The Law Clinic Paves Way to the Digitalization of Built Environment Processes

Law Clinic

The Law Clinic offers legal advice on digitalization to built environment innovators and experimenters and in the process helps lawmakers find the pain points in legislation.

In April 2018 the Finnish Ministry of the Environment launched an experimental legal service for real estate and construction professionals, municipalities, and lawmakers.

The cost-free service is like a helpdesk for anyone who has questions about real estate and construction laws and regulations and their interpretation as it applies to new digital processes. The Law Clinic is part of the national KIRA-digi project, which includes 138 experiments, many of which need legal advice for their execution.

A Unique Concept

Aleksi Lundén

The ministry chose Lexia Attorneys, a Finnish law firm, to provide the services. Lawyer Aleksi Lundén leads the project.

“Lawmakers don’t necessarily understand the practical challenges that built environment stakeholders face when digitalizing the industry,” Lundén explains. “This new channel for inquiring about legislation and giving feedback to lawmakers has proven its value already.”

Lundén has an extensive international network, but he has not heard about a similar service being offered elsewhere. The clinic was showcased at the World Summit on Digital Built Environment WDBE in September in Helsinki where it prompted discussion among local and international attendees alike.

Running the Clinic

The Law Clinic collects and analyzes information on legal problems and identifies laws that may slow down or impede digitalization in the built environment. It reports back its findings to the Ministry of the Environment. The clinic runs until the end of 2018, and Lexia will publish the results of the experiment at in February 2019.

The clinic has a hotline on which anyone can share problems and ask for legal guidance. “It has been a bit of a challenge to attract users,” Lundén admits. “We’ve promoted the clinic at several events and contacted KIRA-digi experimenters directly. Those who have contacted the clinic have found it helpful.”

Lexia has organized two roundtable discussions about the legal challenges of digitalization. The attendees represented a cross-section of businesses, municipalities, and governments.

The roundtable discussions have been lively and rewarding. They have signaled a need for legislative agility. Technology develops at an accelerating speed, but laws live in the past.

Many Opportunities for Improvement

When companies develop new business models that make use of digital technologies, many questions about legal issues naturally arise. For example, a Finnish online self-service real estate agency did not employ traditional human agents, which contravened the current law.

The Law Clinic has already outlined a host of legal questions needing a solution. These questions relate to city planning, public procurement, IPRs, open data, real estate agencies, privacy, the GDPR, and other matters.

Digital design processes also need new rules. Who owns the BIM data and who can use it after project completion?

Many people have suggested that the number of regulations should be radically reduced. Others want more regulations that would boost digitalization. For example, making IoT sensors mandatory in public buildings would improve the control of energy use and indoor air quality.

A digitalized city planning process would speed up digitalization and provide easy access to land use information to anyone interested. Municipalities are at different levels of digital preparedness, which makes it difficult to accomplish this all over the country at once.

A Learning Process Leading into the Future

The Law Clinic has improved Lexia’s understanding of the impact of digitalization on built environment businesses. The company also gained insight into service design while developing the clinic, and Lexia wants to be active in the transformation of the real estate and construction industries.

“In my practice as a real estate and construction lawyer, I have kept an eye on the digitalization of the industry for years. I would say that now there’s real momentum for change,” Lundén claims. “The KIRA-digi project ends this year, but I think we’re only at the beginning.”

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