Skip to Content

Faster, cheaper, simpler

Technology can help make justice more accessible — if lawyers can reboot how they deliver legal services.


In September 2014, a group of 10 Canadians sent an open letter to the judiciary. It was a scathing indictment of the situation facing self-represented litigants. 

“When you meet us, please do not assume that we are enjoying ourselves — we are not. Please do not assume that we have chosen to represent ourselves because we believe that we can be brilliant trial lawyers. The most important (and simple) reason that we are representing ourselves is that we cannot afford — or can no longer afford — the cost of legal services.”

The high cost of legal advice and the struggling legal aid system is shutting many potential litigants out of the legal process. They’re confronted with a system shrouded in an opaque layer of arcane procedure, fusty bureaucracy, and impenetrable vocabulary. And they find a profession that still fiercely protects its historic status. 

“We are a profession that loves its traditions,” says Chris Bentley, executive director of the Law Practice Program at Ryerson University. “And a profession that has been very slow to innovate — to embrace even the change that we take for granted in other parts of our life.”

Bentley, whose mantra is “faster, cheaper, simpler,” is part of a new wave of legal innovators who want to show a change-averse profession how technology can make legal services more accessible.

Consider:  Why can’t courts schedule matters electronically? “When you make an appointment with a doctor,” Bentley says, “you don’t go once a month to a ‘doctor assignment court’ and wait there while someone opens the book and decides when your next procedure can be done. So why do we need to do that in the law?” 

Technology can reduce the slow pace and high cost of litigation in many areas, he points out. Why not Skype instead of conducting pre-trial conferences face to face? “That should be the main option — not the rare option,” he adds. “Think of the savings to the client.”

That kind of thinking has produced a movement to make both legal services and legal information more accessible and democratic using technology.  

At the New York-based startup Shake, for example, founder Abe Geiger hopes to take routine contract work out of the hands of $350/hour professionals, and automate it. He’s created an elegant web and mobile app that allows people to quickly create, share and digitally sign contracts and agreements. Templates are available for non-disclosure agreements, hiring contracts for freelancers, lending money, release forms and licensing, investment in startups — or you can use the platform to create your own contract. It makes the process “cheaper, easier and more user friendly,” Geiger says, adding it’s also mobile — accessible anytime, anywhere.

Many of Shake’s users are people who would not otherwise hire a lawyer. If you lend $300 to a friend, you’d usually rely on a verbal agreement and a handshake; Shake makes it quick and simple to get something in writing. Shake provides ‘typical’ contracts that use the standard, boilerplate terms that are common to most contracts of that type. “We tried really hard to make the terms neutral,” Geiger says. 

Canlii, a rich online repository of Canadian court judgments, statutes and regulations, is a banner example of efforts to make law more accessible and more transparent. Colin Lachance, the outgoing president and CEO, has discovered that its user base is increasingly comprised of non-lawyers. “Sixty per cent of the traffic comes from people who don’t regularly engage with the law,” he says.

Now, lawyers and non-lawyers alike take the online service for granted. The organization has ambitions to eventually include every statute since Confederation; its sister site, Canlii Connects, houses high-quality legal commentary on cases. What’s more, the site is free for end-users (although every lawyer in Canada funds Canlii through their law societies to the tune of $37 per year.)


Finding efficiencies

Of course, people will still need to hire lawyers: No amount of hi-tech solutions will remove the need for face-to-face meetings with clients and serious legal analysis by qualified professionals. Technology, however, can help lawyers who are serious about finding efficiencies and reducing costs to their clients.

Some of them are even taking workflow productivity lessons from fast food giants.

Take the simple act of ordering a Happy Meal: A cashier punches the relevant button; instead of sending an elegant email or quick fax, three electronic orders are simultaneously fired out at the speed of light to the fries station, the soda station, and the burger station. Timers indicate the deadlines for each component of the order. An alarm sounds to notify the manager if part of the order is delayed. The price (which is immune to variations in how long that particular burger takes to cook) is processed automatically and entered into the accounting system. 

Andrew Currier, co-founder of the patent and IP firm PCK, uses that example to demonstrate how his firm’s management process has been streamlined. If a client comes in and requests a U.S. trademark, for example, the relevant electronic requests are sent automatically to a clerk, a professional, accounting, and a manager. “There’s a pri­oritiza­tion of everybody’s tasks,” Currier says. “The production group has to spend very little time on the financial aspect of it.” That time starts to add up when there are hundreds of “orders” in the system.

Currier, who also trained as an engineer, does not mind getting his hands dirty. In fact, he spent countless hours adapting software to suit his firm’s workflow. “I think there’s a sense that tech was beneath the lawyer,” he says. 

“That’s why secretaries type and IT people from community colleges come and fix your computer. It wasn’t seen as revenue-generating work… I should be billing; I shouldn’t be tinkering under the hood,” he says. And although some of his colleagues were initially reluctant to adapt, the changes have paid off.  “Costs to the clients have been reduced,” he adds. “We still make a healthy margin, and we’re still growing in the economic downturn.”

