University this summer. He has aspirations to become a commercial lawyer and outside of work has passion for playing and watching sport.

Spotlight on….Greg Whitehead, Licensed Insolvency Practitioner

We were delighted to be visited recently by Greg Whitehead, who told us about his work as a Licensed Insolvency Practitioner. Insolvency work is a very interesting field for our students, and we’d like to thank Greg for taking the time to come and explain more about this fascinating subject. This is what we learned about Greg and his work:

Can you tell us more about your background? 

I’m a Chartered Certified Accountant, a Licensed Insolvency Practitioner and a Fellow of the Association of Business Recovery Professionals. I’m a Director at Northpoint, a boutique North East professional practice providing business turnaround, restructuring, insolvency and forensic accounting services.

I trained and worked for KPMG and Deloitte from 1990 to 2004, when I went on my own to form Northpoint.

What type of work do you deal with?

My main work involves dealing with formal insolvency appointments, acting for SMEs in Company Administrations, Liquidations and Company Voluntary Arrangements. I have worked with companies from a diverse range of sectors including leisure (restaurants, pubs and clubs), construction industry and related businesses, charitable/not for profit, engineering, oil and gas supply chain, manufacturing, professional firms, digital/technological, transport/haulage.

What is your approach to this type of work? 

I apply a very pragmatic and practical approach. When I am asked to provide an opinion on a situation, I like to emphasise that the matter can often be resolved without the need for a formal insolvency, particularly if issues are identified and acted upon at an early stage.

Farewell from the 2015/16 firms!

It’s that time of year again where students who have been working in the Student Law Office begin to prepare for life after university. Following on from Abbie’s welcome post in November, it seems fitting to reflect on the work we have completed this year – and what a year it’s been!

Campus - CCE

We have been dealing with queries ranging from website policies, terms and conditions and intellectual property issues from many different clients including an engineering business, a sole trader service provider and even a university business clinic.

Our time in the Student Law Office has given us an exciting insight into commercial practice. We have also reflected on how our work may have long-lasting benefits for clients who are able to invest funds elsewhere and continue to progress in a thriving business community.

The experience has undoubtedly enhanced our career prospects by providing us with a year of unique practical legal experience and an increased level of commercial awareness.

On a personal note, we felt an amazing sense of achievement when we saw that our client has successfully implemented policies we had drafted onto their company website.

Below, some of our fellow students reflect on their experience and what they have enjoyed the most.

Robyn Heeran says:

“Throughout this year in the SLO I have really enjoyed the hands-on learning experience. Knowing that a client is depending on you to advise them on real life issues ASAP is really motivating and rewarding.”

Perri Byrne says:

“I have really enjoyed working with real clients, especially being given the responsibility to hand and manage their cases.”

As well as our client work we have been lucky enough to be involved in the Student Law Office in other exciting ways, including:

  • travelling to London to give intellectual property advice to a client;
  • leading our own firm meetings (this included playing Jenga and Pass the Parcel!);
  • networking at the Inspiring Entrepreneurs event;
  • receiving a visit from a member of the University of Strathclyde’s Law Clinic; and
  • raising an enormous amount of food for Newcastle West’s foodbank!

The experience has been truly unforgettable and the lessons learnt will stay with us throughout our professional lives. We hope that next year’s students and clients have an experience as enjoyable and rewarding as ours!

This blog post was written by Elena Cross and Dan Watson:

Elena and Dan


Elena is a final year MLaw student currently working in a business and commercial firm in the Student Law Office. Elena has secured a training contract with Bond Dickinson LLP in Newcastle for September 2016 and is excited to get started! In the meantime, Elena will continue to work as a bridal consultant in a wedding dress shop and enjoys spending her free time cooking and socialising.

Dan is a final year MLaw student who is currently advising commercial clients in the Student Law Office. He has aspirations to become a commercial lawyer and outside of work has passion for playing and watching sport.