The way legal services are delivered in Canada is changing. Increased competition and a demand for lower prices has pressured law firms to slow hiring and deliver their services more efficiently. After finishing my first year at Queen’s Law I started thinking about how law students can help firms meet the demand. It starts with an open-eyes look at where our industry is moving.
The reality is that corporate in-house clients are demanding routine process work be done for less, putting pressure on law firms to deliver their services faster with less overhead. 2012 also marked the first year that non-lawyers are allowed to own law firms in the UK, dramatically expanding the capital available for those firms’ investment and growth.
Here at home, lawyer-only firm ownership still reigns in Canada, but mergers with international players push our largest firms into ever-greater levels of competition. Lawyers-turned-entrepreneurs in Canada are in turn growing their shares in the consumer market by launching online legal services.
New entrants to the market still haven’t quenched the demand for lower legal costs. Canadians face serious access to justice issues, and even middle-class litigants find themselves increasingly forced to represent themselves in court.
How are law students responding to these challenges? Traditional not-for-profit work in legal clinics like Queen’s Legal Aid and Pro-Bono Students Canada is popular while in law school, but how many students continue their pro-bono efforts post graduation? How does this solve the problem for clients who aren’t poor but still can’t afford legal advice?
I believe the change starts with how legal services are delivered. I believe it starts by getting students thinking about innovative ways to bring the law to Canadians.
Law-students for Technology and Innovation (LFTI) is a student-run organization Nikolas Sopow and I created this year at Queen’s Law. We’re passionate about finding better ways to deliver legal services. We’re law students, but we’re not afraid of the changes coming to the Canadian legal scene. Within three weeks we recruited four more executives to our team, and we’re still growing. By 2015 we plan to have LFTI clubs at every law school in Canada.
Our projects this year are as diverse as our leadership team. We’re hosting a speakers’ panel in Winter 2013 titled Technology on the Legal Frontier: Current and Future Ways to Practice Law. We’re fundraising for computer literacy skills in Kingston by hosting a LAN party for video-game enthusiasts. We’re blogging on the latest legal tech to hit app store shelves. And we’re letting everyone know how the delivery of legal services is changing, so our classmates are prepared when they graduate.
If you’re a law student, consider starting a group like LFTI for your class. Being prepared for the changing legal environment in Canada is about more than making a living as a lawyer. It’s about making legal counsel affordable, providing greater access to justice, and ensuring Canadian firms remain competitive in the global market for legal services.
What areas of legal service delivery do you think could be improved? How does legal education need to change in order to keep up? Be creative, and ask tough questions. The innovative advocate is Canada’s legal future.
I have been noticing recently that there have been decisive steps taken against openness when it comes to new devices, and it bothers me. Before I go into this further, let me explain what I mean by “openness”.
In order for any device to be useful, it needs some kind of software. This is true of everything electronic, from calculators, to TV’s, to telephones and to most obviously, computers. In the past few years, there has been an explosion in computer-like devices, that is hardware that has an operating system and which can run software other than what is preloaded.
To use an easy example, take a cell phone. Originally, all the cell phone is programmed to do is make phone calls. Then, someone said “why don’t we put games on it?”. Then, “why not a camera?”. Followed by “why don’t we connect it to the internet?”. Lo and behold, we have smartphones. We can now extend the capabilities of our phones and similar devices in ways that were not imagined by their original designers.
Original multi-purpose phones were relatively open. This was done mostly as a convenience to developers: they did not want to reinvent the wheel by writing a new operating system, so they used one that was time-tested: java. This meant that anything that was created using java mobile edition (J2ME) could probably run on a java-enabled cell phone.
Even the original smartphones were open (“smartphone” is a difficult concept. I’ll refer to anything that connects to the internet and allows user-installed programs as a “smartphone”). Windows Mobile (used to be called Windows CE) allowed developers basically unlimited flexibility in creating and distributing software for Windows Mobile devices. Installing software did not require any reverse-engineering, hacking or any type of security bypasses.
I use the term “openness” to refer to precisely this flexibility. Openness does not mean open source, does not mean free software, does not guarantee any freedoms to users. However, developers have a lot of freedom that they can choose to pass on to their users (or not). They can distribute their creations in any form, on any website, charge fees or not, etc.
Since the introduction of the iphone, there has been a trend in the opposite direction. To use the example of the iphone itself, the only (legal) way for software developers to distribute their wares is through a process that is controlled by Apple from end to end. Apple controls what applications can be distributed, it tracks each user that installs the application, and of course, takes a nice commission from the sale of each app. There are obvious problems with such end-to-end control, including this one.
