The Legal Tech Lab’s early research has recognised five different areas of law and digitalisation, in which legal research is needed. These research areas are formulated thematically instead of doctrinally on purpose, as we perceive that in this way it is easier to pave the road towards interdisciplinary research initiatives. This taxonomy should not be understood as exhaustive, as its objective is to provide a thematically organised starting point for mapping out different intersections of law, technology and society. To this end, this taxonomy intentionally excludes doctrinal fields, although some fields of law can be situated more easily than others. Also, all areas include fundamental rights perspectives and they should be seen as overlapping, intersecting and inclusive. At the moment, these strategic areas are:
- foundations of legal digitalisation,
- algorithmic fairness and justice by design,
- legal approaches to information,
- societal change in institutions and profession, and
- digital access to justice and governance.
Firstly, foundations of legal digitalisation addresses the vocal need for theory and method development that are necessary for the blueprint of digitalisation of law. This said, this focus area is closely connected with legal theory and plays a role in developing the general principles and concepts that can be used to describe the ongoing change. Foundations of legal digitalisation also forms the umbrella and the systemic starting point for more detailed research projects.
Secondly, algorithmic fairness and justice by design focuses on the often unforeseen consequences of algorithmic decision making and decision support tools within the legal system. Taking influences from computational modelling of law as well as system design, it is asked how legal protection, access to justice and fairness can be translated into software architectures. It is not possible to understand automation bias simply from the perspective of legal scholarship, as this requires insight into how algorithms reflect structural biases of their training data and how such shortcomings could be avoided. For example, removing possibly discriminating factors is not sufficient and bias in the formal sense of computer science differs from the term’s socio-legal meanings.
As discussed above, algorithmic fairness is becoming an increasingly urgent theme to address both from social sciences and legal perspective as well as from data mining and computer science perspective. During the next three year period from 2018 to 2021 algorithmic fairness is at the core of the Lab’s academic work. For example, the Lab’s researchers are currently examining possible uses of algorithmic decision making and automation within the public sector and mapping out the regulatory frameworks and challenges associated with these uses.
Thirdly, legal approaches to information evaluates different legal interests associated with information such as ownership, privacy and access. Data, in the meaning of vast digital amounts of information, has become significant in new ways and there is no legal conceptualisation that would take into account all the different interests and consequences linked with its increasing importance. An analysis that combines perspectives from competition law, legal informatics, governance studies and constitutional law, public law and EU law would provide an overview of the different legal interests linked with the use of big data.
Fourthly, changes of institutions and legal professions evaluates how the roles of established legal structures are changing due to legal digitalisation. This approach combines perspectives of procedural and administrative law as well as constitutional law with input from social sciences and future of work studies. Due to increasing pressure to digitalise legal services, the research area has close connections with practice. Perspectives from practising lawyers as well as established legal institutions and new actors, including inter alia in house lawyers, judges, law firms as well as the legislators and the legal tech startup scene are important starting points for assessment of the on-going digitalisation of law. Legal scholarship on the subject, however, is necessary to ascertain that digitalisation is not used simply as a facade of legitimacy for cost-driven legal reform but instead implementation of technology into legal practices is conducted with the objective of increasing access to justice.
Finally, digital access to justice and governance examines the viability of existing legal concepts and safeguards in new digital environments. Drawing from constitutional law and regulation theory as well as from consumer law and law and economics, the focus area discussed issues related to regulating code, increasing significance of compliance, monitoring mechanisms and the implementation of legal safeguards.