The University of NSW has unveiled a major legal research centre backed by national law firm Allens and the state Law Society that will focus on innovation and technology within society and the legal profession.
The centre, to be known as the Allens Hub for Technology, Law & Innovation, is supported financially by a five-year commitment from the Law Society of $250,000 a year as well as an undisclosed sum from Allens.
The hub, which is led by associate professor Lyria Bennett Moses, is a response to one of the key recommendations in a Law Society report that examined the future of law and technology.
It has an academic staff of 22 and will include a separate research strand in which the centre will collaborate with the Law Society (see accompanying report).
The hub will also work closely with Allens to examine the rapid changes that are disrupting the practice of law.
Anna Collyer, a partner at Allens and head of innovation, said the firm decided to back the establishment of the hub because its clients’ businesses were being disrupted by technological change.
“We saw that the hub was bringing together the thinking on how the law manages technology, disruption and innovation,” said Ms Collyer, who is a member of the hub’s steering committee.
“Technological advancements are causing significant disruption at all levels of our economy with the law in many cases unable to keep up with the pace of change,” Ms Collyer said.
She cited the examples of disruption caused by the increased amount of renewable energy in the national power grid, the development of driverless cars and the challenge that data flows present for privacy law and intellectual property law.
“The response of the law and lawyers to innovation will play a huge role in defining the benefits Australian businesses derive from new technologies and ways of working,” Ms Collyer said.
“It is essential that the law strikes the right balance between helping and hindering in this period of disruption.”
She believed there would be capacity for the firm’s lawyers and clients to become involved in the hub’s projects.
The aim was to make it possible for the work being undertaken by academics to be grounded in matters that were relevant to those in business.
This is the latest move in the firm’s multi-pronged strategy to institutionalise innovation and respond to the changing demands of the marketplace. It has established a multidisciplinary group inside the firm known as A-Plus that consists of 70 professionals who work alongside the firm’s lawyers.
It has also established an in-house group for young lawyers known as Innovation Underground to foster collaboration while another group, known as LawLab, works with clients on legal technology that uses artificial intelligence and predictive computer coding.
This is in line with last month’s report on the legal services industry that was produced by Thomson Reuters Peer Monitor and Melbourne Law School.
It found that the rise of new technology had brought challenges to the legal profession as well as opportunities.
“Many firms have already started adding innovation as a key element in their strategy to better respond to demands from clients and employees,” said Dean Corkery of Thomson Reuters Legal Australia.
“Those that can successfully combine leadership, resources and agility in innovation are likely to come out on top.”
Associate professor Bennett Moses said the hub’s work program was still being finalised but matters under consideration included a new conception of intellectual property law and the definition of a “legal person” and how that was being affected by the rise of artificial intelligence, driverless cars and advanced robotics.
“We want to have strands of research but we also want to bring it all together so we can see the impact on the law of this ongoing, relentless technological change,” she said.
The separate strand of work being conducted with the Law Society would focus on a single topic each year, while the broader work of the hub would be more flexible.
“Legal systems all over the world are already working hard to keep pace with the rapid evolution of technological changes happening in our societies,” she said.
“Coming together to consider the kinds of technologies that will shape the environments in which we live and how they will impact the laws and governance of our communities is an important first step in addressing these challenges,” associate professor Bennett Moses said.
George Williams, who is dean of law at UNSW, was among those who were involved in the Law Society inquiry into the future of law and innovation in the legal profession. He said universities in North America and Europe had already shown interest in becoming involved with the hub.
“They are particularly interested in becoming involved with the hub as a gateway to Asia — and China in particular,” Professor Williams said.
“We have also signed a memorandum of understanding with Tsinghua University in Beijing which is the number one law school in China. That alliance will look particularly at law and technology.”
That arrangement covers staff exchanges and the possibility of a joint teaching program that extends beyond law and technology.
He said the technology hub had increased the ability of UNSW to forge relationship with universities in other countries that were interested in law and technology.
“There is a gap in terms of working out solutions and taking advantage of opportunities and many of the best opportunities are in Asia,” Professor Williams said.
As well as Ms Collyer, those on the hub’s steering committee include associate professor Bennett Moses, professor Michael Legg, who leads the separate research stream for the Law Society, Maurice Pagnucco, who is a professor of computer science and engineering, and associate professor Justine Nolan whose research focuses on business and human rights.