The problem is that this is not limited to the iphone. Blackberry is doing something similar with App World, although I believe it’s still possible to install apps without appworld. Even the supposedly open source Android platform is jumping on the bandwagon with Android Market.
The only holdout thus far is Windows Mobile probably because the users of those phones are way too used to not having any restrictions on them. We will see what happens once Windows Mobile 7 comes out later this year. I would not be surprised if it has new limitations on the type of software that can be installed.
Of course this is not a problem that is limited to phones. For example, the PSP, a device that is theoretically capable of many computer-like features has been completely locked down and can only play games (that you have to buy and where Sony can take a cut). The Wii has bluetooth functionality that can only work with its own wiimote. Why not other bluetooth devices? This is not even considering upcoming hardware such as the Apple iPad that will mimic the iphone in every way in terms of dealing with third party software.
This is a shame
The main reason I don’t like this is that a lot of potential remains under lock and key. If you look at what the latest iPod Touch is, it’s a computer with 800MhZ, 256MB of RAM, and a 32 (or 64) GB hard disk. I had a computer with similar specs in 2002. My computer in 2002 could do a lot more than my iPod today, even though they are technologically similar. The reason has nothing to do with technology, but has everything to do with poor decisions that keep such devices locked down.
Unfortunately, the current solutions to this problem are quasi-legal at best (downright illegal at worst). It involves a healthy dose of hacking and looking for exploits. This in turn can lead to serious breaches of security when the same hack that can be used to install an unauthorized program is used to distribute a virus (again, an iphone example).
The easiest way to prevent this is to avoid having as many people looking for these kinds of hacks. The overwhelming majority of hackers are not malicious people and would not be hacking if their phones were open to third party software. And even if they were hacking, there would not be a need for a wide dissemination of these hacks. This means that the efforts of people who mean well would not end up in the hands of the malicious.
The Business Case
I am well aware of the fact that companies that release locked down devices see a business opportunity in controlling the software that can be loaded onto them. Indeed taking a cut of every program sold online is a good revenue model. However, opening up these devices will inevitably increase their sales. This is pure common sense: the more a device can do, the more people it attracts.
By the way, I am not saying that hardware manufacturers have to stop selling software. Indeed it may continue to make a lot of sense to sell through a centralized place where users know and trust the source of the program. Opening up the device up to users “at their own risk” though needs to be done. Users need to have control over their devices.
The PC industry has realized a long time ago that openness is the way to go. It allows devices to what was never intended or imagined by the original designers of computers. Who would have through 40 years ago that computers would be used for live DJing or advanced image creation (Traktor and Photoshop, respectively)? The engineers that created modern computers 40 years ago were looking for advanced calculators and processing power. Openness and ingenious software developers did the rest.
It’s time for the same thing to happen to our phones, games, and other devices.
Cross-posted at Lawyerling.ca
Until recently, medium and large firms were the primary adopters of sophisticated practice management software, such as Time Matters produced by LexisNexis, and other “high” technology. This was due to the high cost of adopting cutting-edge technology, such as the need to have an in-house IT department. However, as the Google-Microsoft war heats up, smartphone apps proliferate, open-source projects continue to deliver competitve software, and hardware costs fall, it’s becoming increasingly possible for small firms and sole practitioners to run a high tech practice on little more than ingenuity and a tolerance to change.
From reading law blogs, it appears that Google Apps is the backbone of choice for many such practices. At $50 per user per year, Google Apps provides your firm with custom domain email, chat, video, and voice communication applications; a time-management web application; and a structured wiki and basic website creation application. By comparison, Microsoft Office 2007 Small Business costs $280, and doesn’t provide all of these applications, such as simultaneous online document collaboration (Google Docs). Another popular and free productivity suite for those who do not want to compute in the cloud is OpenOffice.
If you’re not a touch typist and/or are used to dictating, voice-to-text applications like Nuance’s Dragon NaturallySpeaking ($200 USD) can dramatically reduce the time it takes you to compose legal documents. According to Wikipedia,
An average professional typist reaches 50 to 70 words per minute (wpm), while some positions can require 80 to 95 (usually the minimum required for dispatch positions and other typing jobs), and some advanced typists work at speeds above 120.
Two-finger typists, sometimes also referred to as “hunt and peck” typists, commonly reach sustained speeds of about 37 wpm for memorized text, and 27 wpm when copying text but in bursts may be able to reach up to 60 to 70 wpm.
