“I suppose it is tempting, if all you have is a hammer, to treat every problem like a nail.”– Abraham Maslow
The “law of the instrument,” aptly illustrated by Maslow’s quote, embodies the underlying challenge faced by the legal profession as outlined by the Canadian Bar Association (CBA) report Futures: Transforming the Delivery of Legal Services in Canada.
The CBA’s Legal Futures Initiative call for submissions, regarding its upcoming workshop, highlights a series of questions about how to break through current limitations across the full spectrum of professional development needs, from students to seasoned practitioners. The CBA asks the field to address potential “interventions” including, new legal environments, new licensing processes, lifelong education, the relevant lawyer, and transforming the profession.
For the CBA workshop, Knomos proposes to deliver a demonstration of its interactive data visualization platform as a potential intervention, not only for legal research, but also for legal education and professional development. Through examples for specific types of users in its demonstration, the Knomos team will facilitate a discussion around applications of the platform in educational settings from law school through to articling and Continuing Professional Development (CPD).
1. The future of the legal textbook is not a book
When legal technology was limited to pen and paper, it made sense to use a textbook with a table of contents. Although key legal sources are increasingly digitized and made publicly available online, the legal information within remains stuck in an outdated format (text-heavy, static, linear) that hasn’t truly evolved since the invention of the printing press. The “findability” of information remains constrained within a glorified .pdf format, which offers limited practical advantages over the original hard-copy version.
Today, relational graph databases and data visualization software are rapidly changing how we can access legal source material, and more importantly, display the cross-references between legal sources to reveal previously hidden connections and generate insights to help users better understand complex topics.
At Knomos, we’re creating one of many new opportunities to develop full-screen visual web and mobile applications as viable platforms for legal education and training. In doing so, we can transition away from traditional curriculum and evaluation methods driven by rote memorization of “legal inputs” (discrete areas requiring study), to leverage data visualization focusing on “learning outcomes” (what a learner is expected to know, understand, and be able to demonstrate after a course of study).
2. Legal education is not a solitary exercise
The CBA recognizes the need for new models of legal education. Law school lectures given in the traditional one-to-many format using the Socratic method and emphasizing personal study are increasingly being replaced by participative learning exercises with a focus on sharing and applying knowledge, in an effort to “flip the classroom.”
The Knomos platform is an innovative content delivery medium that enhances participatory learning and applied knowledge by providing users with an interactive presence in legal research and education software. By building a collective knowledge network for legal education, the Knomos platform integrates features that tie a user’s learning directly to legal source material, such as group forums for questions and comments, as well as personal and shared user annotations for group study.
What’s more, Knomos offers students a platform for “translational knowledge“: the opportunity to apply the legal theory from the class to actual problem solving in a practical setting. Group forums for questions and answers can also be used in legal educational clinic settings to streamline the client intake process and offer students the ability to provide legal information in response to specific questions, under integrated supervision and moderation by practitioners.
3. Learning & training is a process not an end result
Articling students currently face a varied experience, including a shortage of articling positions in certain jurisdictions, and a lack of practical skills training. CPD is seen more as “putting in one’s time” rather than a true learning experience, and an opportunity to share professional knowledge and expertise in the public interest.
In the future, Knomos could be leveraged in legal practice settings as a platform for articling students to apply knowledge by drafting legal documents that could be vetted by their legal principal before being disseminated to a client. The possibility of doing so remotely via an online platform also helps to alleviate the shortage of articling positions in certain areas by connecting legal practice across urban and rural communities.
Lawyers themselves could contribute the knowledge gained during CPD courses by sharing it with a broader public audience as part of their training requirements. This offers a win-win that helps lawyers stay abreast of ever-changing legal practice areas and gives back to the public, which benefits from an ever-growing resource for legal information annotated by professionals.
As a platform for legal research and collaboration, Knomos hopes to help transform the education and training of Canada’s lawyers by working with key stakeholders from every facet of the profession: in the interest of each, to the benefit of all.
“Well I’ve got a hammer… It’s the hammer of Justice.”– Pete Seeger
Onwards & upwards,
Adam La France