Exploring New Frontiers for the Delivery of Legal Services in Canada

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A brush with the judicial system in any capacity is not a pleasant experience for most people. Even those who succeed in a court usually do not walk out happy. But if you are amongst the increasing number of people who simply cannot afford to pay for legal services, the experience with the judicial system can not only be unpleasant but deflating.

This article explores some of the new ways in which legal profession and emerging technologies are offering new solutions to make dispute resolution more efficient, effective and affordable.

Unbundled Services

This arcane judicial system has thus far escaped any real public accountability simply because, for centuries, it remained the only option of resolving disputes without resorting to violence. Traditionally, a lawyer is retained by a client for the entire length of a legal dispute, so the lawyer looks after each aspect of the legal process – the mundane and the complex. These tasks can include dealing with court offices, opposing counsel, and other parties, looking after scheduling, corresponding with other parties on administrative matters, preparing legal documents, organizing evidence, preparing clients/witnesses and advocating on client’s behalf at motions and trial. While the tasks can be appropriately divided between legal assistants, paralegals, law clerks and lawyers within a law firm, the costs for the entire length of a dispute are nevertheless significant. It is estimated that costs of a dispute that concludes with a three-day trial, can easily exceed $50,000.

The legal profession has responded to this problem by offering unbundled services, which essentially means hiring a lawyer for a specific task.  A client can consult with a lawyer on a specific legal issue or procedure, or hire the lawyer to prepare specific court documents. In essence, the client runs the file, but brings in the lawyer, as needed. If smartly used, unbundled services can result in significant cost savings for a client without compromising the merits of the case.

While most lawyers remain resistant to the idea, you can still find lawyers who are willing to provide unbundled services. National Self-Represented Litigants Project (NSLRP) has recently launched a database of professionals who provide unbundled services. This can be found at: http://representingyourselfcanada.com/database/

Legal Services for Low-Income People

While lawyers will argue over the virtues of unbundled services, companies like Modria and Airhelp will sweep away the entire dispute resolution system from under their feet.

Every province and territory has some sort of a legal aid organization which provides free legal services for people with low income. These legal aid organizations are usually publicly funded and non-profit. To be eligible for these services, an individual must meet specific financial criteria. The range of services provided by these legal aid organizations is varied, but usually includes criminal, family and other civil matters. Legal Aid Alberta can be found at: http://www.legalaid.ab.ca/Pages/default.aspx, while a simple Google search can provide contact information of other legal aid organizations around Canada.

Legal Service for Low- and moderate-Income Canadians

A large majority of people who do not qualify for legal aid due to relatively high income still cannot afford high legal costs. JusticeNet (www.JusticeNet.ca) is a not-for-profit service for such people. JusticeNet aims to complement pro-bono and legal aid programs. The legal professionals providing their services through JusticeNet agree to offer reduced rates to clients referred to them. Presently, JusticeNet services are only available in Ontario.

Legal Services and Technology

Airhelp files claims on behalf of its clients for compensation relating to flight delays/cancellations.The focus of the legal profession so far has been in finding ways to make a lawyer more affordable within the existing dispute resolution model. But the profession lacks creativity and imagination in offering any solutions that rethink the prevailing dispute resolution structures.

Technology has the potential to offer radical solutions to a variety of issues facing the dispute resolution system. On the one hand, technological solutions such as ROSS, BlueJLegal, Lawdepot etc. that are discussed below help automate and standardize various legal processes resulting in more efficiency, accessibility and affordability. On the other hand, technological solutions such as Modria and Airhelp challenge the fundamental legal structure itself and offer innovative solutions that tend to diminish the traditional control of the legal profession.

..technological solutions such as Modria and Airhelp challenge the fundamental legal structure itself and offer innovative solutions that tend to diminish the traditional control of the legal profession.

A handful of these technological solutions presently available in the legal market are discussed here as an example to show how technology is making inroads in the legal profession.

  • ROSS: Ross is an Artificial Intelligence based legal research tool, which is already being used by some of the major law firms. ROSS has access to a large database of legal knowledge and helps lawyers find answers to legal questions while saving considerable time and money.
  • Bluejlegal.com: this is similar to ROSS, but presently focused on Canadian Tax laws. Blue J Legal offers a product called Tax Foresight, which uses machine learning to review and analyze past court decisions, applies the legal principles to new cases and predicts how the court will decide in specific factual circumstances.
  • Modria (http://www.modria.com): Modria is technology-based dispute resolution system, which is already being used by many companies. Modria takes a customer’s complaint, accesses all the relevant data in real time, such as customer info, product and shipping details etc. It then analyzes the issue and offers the customer resolution within the framework established by the company.
  • Lawdepotca; biztree.com; legalcontracts.ca: are some of the websites that offer many legal documents on estate planning, real estate, financial, business, and family matters.
  • Upcounsel.com: provides online lawyers at affordable rates to its clients.
  • Clerky.com: is a US-based website which is extensively used by Silicon-valley start-ups. Start-ups can use Clerky to electronically generate the basic company formation document such as incorporation and post-incorporation documents.
  • Airhelp.com: Airhelp files claims on behalf of its clients for compensation relating to flight delays/cancellations. Airhelp has automated most of the claim filing process, and a client simply needs to provide his/her flight details and wait for the compensation if eligible.

The Way of the Future

Technology has the potential to offer radical solutions to a variety of issues facing the dispute resolution system. Like every other legacy institution, the judicial system is not immune to the technology revolution. Understanding this part is easy. The difficult part is recognizing the kinds of changes technology will bring to legal industry. The most obvious short term achievements would be standardization of legal products, affordability, higher predictability and efficiency. But technology will also challenge and erode the monopoly of legal professionals over dispute resolution processes. While lawyers will argue over the virtues of unbundled services, companies like Modria and Airhelp will sweep away the entire dispute resolution system from under their feet.

And it will not end there.

The basic judicial system founded upon a court office, a judge, a multitude of lawyers on each side, hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs, and years and years of legal fights will be challenged by innovative technologies. This arcane judicial system has thus far escaped any real public accountability simply because, for centuries, it remained the only option of resolving disputes without resorting to violence. Modern technology carries the potential to challenge the autocracy of the judicial system and provide more attractive and user-friendly dispute resolution mechanisms to the public. We have no doubt that the existing judicial system has outlived its virtues and will not survive a duel with  technology.

 

Amer Mushtaq: Amer Mushtaq is a Toronto lawyer and the founder of Formative LLP, YouCounsel and YouCounselForums. YouCounsel provides online legal courses in easy to follow steps for everyday people whereas YouCounselForums provides a platform for everyone to share legal knowledge and experience with the judicial system.
About Amer Mushtaq

Amer Mushtaq: Amer Mushtaq is a Toronto lawyer and the founder of Formative LLP, YouCounsel and YouCounselForums. YouCounsel provides online legal courses in easy to follow steps for everyday people whereas YouCounselForums provides a platform for everyone to share legal knowledge and experience with the judicial system.

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