While the world’s fastest speaker, Steve Woodmore, who has achieved a rate of 595 wpm, may be disappointed, Dragon NaturallySpeaking can convert voice to text with 99% accuracy at an impressive 160 wpm. Dragon NaturallySpeaking even offers a legal edition which offers a “preconfigured legal vocabulary that includes over 30,000 legal specific terms and phrases, and [which] even formats legal citations”.
At the start of this school year, I started pitching this software to law students and professors as a great tool for the legal profession and education. I now know about a dozen or so people that are using it and are very pleased.
Smartphone users (and abusers) can now synchronize all of their Google contacts and calendar appointments to their smartphone with a free download of Google Sync.
Also called mini-laptops and sub-notebooks, these computer systems are small (typically with screens under 11″) , cheap (<$400), light (<3 pounds), and low-power (typically a 1.6 GHz Intel Atom CPU). If all you’re doing is word-processing, emailing, and browsing the net, these moveable electronic thinking machines will lighten your load without lightening your wallet. In addition, many benefit from supremely impressive battery life; for example, the Asus Eee PC 1005PE gets up to 14 hours!
“Say hello to my little friend!”
Another way to bring the costs of calling down is voice over internet protocol (VOIP) technology, which allows you to place calls over the internet at extremely low rates. As well, in the US, Google now offers a free service called Google Voice, which offers free SMS and low cost international calls, along with many other impressive features. Perhaps most impressive of these is the ability to create a single phone number that rings all of your phones, wherever they are, at once or in a sequence.
To save some more money on the phone front, replace your fax line and use a service such as MyFax.com ($10 USD/month) to send and receive fascimiles by email; but you’ll need to invest in a scanner ($75+), or have incredibly steady hands, a digital camera, and no qualms about misappropriating technology.
While PCLaw by LexisNexis provides “flexible financial tools that are fine-tuned for law professionals”, it also costs $1140 for a first new user (I wonder if that expense comes pre-entered). For those willing to adapt a generic small-business financial-accounting software to their law practice, open-source software like GnuCashcan be downloaded for free.
“Technology happens, it’s not good, it’s not bad. Is steel good or bad?”
- Andrew Grove, fourth employee and eventual CEO of Intel Corporation.
- Denying third-party application developers access to user information without the user’s express consent in each of the categories the applications wants to access (currently, a user clicks just one button and the application can access all info regardless of whether or not it needs it);
- Giving users the opportunity to provide meaningful consent to retain profile pages after their death (currently there is no such provision that I know of);
- Add information about the privacy of non-users;
- Allow users the option of deleting accounts and all information associated with the account from Facebook’s databases (currently, a user may “deactivate” their account, meaning that the info still stays on Facebook’s servers).
This is indeed a meaningful victory. However, it does raise some interesting questions. Facebook is not the only platform out there that indefinitely maintains the information of its users. Other platforms such as Myspace, twitter, countless small(er) sites such as meetmeinto and the ever expanding vacuum of information called Google.
Are the laws on privacy clear? How do they apply to non-Canadian companies? How can they be meaningfully enforced, especially outside borders? I see Facebook’s agreement to comply with laws as largely a goodwill measure. If the company wanted to dig in its heels and refuse to make any changes, what could the Privacy Commissioner have done? Let’s see if someone can answer this question.
Cross-posted on Lawyerling.ca
People often complain that Canadian copyright law is out of date and that we need a stricter law to protect the artists.
I’d just like to turn to one particularly controversial topic on copyright law today: provisions against the circumvention of DRM (digital locks). With the Copyright Consultation that is currently going on in Canada, that has been pegged as the issue that has seen the most opposition from Canadians thus far.
Bill C-61 (aka the “Canadian DMCA“) may have died, but the digital locks issue is not going away any time soon, because of a particular provision in the WIPO Copyright Treaty (Article 11), signed by Canada, that states:
Contracting Parties shall provide adequate legal protection and effective legal remedies against the circumvention of effective technological measures that are used by authors in connection with the exercise of their rights under this Treaty or the Berne Convention and that restrict acts, in respect of their works, which are not authorized by the authors concerned or permitted by law.
The treaty was ratified by the United States in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) back in 1998. As it stands now, the DMCA makes it illegal for consumers to, for example, remove the encryption on a DVD they have legally purchased so that they can play the video on a portable player. To protect the artists, indeed. I think it’s quite clear who this law benefits.
