The following guest post was written by John Wires. John is part of the Foredex initiative to have all lawyers in Ontario connected online. He practices corporate commercial litigation at Wires Jolley LLP (www.wiresjolleyllp.com) in Toronto.
I read about this project and was impressed with its broad implications for virtual law practice and greater access to justice in Canada. Could an initiative like this be duplicated in the States? Some court systems here are attempting to take part of the process online, but nothing on this scale that integrates legal research, case law, local rules, etc. in one online space with regular contributors and a strong online community. This is something to watch. A big “thank you” to John for sharing this initiative.
The legal system in Canada is facing a crisis. In Ontario, the average cost of a trial is now well over $60,000. Courts are backlogged with 80,000 cases being filed each year and less than 300 judges to hear and manage them. Despite numerous reports by the Attorney General the courts have been slow to adopt appropriate technology to manage cases, digitize and automate the claims process and interact with lawyers.
Likewise, lawyers fees are often making litigation prohibitive for middle and lower income families and individuals.
Noticing a similar trend in Europe and the United States, best selling author Richard Susskind now urges lawyers to ask themselves what elements of their current workload could be undertaken more quickly, more cheaply, more efficiently, or to a higher quality using different and new technologies and methods of working. He argues that the market is unlikely to tolerate expensive lawyers for tasks that can be better discharged with support of modern systems and techniques.
He claims that the legal profession will be driven by two forces in the coming decade; by a market pull towards the commoditization of legal services, and by the pervasive development and uptake of new and disruptive legal technologies. The threat here for lawyers is clear – their jobs may well be eroded or even displaced. At the same time, for entrepreneurial lawyers, Susskind foresees quite different law jobs emerging which may be highly rewarding, even if very different from those of today.
In Ontario (as in the Untied States), we have already begun to see the “commoditization of legal services” which Susskind wrote about. The
rise of online service providers (such as MyLegalBriefCase.com for small claims litigation and legal document providers such as LegalZoom.com) are becoming more attractive to those who can’t afford lawyers and access to the justice system. Yet, few lawyers have ventured into reducing costs by setting up virtual legal practices (Cognition LLP and Sapna Law being the early adopters in Canada).
The second element to Susskind’s prediction is, in simpler terms, that innovation will start to occur within the profession to make lawyers more efficient. That is, as firms move away from the billable hour, they will be under an immense pressure to become better and quicker at what they do. They will need powerful legal information at the tips of their fingers, on demand, in real time. The paradigm shift will (and already has) opened a massive demand from legal practitioners on software providers, e-discovery solution providers and the overall supply of legal information and cloud services.
Foredex is an initiative in Ontario with IBM software being used to privately connect lawyers enabling them to collaboratively build a province wide knowledge base. Conceptually, it is like rolling out Wikipedia, Facebook and Dropbox in a central online space with access granted to each and every lawyer in Ontario. Lawyers are free to build on the knowledge base, upload precedent document, contribute to wikis and comment on forums. The project foresees an era were legal research is quickly and effectively done in one online space. It’s an environment where lawyers network with other lawyers, stay up to date on the latest case law and trends; without having to rely on list servers or other dated forms of communication.
Individual communities are slowly being established by practice group and area of law. For example, a powerful wiki on the Rules of Civil Procedure with hyperlinks to other pages with case law and commentary are making textbooks less relevant.
Another beta community includes a collection of legal submissions (briefs) filed with the courts in the latest cases coming out of the Ontario Court of Appeal. Each legal brief (or what we refer to as a “factum” in Ontario) is tagged by issue and made fully text searchable. This allows lawyers to see the latest research on particular areas of the law.
Communities are run and moderated by practice professionals, professors and in some instances, law students. The end game is to have communities with entire textbooks online in a fully text searchable wiki. While the number of online communities will be endless, spanning across all practice groups, the project is currently in a beta phase while content is built and information scanned into the online environment.
Inspired in part by Susskind’s prediction that lawyers will have to adopt the right technology to keep themselves efficient and relevant in the future, the project has the lofty goal of providing a singular solution for lawyers in their quest for the right information, fully text searchable updated and built in real time.
The initiative will be the first of its kind to centralize a knowledge base shared and built by the entire legal profession in Ontario. If the Ontario Bar and judicial system are to succeed in matching the pace of innovation in the private sector, online collaboration and an integrated platform for interaction between lawyers is a must. The days of searching through old text books with outdated cases will be a thing of the past.