Dr Gideon Christian is an Assistant Professor of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Law at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada. He spoke to Ifeoluwa Ogunbufunmi on his research on the intersection between law and AI and designing a new course, e-Litigation.
“The love for research and disseminating knowledge was a major factor in the pursuit of my academic career”, says Dr Christian.
Growing up in the Northern Nigerian state of Kaduna, he later moved to Lagos, where he obtained his law degree from the University of Lagos. He has an LL.M in Law and Technology from the University of Ottawa, Canada and a PhD from the same institution.
In 2019, Dr Christian joined the University of Calgary as an Assistant Professor of Artificial Intelligence and Law.
“I am currently researching the use of AI in recidivism risk assessment in the Canadian criminal justice system. This research examines legal issues arising from the use of AI to determine the likelihood that offenders in the Canadian criminal justice system will re-offend.”
He also teaches professional ethics and civil procedure. On some adaptations created out of the pandemic, Dr Christian designed a first-of-its kind course for a Canadian law faculty called e-Litigation. “The goal is to train students with the necessary skills to initiate and conduct litigation using technology and with minimal in-person contact. I will begin teaching this course in 2021,” he says.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Dr Christian was keen on a smooth transition for his students to the fully online mode of teaching and learning of his faculty.
“I was very concerned about the impact that the transition would have on my students and, to reassure them that I have their best interests at heart, notwithstanding the changed environment, I prepared a short video which I shared ahead of the commencement of the online class in September. Two months later, the experience has been fascinating!”
Prior to joining the University of Calgary, Dr Christian worked with the Federal Department of Justice, Canada as a technology lawyer for five years. In this role, he used AI technologies and computer analytics to conduct eDiscovery in high profile litigation involving the Canadian government of Canada. During this period, he also worked as an Adjunct Professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa. Dr Christian also has experience as a researcher for the International Development Research Center (IDRC), Canada.
On managing challenges, Dr Christian says, “I recently had to transition from full-time legal practice with the Government of Canada, to a full-time position as an academic professor. This came with a lot of challenges – I spent my first year trying to familiarise myself with my academic teachings and this came at the expense of my academic work. Regardless, I was able to successfully complete my research work on the use of AI in civil litigation which was published in the Canadian Bar Review.
Now in his second year as an academic, he is devoting more time to research and simultaneously working on research grant applications to enable him expand and hire more graduate students to assist in his research works.
Outside work, Dr Christian enjoys family time bonding with his kids.
“Research skill is very vital to succeed in academia. As a law student, I impressed it upon myself to develop this skill. By the time I was graduating from the University of Lagos, I had already published two books on the law of commercial transactions and company law and published my third book while at the Nigerian Law School. The research skill I developed as a law undergrad has been instrumental to my success in academia,” he says.
“Networking is also very important. I encourage young African lawyers to use technology to network with professionals. I recently launched the African Scholars Initiative (ASI), a registered Canadian not-for-profit organisation which aims to assist bright future scholars of African descent to pursue higher education in Canada.”
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