Ontario’s new technology challenge

One of the recommendations of the Legal Education Foundation’s 2014 report on digital delivery for those on low incomes was that: ‘the Lord Chancellor and the Ministry of Justice should take a lead in the delivery of digital legal services by fostering and celebrating provision, for example through national annual awards’.

Well, while we were waiting for implementation, Canada has stolen a march on us. A  partnership between the Ministry of the Attorney General and the Legal Innovation Zone (LIZ) at Ryerson University in downtown Toronto has set up an Ontario Access to Justice Challenge.

This is what is on offer:

Six startups will be selected and awarded access to the Legal Innovation Zone for a four-month residency and customized programming, to begin August 2, 2016. At the end of four months, the startups will participate in a ‘Demo Day’ event on or about November 25, 2016, where three of the six startups will be selected and awarded seed money of $25,000, $15,000, and $10,000 [given that the pound is sinking fast, British readers can probably reckon on halving these figures for the GBP alternative) for 1st place, 2nd place, and 3rd place, respectively. Each of these startups will also be invited to stay in the Legal Innovation Zone for an additional four months.

As part of their residency, Legal Innovation Zone startups will receive:

•A four-month customized program focused on making productive business connections to prospective clients, partners, sector experts, and investors

•Dedicated workspace and resources

•Mentorship and coaching from mentors, advisors, and technology experts

•Special recognition provided by the Legal Innovation Zone through their extensive network

The LIZ was established in April last year. It represents an interesting contrast in style, though perhaps not function, with the university-based programme to the University of Montreal’s Cyberjustice Laboratory. This is the rather Anglo-Saxon world of the business-oriented incubator. Its director, Hersh Perlis talks in enthusiastic terms:

We have just celebrated our first birthday but in that short year have proven leaders in the legal innovation space (18 active legal tech startups working in our incubator) and in the Access to Justice space (we led a four month Family Reform Community Collaboration which has been well received by experts across the board – , so this was truly a natural partnership that made sense.  LIZ is also affiliated with the DMZ, who is ranked the #1 university business incubator in North America and #3 in the world, so we have the resources and connections to properly pull this off (The DMZ has run numerous competitions in the last few years).

Hersh Perlis continues:

LIZ is a co-working space and Canada’s first incubator focused on building better legal solutions for the consumers of legal services. The LIZ helps support, foster and develop solutions and technologies that aim to improve legal services and the justice system.

We achieve our goals by:

1 – Encouraging and Supporting Entrepreneurial Activity – We provide co-working space, support and resources to companies and individuals working on their own ideas for justice and legal system solutions.

2 – R&D for Legal Solutions – We partner with organizations, governments and the legal community to support their own legal innovation agendas by assembling collaborative working groups to tackle challenges.

3 – Designing and Developing the 21st Century Justice System – Identify long standing pain points in the justice system and bring together partners to build smarter, faster and better solutions.

The funding for the challenge comes jointly from the University and the Ministry. Hersh Perlis’ final comment was the:

Access to justice is internationally one of the most significant challenges facing the legal profession and it is rare, yet encouraging, to see a government take a leadership role as Ontario has in supporting the A2J Challenge.  Engaging entrepreneurs, students, innovators and legal professionals to share their ideas is a unique and innovative way drive innovation and deliver legal services faster, simpler and more affordably.  We believe this unique approach will unleash innovators to deliver the justice Ontarians and businesses need in the way that they need it.

We get the results of the challenge in early August. It may or may not spawn a major advance. But, it is certainly an indication of the kind of momentum which may help to get things moving. And it is good to see a Ministry concerned with justice being prepared to put up some seedcorn money for a speculative venture like this. If only our own Ministry of Justice could have got going earlier: no chance now, of course, with all attention on pulling a rabbit out of a Brexit hat.

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