Education bridges divide between lawyers and legal innovators | Ridhey Gill
Wednesday, July 22, 2020 @ 1:10 PM | By Ridhey Gill
While it can’t be denied that progress has been made through advances in legal tech and emerging trends rooted in a drive for change in law, the legal industry is far from perfect.
According to a report from The Action Group on Access to Justice (TAG) 40 per cent of Ontarians believe there is an access to justice issue, 64 per cent believe the justice system is broken, and 78 per cent believe the justice system is old fashioned (TAG, 2016). When the pandemic forced law firms to go online there was hope that it would spark the need to change the way legal services are delivered, yet accessibility still remains a significant issue.
This begs the question: is the legal industry where it should be? A 21st century legal system should be doing a much better job than this. A significant part of this issue is that there is a divide between lawyers and legal innovators when we need lawyers who are legal innovators, and this starts at the beginning of the pipeline — legal education.
Let’s take a look at the structure for how our legal industry is shaped.
In order to practise law in Canada you must 1) attend law school for three years; 2) complete articling at a law firm; 3) complete bar examinations, and 4) be hired back from the firm you’ve articled at (or at least hope to be). The training and development of lawyers starts in law school, at the beginning of the process. It is in those three years of law school that students are being shaped and prepared to practise law, where they will take their learning with them throughout the remainder of the process of becoming a lawyer, and will then shape the industry that they practise in.
Breaking it down in this way makes it clear that redesign is needed at the very first step — legal education and training — in order to funnel change directly into the legal industry. Innovation is necessary so that legal services can be delivered in a way that best serves consumers.
Legal education redesign includes teachings on diversity and inclusion and why legal innovation is necessary and what it entails. Students should understand accessibility issues that exist in law and be equipped with the knowledge and tools on how to better serve communities once they become lawyers. Otherwise, how will we improve in the industry?
When law schools adapt their programming to be more reflective of the 21st century needs of our legal system, we will build new generations of legal professionals who will be better trained to create a more diverse and inclusive industry. Legal tech and innovation allow for better, faster and more affordable service and being well-versed in these topics at the law school stage will greatly benefit incoming lawyers in fixing the access to justice issue that we have faced for so long.
These same legal professionals will also be well equipped in understanding accessibility flaws in law and can use their knowledge in legal technologies, innovation and diversity and inclusion to deliver legal services in an improved way to a broader range of communities.
Ryerson Law is preparing to launch its inaugural program in September 2020 and is aiming to change the approach to legal education. “Designed for the lawyer of the future,” Ryerson Law has built a program that it says will prepare students with the necessary tools to adapt to the needs of a 21st century legal system.
In addition to having its pillars based on innovation, technology, access to justice and diversity and inclusion, it has redesigned its curriculum to train practice-ready lawyers. Opting out of the traditional articling method, Ryerson’s law school will integrate practical experience within the three years that it runs with a mandatory placement in third year and the implementation of “intensive” courses. “Intensives” run during the first week of each semester in the program, and each intensive will focus on a different topic. Some topics include technology, coding and finance. All of these elements of the curriculum come together to make it a program that is aiming to pave the path for innovation in the industry.
This practical education and training will be significant in preparing practice-ready lawyers to hit the ground running upon graduating from law school and get straight to work in driving innovation.
The new generation of lawyers will play a crucial role in impacting change in the legal industry, which is why the training that we receive is as equally important in preparing us with the necessary skills that we will need to advance said change. Developing knowledge and skill sets in various areas such as innovation, legal tech, diversity and inclusion, and access to justice in addition to learning about the law is what incoming law students need embedded into our education to prevent inertia in the industry.
With the right training we will be prepared to launch ourselves into the industry and lead differently, funnelling the change that is so desperately needed.
In 10 years I hope to be practising in an industry that leverages technology and innovative practices to create accessibility on all levels, and I hope my legal education will leave me well equipped to navigate that process.
Ridhey is a member of Ryerson Law’s inaugural class and was formerly the Startup Experience Associate at the Legal Innovation Zone (LIZ). She documents her journey towards becoming an atypical lawyer on her website and centres her work around creating a more diverse, inclusive and accessible legal industry.
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