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Deskside Chat with Dawson Horning of Ahlstrom Wright

Dawson Ahlstrom Wright-1

Dawson Horning, Barrister and Solicitor at Ahlstrom Wright
Dawson’s practice focuses on Business Law, Civil Litigation, Estate Litigation, Wills and Estates, and Real Estate, although he also has experience in Personal Injury and Employment Law. He understands that his clients are looking for practical solutions to their real world problems, and Dawson prides himself on keeping every issue in their proper perspective.

This is part four of a series of deskside chats with Associates at North American firms leading the way in innovation.


What does the word “innovation” mean to you?

I think innovation is a very broad term. The easy answer would be technology, because technologic advancements are clearly innovative and new, but I think innovation is actually bigger than technology.

I think innovation is more about analyzing old problems and coming up with new solutions to those problems. It doesn’t always have to be tied to technology; the legal profession is innovating all the time. It may be slower at times, but incrementally the legal profession innovates in all kinds of ways, including on the technology front.

I’m glad there are tools like Employment Foresight coming out and I am hopeful we will see more tools come out.

As a young associate, conducting legal research is a large part of the job. How has artificial intelligence (AI) aided in your process? What are some of the key benefits you’ve noticed?

It’s definitely time. It cuts down on the time we spend reading significantly. Prior to us discovering this tool, we would spend at least half a day trying to answer a question that a client brought to us. You start by reading the case law, then you read a dozen decisions, and then you realize at the end of it that only two of them are relevant to the client’s question. What artificial intelligence does is start that process for you half-way through by giving you the relevant cases you need, immediately resulting in a 3-4 hour head start. 

How does leveraging artificial intelligence help your clients or how do they realize the benefits of your firm’s use of technology?

Artificial intelligence allows us to provide more cost-effective services to our clients. The vast majority of the clients who are coming to us, and those who we are using this tool for, are people who have just been terminated from their jobs. They have their offer letter, and they are coming to us to analyze the offer, and ultimately, decide if the offer is one that they will accept.

What that means for us, is that they have just been fired and most of the time, they aren’t looking to spend, or can’t spend, thousands of dollars on a lawyer to help in their decision-making process.

Employment Foresight has improved our systems in that we still provide the same legal advice we always have, but in a more cost-effective manner. I think it facilitates access to justice as the end cost to the client is reduced, which allows us to help more people who otherwise would not have had the resources to get their questions answered.

A common fear amongst young lawyers is that tools using artificial intelligence will one day replace them. What are your thoughts on this as someone who leverages AI in their day-to-day work?

I don’t think that fear is well placed. From my experience so far, most clients are just looking for reassurance. They need some help in their decision-making. Artificial intelligence may be able to give you an answer [that is] quicker and more cost-effective, but it cannot guide you, or the client, through the process afterwards. It is still up to the lawyer to consult with the client to formulate a plan to move forward.

I do not think artificial intelligence will ever be able to manage clients like that and provide that ear that most clients are looking for. A lot of the time, people just need someone to listen to their situation and work through their problem with them. 

Although Ahlstrom Wright is a small firm, Employment Foresight has caught on quite well with users. What do you think contributes to Ahlstrom Wright’s innovative nature?

A year and a half ago, we went through a rebranding. It was a good opportunity for us to reflect on what we were doing and the direction we wanted to go in the future. We realized online communication was where things were headed and that most of our clients come to us directly from online sources. This allowed us to break the ice, so to speak, and start looking at different tools we could use to complement our new focus.

It also helps we have leadership, like our Managing Partner Donna Oliver, that is supportive of us incorporating technology into our practice.

How important is it to you to be forward-thinking in a field deeply steeped in tradition?

I think younger lawyers have a responsibility to try and push new and innovative tools forward. It’s important because things can be improved. For example, a question I often have for judges is, “When are we going to see online filing?” It’s important for younger lawyers to ask those questions and drive things along.

We know the legal profession is resistant to change, and I don’t expect the profession to adopt every advancement immediately, but if younger lawyers keep advocating for progression that facilitates access for the end-user—the client—hopefully we will see some incremental change.  

Has there ever been a time were advocating for an innovative idea has been difficult? What did you learn from that experience?

Absolutely! We experienced a little bit of hesitation when we were first trying to introduce Employment Foresight at our firm. With every new innovation, there has to be discussions about how we implement new tools, and how it will affect the client, otherwise if we rush into it, we could be implementing something that may not benefit the client. We had those discussions and it ended up being very productive. We had a robust discussion on everything from our ethical obligations as lawyers, to how we were going to use the tool, to how we would present it to clients. We were able to think through our specific use cases and get buy-in across the firm by taking into consideration ideas and suggestions from all our lawyers. 

While those discussions may be initially difficult, we realized we needed to talk before implementing any new tool to ensure everyone is safe, comfortable and on-board. Having those discussions up-front also lends itself to better adoption and use of the tool.

The advent of technologies like artificial intelligence seems poised to make a large impact across multiple professions, including law. How do you foresee artificial intelligence will affect lawyers, and the practice of law in general, moving forward?

I see artificial intelligence as just another tool in our toolkit. I think it will streamline our practices, which is beneficial to both our clients and ourselves because we can get to the answers that we want quicker.

I think that these types of tools will become commonplace in 10 years because they can do the initial work of focusing the lawyer in on relevant research. It makes no sense to have a lawyer charging hourly rates to sit there and filter through irrelevant case after irrelevant case that won’t ever make it to the client.

What have been the greatest benefits you’ve received from using Employment Foresight?

Easily the time. AI tech cuts down on the time I have to spend reading a significant amount on the front-end. I don’t end up wasting time reading irrelevant case law, where only a few cases are relevant in the end.

Is there a specific feature that you particularly like in Employment Foresight? How has this feature benefited you in your work?

The classifiers are excellent, specifically the Reasonable Notice Classifier. The Reasonable Notice Classifier is very beneficial because we get a large volume of clients who are asking this specific question. The Classifier is a handy way to find those answers quickly. Running alternate scenario testing is also very helpful because oftentimes the client does not know the answer to the questions we need to complete the analysis. Being able to toggle specific factors on and off allows us to locate case law that might affect the client’s notice period.

For example, on the employer side, a client may not know how much experience the employee had prior to working for them. With the Classifier, I can run two scenarios and quantify the difference to my client very quickly.

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