The Power of Perspectives

The Canadian Bar Association

Emily Alderson

Legal Futures round-up: March 14, 2016

March 14 2016 14 March 2016


Inspired by the CBA Legal Futures Initiative, which released its comprehensive report, Futures: Transforming the Delivery of Legal Services in Canada in August 2014, here’s our biweekly round-up of noteworthy developments, opinions and news in the legal futures space as a means of furthering discussion about our changing legal marketplace.

Other than today’s news that Deloitte Canada is acquiring Conduit Law, CBA’s Legal Futures Initiative and the Canadian Bar Review hosted a symposium on March 4, called Transforming Legal Education and Training in Canada: Learning Across Life Stages. The event brought together legal educators, students, and practitioners for a day of brainstorming. Reforming legal education also made the cover story of the most recent edition of the National: cover star Annie Rochette, president of the Canadian Association of Law Teachers, says we need to teach law differently, starting with a re-think of mandatory competencies that law schools must teach.

In the United States, the most recent edition of the Law School Survey of Student Engagement tracked the impact of debt on law students. Unsurprisingly, law students are a highly stressed group, with over 50 per cent worried about debt; the study also found that racialized students are more stressed than their caucasian counterparts.

Ottawa legal entrepreneur Samuel Witherspoon, featured in the CBA’s recent Do Law Differently guide, has created a new virtual-lawyer app to guide users through divorce. Samuel is the founder and CEO of Miralaw, a legal analytics firm: the divorce app, Thistoo, uses these legal analytics to give individuals in uncontested divorces a better understanding of their potential court outcome.

A new report by the Criminal Lawyers Association of Canada found women are leaving the practice of criminal law much faster than men. Low pay, long hours, lack of maternity leave and sexist treatment were cited as factors incentivizing women to move to other practice settings. Law Times editor Gabrielle Giroday says lawyers in all practice areas should look to the report for suggestions on how to retain female lawyers. 

An American law graduate is suing her alma mater for allegedly misrepresenting employment statistics in an effort to lure students. Nearly ten years after graduating from the Thomas Jefferson School of Law, Anna Alaburda has never held a paying full-time legal job. Her case is the first of over a dozen similar cases to reach trial, with all but one other case thrown out by the courts.

Quebec legal clinic Juripop offered free legal advice sessions in a Montreal metro station recently, seeing 57 per cent more people than their inaugural session last year. Founder Marc-Antoine Cloutier says the response reflects ongoing gaps in the judicial system, and notes that even some of the day’s participants with strong cases will not pursue legal solutions due to cost.

Tracey Lindberg’s novel Birdie has been adopted as a textbook in four Canadian law schools as a method of exploring indigenous legal systems. Birdie is the first novel for Lindberg, who is also a law professor, and the book is currently part of the annual CBC competition Canada Reads.

The European Union has thrown its weight behind artificial legal intelligence, pledging 1.2 million euros to a four-year project called Mining and Reasoning with Legal Texts (MIREL). The project involves several universities in the EU as well as academics from Australia, Japan, China, Argentina and South Africa.

A new version of the Quebec Code of Civil Procedure emphasizes cooperative dispute resolution processes such as mediation, arbitration and conciliation. The update aims to reduce delays in the justice system.

Ryerson’s Legal Innovation Zone published a final report on their family law dispute resolution community collaboration project. Over four months, the LIZ held five sessions with over 200 community members, resulting in seven prototypes of applications and services designed to assist with affordable family law dispute resolution outside the courtroom.

Responding to the CBA’s recent publication, Do Law Differently: Futures for Young Lawyers, Omar Ha-Redeye says we need to teach law differently to better prepare students for practice. While some existing law schools are making changes, brand new law schools, like the one proposed by Ryerson University in Toronto, offer an exciting opportunity to create future-oriented programs.

Debate continues in England and Wales over the impeding separation of the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority and the representative body for solicitors, the Law Society. The Law Society currently receives most of its funding for its public interest work from the mandatory professional fees paid to the SRA. The government has hinted that this transfer will stop when the two bodies are made independent of one another and membership in the Law Society becomes voluntary – thereby significantly lowering professional fees, but cutting off an important source of public interest legal work.

American legal tech consultant D Casey Flaherty is making peace with the assertion that artificial intelligence will replace lawyers. After attending the Thomson Reuters Legal Innovation Summit and witnessing machines like Watson in action, he is convinced that machines will redirect human resources to “higher value activities.” At the same time, legal tech entrepreneurs aren’t going to be the ones defining the new roles for lawyers, so lawyers need to start getting involved and speaking up.

The CBC highlights the plight of the middle class in the legal system – too rich to receive legal aid, yet too poor to afford average legal fees that easily top $300 per hour. The eligibility for legal aid funding in Ontario is just over $22,00 for a two-person family – or $7,000 below the government declared “low-income” line. Meanwhile, statistics show that litigants who hire lawyers receive, on average, better outcomes.

Laura Fraser reports for the CBC on options for individuals who can’t afford a lawyer. Legal aid services cover the lowest earners in every province, while Quebec has been promoting European-style legal cost insurance. In Ontario, non-profit organization JusticeNet connects families that earn less than $59,000 with lawyers willing to provide services at lower costs.

University of Toronto law student Duncan Melville advocates for shorter, more flexible routes to lawyer qualification in Canada. Canadian students have to undertake more years of training than their American or British counterparts to become lawyers. He cites the Twitter hashtag #3Lol as an expression of the ease and redundancy of third year studies. A two-year JD program “would improve the affordability and accessibility of the profession” and “provide students with the option of returning to the workforce sooner.”

Daniel Fish explains why Canadian firms are finally getting on the offshoring bandwagon by sending legal work to South Africa. South African schools are producing large numbers of English-speaking common-law graduates in need of work, and the exchange rate means South Africa lawyers can earn good salaries while Canadian clients save up to 50 per cent on services such as document review.

In the UK, the Bar Council is speaking out against proposals to put more dispute resolution online, saying online courts would hinder the professional development of young barristers. The comments come in response to a 2015 judicial report that supported online dispute resolution for small claims. The Law Society, the representative body for solicitors, has previously spoken out against the proposal as well. Meanwhile, the government is moving forward with plans to pilot online dispute resolution with support from the highest echelons of the judiciary.


Shannon Achimalbe profiles four types of legal jobs that hinder professional development. The legal job market in the US is tight, and graduates are often ready to settle for less-than-prefect jobs. Achimalbe points to document review, short-term positions, legal “mills”, and non-legal jobs as potential pits that prevent new lawyers from gaining the skills and experience they need to advance, creating precarious working situations where workers stay in lower positions just to pay the bills. 


Licensed under Creative Commons by Steve A Johnson

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