Panel discusses study of millennials’ relation to tech and justice

On Oct. 24, the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law hosted a panel on the effects of technology on access to justice, with a particular interest on young people.

The panel, called “The Millennial Influence,” featured speakers in different practices on how increasing technology is both a benefit and a detriment to lawyers, the legal process, and access to justice.

“Are people in society able to resolve legal problems, or avoid them altogether,” said Jane Bailey, a professor in the Faculty of Law at the U of O, on the meaning of access to justice. “The definition of access to justice shifted substantially away from this idea that access to justice meant access to resolution of a problem through a public court proceeding, to a much more expansive notion that actually sees lawyers and courts as last resorts. Those are the things you go to if you can’t resolve the issue in any other way.”  

The panelists had a lot to say on the much-maligned 18-to-35-year-old age bracket, making clear that millennials are embracing tech and pushing changes more than any other age bracket. It’s still a very diverse group, however, and it’s risky to generalize.

Michael Gotthiel, the executive chair of the Social Justice Tribunals Ontario, reminded the audience that Michael Brown, missing and murdered indigenous women, and law students are all within the millennial cohort, and interact with the legal system in very different ways. New technology, then, can’t generalize either.

There are plenty of ways in which technology is already being used to supplement lawyers and help with the legal process. One of the largest pushes has been in making it easier for people to access justice.

“Some of the more important ways (that technology is increasing access to justice), in the sense that they’re proactive, are agencies that are delivering legal information and legal educations so that people can better understand what their rights and their obligations are,” Bailey said.  

Some other uses of technology include the use of video conferencing so remote communities can access legal advice, or in-court transcription technologies, but there are many more.  

Amy Salyzyn, a professor in the Faculty of Law, said that within the private sector, there has also been a major push towards apps. One good example is the mobile app Legalswipe, which was developed by a U of O graduate. The app informs people of their rights, but it also records audio and video and uploads it to Dropbox so people can record their interactions with law enforcement.

Some of the panelists also spoke about a growing consensus that justice plus tech doesn’t equal nirvana. Technology has major implications for privacy, for one thing.  

“Privacy is a serious example, and there are probably equality implications as well,” Bailey said. “While you could always go to a court office and ask to see a record, most people didn’t, so there was a practical obscurity there … but now with putting these records online, people can just surf to find out things about their neighbours.”

In the end, the consensus was that while technology is important, integrating it with a human presence is the way to go. The technological component is excellent for educating people and helping people know if they even have a case or not, but the human aspect is essential for navigating the confusing world of law.