How important should it be to for Canada to follow through on its treaty obligations, even when so many people have spoken against them? In the case of the WIPO Copyright Treaty, fewer than 50% of countries have ratified it. Is this a simple matter of “the law is the law”, or should more flexibility be afforded here?
As the prevalence of internet-capable smartphones increases, so too does the rate of mistrials.
According to The New York Times,
The use of BlackBerrys and iPhones by jurors gathering and sending out information about cases is wreaking havoc on trials around the country, upending deliberations and infuriating judges.
Last week a juror in a large federal drug trial in Florida admitted to the judge that he had been doing online research on the case. The judge then discovered that eight other jurors had been Googling as well, which forced a mistrial and laid eight weeks of work by federal prosecutors and defence lawyers to waste.
In the same week, an Arkansas court was asked to overturn $12.6 million (USD) judgment, claiming that a juror used Twitter to send updates during the civil trial.
And defence lawyers in the federal corruption trial of a former Pennsylvania state senator demanded that the judge declare a mistrial because a juror had Tweeted that a “big announcement” (the verdict) was coming on Monday.
In the United States and Canada, jurors are not supposed to seek information relevant to the case outside of the courtroom. They must reach their verdict based only on the admissible evidence.
The principle behind this rule is that information presented in the courtroom must pass through a number of filters before reaching the “triers of fact.” These filters are the adversarial system, the law of evidence, and the discretion of a judge. They are intended to enhance the veracity, relevancy, and legality of information presented to jurors.
For instance, the adversarial system creates the opportunity for information presented to jurors to be responded to and challenged by both parties. The reliability of a witness’ testimony can be challenged in the crucible of cross-examination.
But neither party has the opportunity to challenge information gleaned from a juror’s Blackerry, which may be prejudicial and/or just plain false.
Now, using their cellphones, jurors can read the accused’s blog, or examine an intersection using Google Maps, thereby violating the legal system’s rules of evidence. They can also trumpet the contents of the jury’s secret deliberations to the public by Tweeting, blogging, and texting.
According to Douglas L. Keene, president of the American Society of Trial Consultants, “It’s really impossible to control it.”
Mr. Keene said jurors might think they were pursuing justice and the truth by conducting additional research and detective work:
There are people who feel they can’t serve justice if they don’t find the answers to certain questions.
But according to Professor Wellborn, co-author of a handbook on evidence law,
The beauty of the adversarial system [is lost] when the jurors go out on their own.
According to the New York Times,
In the Arkansas case, Stoam Holdings, the company trying to overturn the $12.6 million judgment, said a juror, Johnathan Powell, had sent Twitter messages during the trial. Mr. Powell’s messages included “oh and nobody buy Stoam. Its bad mojo and they’ll probably cease to Exist, now that their wallet is 12m lighter” and “So Johnathan, what did you do today? Oh nothing really, I just gave away TWELVE MILLION DOLLARS of somebody else’s money.”
See relevant Canadian law by clicking “Read more.”
Mr. Wisdom has pointed out how reliant we soon-to-be-lawyers are on technology. I, like him, cannot imagine living without CanLII, electronic library catalogs, and e-laws.
However, there has always been an undercurrent of resistance to technology from the old school bar that somehow – incredibly in my eyes – manages to get by just fine without electronic legal resources. For a long time, printouts of electronic case law and legislation have not been acceptable for use in court.
The general rule was that printouts are unacceptable or at least frowned-upon, especially in Superior Court proceedings, though some leeway was occasionally granted in the interests of expedience.
I am extremely happy today to report that the general rule is changing.
Ontario was the first province to begin publishing its laws online. That happened back in 2001 with the launch of e-laws. That was a progressive move to help make the law more accessible to the public, and indeed, to help keep lawyers up to date on changes that could take time to get published in print.
As of November 30, 2008, the government has gone a step further.
According to a MAG press release, copies of regulations and statutes published on e-laws will now be an official source of law.
Both of the following are official:
- An on-screen display of a statute or regulation viewed on, or downloaded from, the e-Laws website
- A printout of a statute or regulation viewed on, or downloaded from, the e-Laws website.
According to Ontario’s Attorney General, Chris Bentley (a fellow Londoner):
“E-Laws provides Ontarians with easy access to Ontario’s laws. Making e-Laws an official source of law recognizes the reality of today’s modern technological environment. Eliminating our reliance on printed publications not only makes the law more accessible but does so in a cost-effective and environmentally friendly way.”
These changes were made pursuant to a new regulation under the Legislation Act, 2006, [S.O. 2006, c. 21, Sch. F].
