Meet Gillian Hadfield: U of T homecoming for renowned law professor and advocate for legal reform and redesign

Photo of Gillian Hadfield
Gillian Hadfield, who is rejoining the Faculty of Law, is cross-appointed to the Rotman School of Management and will also serve as a faculty affiliate at the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence.

Gillian Hadfield, a leading scholar and advocate for legal reform and redesign, is the latest pioneering academic to be drawn by Toronto’s growing reputation as an advanced technology hub.

A native of Oakville, Ont., she rejoins the University of Toronto Faculty of Law after 17 years on faculty at the University of Southern California. She taught at U of T from 1995-2001.

Her research examines how to make law more accessible, effective, and capable of fulfilling its role in delivering the Fourth Industrial Revolution. “Our legal infrastructure is no longer well-adapted to meeting the challenges of technology and globalization,” says Hadfield.

As well as her research interests in legal design to better address the challenges of globalization and digitization, Hadfield also brings experience from the World Economic Forum’s Future Council on Agile Governance. She is also a senior policy adviser to OpenAI, a non-profit AI research company based in San Francisco

In the fall semester, Hadfield will offer a reading course built around her book, Rules for a Flat World: Why Humans Invented Law and How to Reinvent it for a Complex Global Economy (OUP 2017).

The course serves as prerequisite for the Legal Design Lab, a centre of innovation that is one of the first of its kind for law students in Canada. She will teach that course in the spring semester with her husband, Dan Ryan of the Faculty of Information. 

The lab encourages students to work in teams and develop a proposal for an app, company or service that addresses a problem in our legal system. “It’s a great opportunity to think creatively and come up with real-world legal solutions,” says Hadfield, who developed the course while visiting at Harvard Law School in 2012 and has been teaching a version of the Legal Design Lab at USC since then. 

“I’m excited to be building on an already vibrant legal tech community in Toronto and adding to the growing course offerings available to law students across the country who are interested in building a more innovative legal future.”

Last year, her students in California developed apps to track compliance with parole conditions and an online service to substitute mock juries and in-person legal focus groups. Hadfield also challenged participants in the inaugural Global Legal Hackathon to solve 10 “problems worth solving,” dubbed the Hadfield Challenges.

“How do we adapt our legal and regulatory environments to AI?” asks Hadfield. “That’s a social science and policy question but it’s also an engineering question. How do we build artificially intelligent agents and systems that can learn what the rules are?”

Hadfield will also consider these issues as a faculty affiliate at the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence.

In addition, Hadfield will teach a first-year law course on contracts. At the Rotman School of Management, where she is cross-appointed as a professor of strategic management, she will teach a class on responsible development and governance of artificial intelligence.


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