Still, his firm has a very different feel. His office is largely paper-free. Currier describes the environment as almost like an engineering shop floor. Precious real estate isn’t devoted to shelves filled with leather-bound volumes. “This is not The Good Wife. Clients also have to stop expecting glamour if they are also focused on efficiency and tight cost management.”

Getting the workflow right comes first, Chris Bentley says:  Forms and rules that are part of a paper-bound system cannot be simply transplanted onto a computer. “That’s never going to work — ever. You simplify the process. You cut out the paper, cut out the steps — get to the decision points faster — then you use technology to support that.”

Despite their best efforts, innovators and tech entrepreneurs still face barriers in Canada, including the prohibition on investment in law firms by non-lawyers. Australia, the UK and the United States have already relaxed these rules and proponents believe it will enable more serious innovation and investment in technology. The CBA Legal Futures Initiative recommends investment in law firms by non-lawyers be permitted on a carefully regulated basis.. 

Bentley believes the profession must accept that change is coming. “If we don’t find ways to deliver our services faster, more effectively, in the way people want, that job is going to be taken from us — by others.” Lawyers must get involved in the entrepreneurial conversation, he adds. “We don’t have the luxury of time on this issue.” 


Colin Lachance 

Former President and CEO of CanLII (as of April 30, 2015)

Name your must-have tech tool (other than your phone or tablet) 

• The RFID key tag for Bridgehead coffee in Ottawa. (Proving that the best tech is the one that supports a critical need, I use this tag for my daily espresso and cookie runs.)

What keeps you up at night?  

• I do worry about great projects and ideas falling short of their potential if they don’t reach scale or a needed inflection point before supporters move on to the next thing.  

What's the next big trend in the legal marketplace? 

• Institutional commitment to simplifying dispute resolution – keep an eye on the Civil Resolutions Tribunal in B.C. and the pending requirement under the Quebec Code of Civil Procedure that parties must consider dispute resolution before going to court.  

How can a lawyer think like an innovator? 

• By starting from the client’s perspective. Identify all the irritants or friction the client experiences in dealing with you and find ways to eliminate as many as possible.


Abe Geiger 

Shake, Inc., Founder & CEO

Name your must-have tech tool (other than your phone or tablet)

• Google Docs (specifically for collaboration around documents and spreadsheets)

What keeps you up at night?

• Other than my daughter...  Making money!  Legal technology has historically been sold top-down to law firms and large companies with large budgets. We are taking a bottom-up approach. We think ‘freemium’ is the right model for our product, but you can't be 100 per cent sure until free users actually convert to paying customers.

What’s the next big trend in the legal marketplace?

• Bottom-up technology adoption will drive efficiency and transparency. Whether you are in-house counsel at a big company or a solo practitioner, clients are increasingly tech savvy and are demanding more for less.  Those who resist and try to cling to the status quo will suffer.  

How can a lawyer think like an innovator?

• Think about the things that threaten your business the most then find ways to embrace those things rather than fighting against them.  


Andrew Currier

co-founder, PCK

Name your must-have tech tool (other than your phone or tablet) 

• Four monitors: in a paperless office they provide much-needed screen real estate.

What keeps you up at night?  

• People think we’re not real because we don’t look like The Good Wife.  

What's the next big trend in the legal marketplace? 

• The ‘big firm’ model is over. Seismic changes are coming that will make law unrecognizable. 

How can a lawyer think like an innovator? 

• Try to see the world through their clients’ eyes: Stop thinking like a lawyer.


Futures: Transforming the delivery of legal services in Canada

Here is an excerpt from the CBA Futures Initiative report on the role of innovation in the changing legal profession.

Based on new service offerings that we are already experiencing in Canada and elsewhere, Futures anticipates that the following will continue to drive innovation: 

• new structures for delivering legal services (e.g. ABSs); 

• new ways of lawyers working together and with non-lawyers (e.g. MDPs); 

• new forms of law firm management (including the use of non-lawyer business professionals); 

• new services for clients; 

• new ways of bundling or disaggregating services; 

• new technologies; 

• new business processes; 

• new billing arrangements; 

• new legal curricula; 

• new career choices; 

• new ways for providing access to legal services; and 

• new attitudes and perspectives

Innovation must not compromise the fundamental values of the profession and protections of the public, so it must be supported by complementary innovations in regulation. There must also be innovation in court processes and decision-making bodies. 

An important test of the value of any innovation will be its impact on access to legal services. If more Canadians are able and willing to use lawyers and the justice system for their legal needs, then the legal profession will have 

responded to the expressed needs of clients and potential clients, who today indicate that legal services are too costly for them to access except in the most dire of circumstances. 

Innovation cannot only serve the top echelons of the legal marketplace; the profession’s duty to act in the public interest requires it to do more in transforming access to legal services.

For the complete report, visit