Ironically, the regulation (presumably under s. 41(1)) is too new to have been published on the E-Laws website just yet. I haven’t been able to find it!
To follow up on Omar Ha-Redeye‘s post about the ethical challenges of practicing law with new information technology, I received the following interesting excerpt from the CBA newsletter in my email inbox:
Metadata: A cautionary tale
Two lawyers are working together on a contract for a client, using a similar contract prepared for another client and fine-tuning the wording to suit this situation. They have used technology to full advantage, saving the original contract under a new name, tracking changes, and writing comments to each other as the drafts evolved. When the draft is ready, one of the lawyers switches from “Final Showing Mark-up” to “Final”, and sends the document to the client by e-mail.
Imagine their distress when the lawyers find out that the client was able to access the document metadata to learn the name of the other client, read the original document prepared for that client, and see all the changes and comments made.
Not only is this embarrassing, it is a breach of professional ethics.
It’s important to understand that most word processing and other “office suite” programs automatically attach metadata to documents, often without the lawyer’s knowledge. Usually this “automatic” metadata would contain things like: the author’s name; the date the document was last saved; and how much time was spent working on the document.
If the lawyer makes use of commenting or revision tracking features, as described in “cautionary tale” above, the metadata would be rich with all sorts of juicy – and confidential – details that could come to the attention of a client, adversary, or third party. For example, anyone with tech savviness could discover the names of reviewers, the number of revisions, and might even be able to see the hidden reviewers’ comments that do not appear on printed copies of the document.
The CBA’s new “Guidelines for Practicing Ethically with New Information Technologies” recommend that lawyers clear the metadata of their documents before sending them out to the client or adversary, just in case:
Lawyers have an ethical obligation, when transmitting documents electronically, to exercise reasonable care to ensure that clients’ confidential information is not disclosed in the
There are practices that minimize the creation of metadata, as well as ways to remove the
hidden data before distribution or publication so it is not accessible to people for whom it is
not intended. Before removing metadata, lawyers should ensure that there are no legal
requirements to retain the metadata (e.g. discovery obligations).
The new guidelines provide instructions on how to eliminate hidden data, which can be found in Appendix 2 of the document.
(reproduced with the author’s permission)
First-Year Law Student Teaches Ethics to Chinese Delegation
TORONTO – Omar Ha-Redeye, a law student at the University of Western Ontario, presented a seminar on ethical behaviour in disasters to a diplomatic delegation on Nov. 9, 2007.
The Chinese dignitaries were from China, and represented the Commission of Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense (COSTIND). They were in Canada for one week, on a trip to meet with specialists in disaster management and learn from best practices here.
Mr. Ha-Redeye worked internationally in disaster and emergency management prior to starting law at the University of Western Ontario in September 2007. He shared an ethical model he developed in the review of successes and failures of major environmental and unnatural disasters.
The topics covered included the SARS epidemic in Canada, relief to families of Sept. 11, 2001, and the 2004 Tsunami in South-East Asia.
“In the study of ethics, there is no one single right course of action,” said Mr. Ha-Redeye. “What we try to do is present different ethical approaches, and try to reconcile competing needs in an emergent situation.”
Mr. Ha-Redeye explained that in disasters and emergencies there is little time for extensive ethical analysis, requiring professionals to be at least be familiar with ethical theory. The model he presented could also be used in other fields, or in daily situations in life.
First-year law students study ethics in their Spring semester of law at the University of Western Ontario. Western students begin their first class of ethics on Feb. 13, 2008.
“Although I am familiar with ethical concepts, their application specifically to the field of law is something I look forward to,”said Ha-Redeye.
Discussion around ethical behaviour in the legal profession has increased in recent months following the release of a book by a former Dean of Western Law, Phillip Slayton, entitled Lawyers Gone Bad: Money, Sex and Madness in Canada’s Legal Profession.
The training session was held at the Holiday Inn in downtown Toronto, and was hosted by the Foundation for International Training (FIT).
Below: Omar Ha-Redeye offers a session on ethics in disasters to a diplomatic delegation from China (Photo Credit: Omar Ha-Redeye)
Western Law was featured in the current issue of the CBA National magazine for the legal study of ethics. Western was the first law school to offer a mandatory ethics class in Ontario, and the first to have a mandatory course in the first year.
Ethics is usually more uniformly required in other jurisdictions.
The Law Society of Upper Canada is debating whether ethics should be a mandatory subject in Ontario.