Future of Technology in Public Legal Education

Last summer, I co-wrote a research paper with some colleagues on the future of technology. While the full report hasn’t been released, I wanted to share how recent advances in technology offer new avenues to engage and educate the public. 

Our research team conducted an extensive literature review and contacted several notable public legal education information (PLEI) and technology experts. The report consolidates themes distilled from over 100 sources, and identifies several key technology trends of interest to public legal education providers.

Among the key trends is the widespread popularity of texting and messaging. Nine in ten adult Canadians text or use messaging apps. Texting/messaging is the single most frequent activity for people on their mobile devices. Use of texting and messaging apps is a particularly promising way to reach younger people — 94% of 15 to 34-year-olds own a mobile device.

Another trend of note is the continuing growth of online video. People watch a lot of video online: 80% of Canadian adults watch videos online, averaging over 10 hours per week. This trend is likely to continue: videos are relatively inexpensive to produce, people prefer watching video to reading, and video fosters engagement (people love sharing video) and sparks action.

A third key trend is the explosive growth of chatbots, which are computer programs that conduct a conversation with people through text or voice. Chatbots are appearing in myriad settings to enable people to ask questions or perform tasks — to help airline passengers book a ticket and check-in for a flight, to coach people on how to improve their credit score, to help people manage their mental health by asking them talk therapy questions, and to help people prepare legal documents and find answers to basic legal questions. One of the primary reasons for their explosive growth is their flexibility: chatbots can be integrated into messaging apps, telephone systems, an organization’s website, and even voice-controlled devices such as smart speakers.Some of the fastest growing opportunities involve artificial intelligence — computers carrying out tasks in a way we would consider “smart” — and machine learning — computers solving problems by learning. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are enabling chatbots to interact more like humans; they’re helping voice-controlled devices to provide better answers to questions; and they’re improving the accuracy of auto-translation services.

Public legal education providers use technology extensively in their efforts to help British Columbians prevent and resolve legal problems. PLEI providers have sophisticated websites, offer online self-help tools, produce videos, are active on social media, and provide question and answer services.

But the pace of technological change is speeding up. Some technologies that have been around for a few years — texting and messaging, auto-translation services, and online videos are examples — have been quickly improving and expanding, and now offer more promise than ever for public legal education providers.

And new avenues to engage and educate the public are emerging. Speech recognition, chatbots, voice-controlled devices, and virtual reality are among many newer technologies that offer significant potential in engaging the public and helping them connect with information and tools to address legal problems.

Some of the fastest growing opportunities involve artificial intelligence — computers carrying out tasks in a way we would consider “smart” — and machine learning — computers solving problems by learning. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are enabling chatbots (computer programs that conduct a conversation with people) to interact more like humans; they’re helping voice-controlled devices to provide better answers to questions; and they’re improving the accuracy of auto-translation services.

A major challenge with legal information is that people lack confidence when formulating keywords. Another challenge is that there is a great deal of 1 information online, which can lead to information overload. When faced with a 2 large number of search results, people can feel overwhelmed and unable to decide on what step to take next.

In the report, we explore how emerging technologies can be leveraged to enhance PLEI, thereby more effectively helping British Columbians deal with legal problems. Reach out to me at agentic-info@agentic.ca to be alerted when the report is released.


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