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    Unparalleled Unconference: My Impressions of lawTechCamp
    Posted: 2011-06-29 10:18:50


    On Saturday, June 18, I was rather surprised to find myself at a summer camp for adults. It shattered my previous notions of what summer camp was. There were no tears and no timeouts. Instead, there was everything summer camp should have: laughter, personal development and enough snacks for everybody.

    lawTechCamp was held at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law’s Flavelle House. The camp’s goal was to “bridge the gap between the tech and legal communities and encourage the exchange of ideas and knowledge between the two areas.” Organized in the UnConference style of such previous gatherings as BarCamp, the event consisted of sessions suggested by participants in the preceding weeks.

    I felt that all of the topics were fascinating. Too bad for me that, at any given time, there were three concurrent sessions (full session list). lawTechcamp was organized by Sapna Mahboobani (owner and lawyer with Sapna Law Professional Corporation), Mitch Kowalski, lawyer and Monica Goyal (owner and co-founder of My Legal Briefcase, the lovely company that brings you this blog).

    After much head-scratching and soul-searching, I worked up the decisiveness to attend these three sessions: I.P Potpourri, Computing the Law, and To the Cloud.

    Computing the Law (slides)

    Daniel Katz, Assistant Professor of Law at Michigan State University, facilitated this eye-opening talk. His clever title: Quantitative Legal Prediction (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace Disruptive Technology). When a potential client asks a lawyer “What chance does my case have?,” the lawyer draws on his/her knowledge of similar cases. A computer, despite never earning a JD, can rifle through thousands of cases - more than any human lawyer could ever bring to mind. A computer can answer the client’s question, in record time, with a higher degree of accuracy. Katz’s message: Machine prediction is very powerful. Law firms that do not embrace it will be at a severe competitive disadvantage. But lawyers will need to avoid abdicating their own judgment. They cannot rely too heavily on computerized assessments of the law.

    I’ll drill down on this panel in next week’s post. Stay tuned!

    I.P. Potpourri (slides)

    This session on (you guessed it!) intellectual-property law was given by Rosario Cartagena, a Gowlings LLP associate, and Felix Tang, partner and co-founder of IP firm Innovate LLP.

    Cartagena, a trademark specialist, spoke about trademark registration and litigation in Canada, and about the relationship between domain names and trademark law. Domain-name disputes are a big issue in trademark law, as people rely more and more heavily on the Internet for both purchasing and brand research. Take http://www.mtv.ca/, which for some time belonged to a company called ‘Melanie and Todd’s Vacations’ (CIRA (Canadian Internet Registration Authority) ruling). But the temporal and financial costs of registering a trademark, and of defending that trademark in court, are high. As a result, small firms often don’t have substantial recourse against those who exploit their brand for commercial gain.

    Tang began his presentation by advising that a firm’s IP strategy should, like all business strategies, fit with the firm’s business goals. Firms at low risk of having their intellectual property unfairly used should think twice about putting scarce resources towards protecting their intellectual property. Tang used to contribute to the Linux source-code kernel. His history showed in his lament of the public domain’s disappearance in the face of vigorous IP laws.

    Tang also discussed copyright trolls, companies that purchase and pursue copyrights in order to make money. One of the most notorious copyright trolls is Righthaven LLC, which has pursued nearly three hundred lawsuits (mostly dismissed) over use of copyrighted material in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

    To the Cloud

    (Sorry, this presentation had no slides. The presenter did draw a picture on the board, but it was just of a cloud with the word “CLOUD” in it. I didn’t take a photo.)

    Mitch Kowalski approached the topic of cloud computing from his background in law. He kept the session accessible to the non-tech-savvy like myself by reminding participants that cloud transactions are not just about Dropbox and the Cloud Drive. Cloud transactions are merely transactions in which individuals farm out to third parties services those individuals could do by themselves, but less efficiently. Credit cards and electricity are among the most widespread of cloud transactions.

    The potential benefits of cloud computing are legion. They include savings on information technology (IT) costs, fewer limits on authorized access and greater opportunities for collaboration in work. Yet, cloud computing has real risks. Aside from the usual complaint about reduced security, there are concerns about interjurisdictional issues and data commingling.

    Conclusion

    Based on the conversations that I had and overheard, people really enjoyed the sessions and had every intention of continuing related conversations over lunch. If a conference is supposed to promote discussion, then it seems to follow that an unconference would do the exact opposite. But lawTechcamp really did stimulate fruitful sharing of ideas and all of those wonderful things that used to belong exclusively to conferences.

    If you didn’t come but really wanted to, here’s some consolation: the slides from some of the presentations have been uploaded here. You can find links to more of the presentations, and follow future developments, on the lawTechCamp Twitter feed. I am very excited to see what will come next from the momentum this event has generated!

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