Boolean searches, bulky suits, memories are made of these | Gary Goodwin

By Gary Goodwin

Law360 Canada (July 31, 2023, 12:36 PM EDT) --
Gary Goodwin
Gary Goodwin
I recently attended the 40th anniversary of my call to the bar to see colleagues I have not seen for years. This should normally be a time for personal reflection and spiritual growth. But I did spend the smallest amount of time contemplating the reflection in the mirror to make sure I had not grown too much physically. My decades of working out did treat me well. Yes, colour me shallow, and this was no longer high school.

I received the invite just a couple of months before the event started. I thought I covered my tracks pretty well by shifting jobs and provinces. But one thing lawyers can do well is research, so my carpool buddy put in the extra effort and tracked me down. She did get the gold medal for the final year, so she was all about the research.

At the venue, for the first hour and a half, we all milled about and reminisced. I mainly flew under the radar at law school. At the 40th I did speak to a few people that I may not have spoken to at all during the three years I spent in class. The name tags made it easier. But the personalities, well they continued to shine out. Bodies may have changed, and some hair dropped out, but only to be found in greater abundance elsewhere. Soon, it was as if no time had passed at all.

Some of my classmates stated that they were in better shape now than they were in law school. One person almost clipped my earlobe with a heel showing their newfound flexibility.

The hostess called for hands from those that already retired, and most hands went up. Some, like mine, did a bit of a horizontal position signalling still hanging on, easing out or transitioning to phase.

A few years ago, while vacationing on Vancouver Island, my son asked me what I intended to do when I retired. At that time, I was working for the environment. So, I thought I might continue doing the same thing, but just not get paid for it. Not that charitable work paid that well in any event. But the work addressed an inner need. So, I must be following my bliss as the mythologist Joseph Campbell taught.

After the classic chicken dinner, the hostess invited everyone, perhaps requested, then shamed, to come up to the microphone and talk about themselves. Normally, lawyers would never seem to be reticent to talk about themselves, but the night was young.

Most of my classmates reflected upon the various hijinks during law school. Still waiting for the return of her trust notes for example. The famous ruling of we will sell no wine before its time and all the rulings that followed. Our class did not really resemble the Paper Chase, much less L.A. Law. Yes, please pause to look those up.

Our graduating class came way before the #MeToo movement. Times were tough back then. Most episodes went unspoken, but the time that the women had to have their own dining room in a certain establishment was ruefully recounted. More work remains to be done.

And like the case law, some of our classmates have been elevated up, while others passed before their time. Major legislation such as the Constitution Act came into being just as we were graduating. That Act permeated our entire practice of law for over the next 40 years. The countless changes to society as a result of the Act were expansive and will continue to expand how we think and relate to one another.

The evening progressed, and our table was invited, requested to speak. The woman in front of me destined to speak next decided discretion was the better part of valour, and went back to the middle of the line. This gave me three minutes less to decide what I wanted to say. But like all good lawyers, I just thought on my feet and made a few things up.

I recalled how things came full circle for myself back at the University of Victoria studying marine biology in 1979 after working several field seasons for the Freshwater Institute. In my fourth year, in the final semester, I took my one mandated English course. Marine Geography. Yes, barely an English course.

But the short lecture on the law of the sea showed me the role of policy and how law can help shape the future in a better fashion than taking more stomach samples from fish.

This course set me on the road to taking the LSAT and signing up for law immediately thereafter. Studying the Great Barrier Reef would have to be done at a later time. It had not dawned on me at the time that owing to climate change it might not even be there. This all started on Vancouver Island, and now that I moved back to the island, I can use my acquired skills in protecting and conserving the environment on the island.

After speaking, I had a further opportunity to reflect and remember as others spoke.

The year 1982 evoked the time of leather-bound books on cases and statutes. OK, cardboard, but the mustiness remained. We saw the advent of fax machines, word processors, personal computers, the Internet, email, mobile devices, Boolean legal research and finally AI. The breadth of change can be amazing if one stops to pause. And one cannot. AI may start off as a legal assistant and may soon be the managing partner. As Vonnegut wrote, “So it goes.” But everyone in the class kept pace. There was no choice.

I tried to be on the leading edge for technology to make the practice of law somewhat easier. And in 1989, with the IBM 360 Hal type mainframe computer, we were able to digitally communicate with everyone in the company instantaneously. My company did provide me one of the original Motorola brick phones. And at 33 centimetres and one kilogram, it made your suit lumpy. A small miracle. We grabbed the first mover advantage in upsetting the traditional work-life balance.

But right now, AI remains eager to play like a puppy. Never tires, wants to learn and help, keeps you awake at night, and sometimes makes a major mess. Be forewarned.

Our classmates continued to have an eye on the future. Acquiring information, and knowledge to create a better future for society. For the future, AI will form an amazing part of the practice of law. Canada will continue to need well-educated and networked lawyers.

But AI will, likely, never develop the contextual awareness from the culture, society, values or ethics to develop the necessary wisdom to say where the law should ultimately be. And that’s what I saw at my recent 40th anniversary, from my classmates after four decades of practice. Wisdom.

Gary Goodwin worked in environmental conservation across Canada for over three decades. He initially obtained a B.Sc. from Victoria majoring in marine biology. In addition to his law degree and MBA, he recently completed his LL.M from the University of London, emphasizing natural resources and international economic regulation. He has authored numerous articles on the environment and issues facing in-house counsel. He contributed three chapters to the recent textbook North American Wildlife Policy and Law.
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