Innovation Sprouting in Canada’s Legal Garden
While we have certainly moved into the dog days of summer, innovation seems to be sprouting in the Canadian legal sector as if it were the early months of spring. So much has been going on in Canada’s legal innovation scene in the past few months that, if you’ve blinked, you’ve probably missed several important developments. But the year didn’t start out so positively.

A Confusing Start

The rather dreary report released by the Young Bar of Montreal in February detailed poor job prospects for young lawyers in Quebec and concluded by stating that, “It is clear that a rise in the number of lawyers does not make justice more accessible.”

This report was immediately followed by a recommendation from the Canadian Bar Association entitled, “Doing Law Differently: Futures for Young Lawyers Report.” In a much more hopeful tone, the report detailed a number of success stories of Canadian legal entrepreneurs in an attempt to provide inspiration for the next generation of Canadian legal professionals.

These two reports provided by the Young Bar of Montreal and the Canadian Bar Association, respectively, offered distinctly opposite viewpoints on the prospectus for young legal professionals in Canada. As stated in the Canadian Bar Association’s report, “the future really is wide open,” and while this is certainly so, neither report provided much in the way of concrete, actionable direction.

A Series of Fortunate Events

Late in April of this year, the MaRS legal incubator, LegalX, invited everyone who’s anyone in the North American legal innovation scene to an all-day event that was part of its sold-out New Frontier of Legal Innovation program. The event concentrated on two important questions: “What’s happening?” and “What’s the path forward?”

Shortly thereafter, the Canadian Bar Association and LegalX announced “The Pitch,” Canada’s first-ever legal innovation start-up competition, which will take place on August 12th. If selected, startups will receive an equity investment of at least $200,000.

Days later, Canada’s first legal incubator, Ryerson’s Legal Innovation Zone, launched the Ontario Access to Justice Challenge with the support of the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General. The challenge will accept up to six startups with ideas designed to improve access to justice through innovation. The top three startups selected will share $50,000 in seed money.

For perhaps the first time in Canadian history, open competitions are attracting entrepreneurs with significant purses and challenging them to develop cheaper, more effective ways of delivering legal services to Canadians.

In effect, industry experts are betting that healthy cooperation between technologists, engineers, and lawyers can generate better solutions than those that have resulted from nearly 200 years of lawyers working independently.

On the consumer side, Canadians should be encouraged by the prospect of finally accessing affordable legal services through innovative platforms, processes, and applications. But the question remains as to whether other provinces will adopt a similar approach as that of Ontario. It is possible that seeds are already being sewn in other provinces, and we must be patient for them to sprout as well.

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Posted by: DSR
Monday, August 1, 2016
Tag: Legal
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