THE ADVOCATE 43
VOL. 77 PART 1 JANUARY 2019
WELCOME TO THE MACHINE?
CONSIDERING THE ETHICS
OF LEGAL TECHNOLOGY
By Kevin Smith
Spare a thought for the Luddites. Rendered jobless in their own
time and disparaged ever since, the group of early-1800s English
textile workers and weavers is best remembered for responding to
technological advances in the workplace—in particular, the introduction
of automated weaving equipment—by smashing up the machines.
The futility of that exercise is practically part of the punchline: spoiler alert,
but the machines won.
The term “Luddite” came to be a catch-all for any head-in-the-sand futurephobe
who irrationally fears or resists inevitable technological developments,
or indeed modernity itself.1 Today a more charitable view is being
taken, perhaps out of sympathy as we curse our smartphone’s autocorrect
function or lose another argument with Siri. Various modern commentators
now characterize the Luddites as objecting not to machines or automation
per se, but instead to unfair labour practices, inequalities between management
and workers, reduced wages or slipping quality standards in the goods
that were being produced,2 concerns that seem entirely relevant today.3
The legal services sector is undergoing a technological revolution.
Though smashing up the technology may not stop the changes that are
occurring, we do need to give meaningful thought not just to how the technology
works, but also to whether or how it should be used in our law
offices, and what it means. Certain of those changes affect how we manage
our practices, but others go to the substance of the services that lawyers provide
to clients. Coming to grips with how to use technology is one thing, but
a deeper and arguably more important task is to consider the ethical implications
of how these new realities impact our practice.
TWO TYPES OF LEGAL TECHNOLOGY
An important distinction may be drawn between two types of legal technology.
On the one hand is technology that helps with “practice management”:
diary management software, document storage and archiving platforms,