This week’s discussion features David O’Hair. He is a Fellow at the Tech Policy Lab, a collaborative effort bringing the law and technology together at the University of Washington. Like me, David is in legal tech seeking to make a difference in the field. As a law student (Class of 2019) at the University of Washington, he brings a unique perspective to bear on the developments within the law and technology. 

1) What was the impetus behind your interest in the law and technology?

I come from a family that is involved in health care and sciences, so law school was not at the front of my mind. However, during college I knew that everything in technology interested me, but my brain just did not function in the way that is required to be a successful engineer. At that same time I was taking a lot of political science classes and became really interested in how technology and science interacted with morality and the law.

I realized that if I went to law school, then I could be a lawyer who focuses on technology issues. This was a perfect hybrid career for me because I would be able to interact and learn about all the technology that interests me, but I would have a career that actually utilized my skills to the best of their abilities; E.g., researching, writing, copyediting, etc.

So it can be said that my “impetus” to go to law school to be a technology lawyer was the fact that my hobbies and interests were already tech/science, but I knew I would not be functioning at my best self if I tried to force an engineering career. I pivoted to a career that captures my strengths and my interests and it is going great so far!

2) What are you working on at the Tech Policy Lab?

To give some primer, the Tech Policy Lab is a group of interdisciplinary academics from the University of Washington that does research on technologies interaction with the law. We have fellows from UW’s computer science, information, communications, and law schools. I work under the direction of Ryan Calo, a law professor and director of the Lab.

My current project that I am helping write is a paper exploring the applicability of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to new forms of artificial intelligence. Since the paper has yet to be published, I cannot go into more detail than that, but the paper will be presented at the WeRobot Conference hosted at Stanford Law School in April 2018.

While I cannot discuss the paper’s specifics, working with the Lab has been an amazing experience for me as it is hands-on research experience in a field I want to pursue as a career.

3) What do you think is the biggest misconception about legal technology?

I think the biggest misconception about legal technology is that the innovations are coming along for the monomaniacal purpose of automating the legal industry and producing “lawyer algorithms” that will eliminate human lawyers. While there are great automation innovations out there that help with contract drafting, client organization, etc., that is not the sole foundation of legal tech. In my opinion, most legal tech will be for the purposes of aiding lawyers so that second-order consequences of efficiency will benefit future clients.

I think the heart of legal tech is making tools to help with three factors: A) affordability of legal services; and B) legal access to historically underrepresented groups. These factors all play into each other and helping one has ripple effects of improving the others. For instance:

  1. A) Lawyers are too expensive. New legal tech is helping improve legal efficiency and has brought about a new wave of “flat rate lawyers.” This is good. While there is still a need, and a client base, for “Big Law” prices, I think new flat-rate lawyers can open a completely new clientele sector.
  2. B) Since lawyers are expensive, this automatically leads to some bias in service accessibility and quality of representation. Look at some of the work that https://www.atjtechfellows.org/ is doing. They are based in Seattle and are a great example of what I am talking about.

4) I think that many are starting to see the JD degree as a flexible one as opposed to one that only rewards those who work in so-called traditional legal jobs. Do you agree or disagree?

I absolutely think a JD is a flexible degree! Probably not as flexible as an MBA or other degrees, but with the democratization of JD degrees comes a diversity of jobs needing lawyers. A JD provides a fantastic “tool kit” to take into any job, whether legal based or not. A JD is a degree that teaches research methods, writing, critical thinking, multilayered analysis, etc.; what employer would not like that?

I think this next decade is going to bring a big reshaping of the legal profession and fate will favor the flexible; i.e., flat-rate prices. Additionally, with more law schools now accepting the GRE as well as the LSAT, the legal profession is going to gain even more diversity.

Thanks for having me, Colin!