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Focus: Legal incubators help develop, market tools

|Written By Marg. Bruineman

Amina Juma hadn’t been in law school very long before she recognized the role technology could play in law.

Now in her third year at Osgoode Hall Law School, Juma is also actively developing a web-based tool to help self-represented litigants access the legal information they require.

And she’s doing it through the help of Ryerson’s Legal Innovation Zone (LIZ), which was launched as the country’s first legal incubator last year.

“I thought there was a huge opportunity out there,” she says.

“I would like to continue on where I can explore law and technology.”

In 2015, Canadians developed two legal incubators that help companies create innovative tools for the legal profession and bring them to market.

Both are assisting this process by sourcing relevant experience and expertise, and sometimes money, to help make legal startups viable.

LIZ is part of a network of incubators, or zones, at Ryerson University.

Each specializes in a sector poised for growth.

The concept is that the zones help to support entrepreneurs, while they develop innovative tools and businesses in their respective sectors.

Another incubator, MaRS LegalX, was also created to connect the practical side of law with technology, and create innovative businesses. LegalX also forms partnerships with lawyers, law firms, and businesses interested in driving change.

Both LIZ and MaRS LegalX are legal clusters existing within larger organizations that have been helping entrepreneurs working to develop viable businesses.

“This really is like a global innovation hub,” says Aron Solomon, innovation lead for LegalX and senior advisor for education technology at MaRS.

LegalX is part of the larger MaRS project, which had been launched a decade-and-a-half earlier as an innovation hub working with technology in several sectors, including health.

Last June, LegalX was introduced in the Toronto facility. Solomon worked in education technology before he joined LegalX, and he saw potential for the legal sector.

The LegalX advisory board is rich with experience in technology and law, he says.

It helps to connect people interested in doing new things with those who could help them.

And, Solomon adds, it has also managed to connect entrepreneurs with capital investment. Within the first six months, LegalX startups raised $3 million to help get their businesses off the ground.

“I think we have made huge inroads for capital and early-stage funding,” he says.

Investment fuels everything, says Solomon, and it is especially important in the early stages.

Law firm McCarthy Tétrault LLP also developed a partnership with LegalX to help companies to pilot their technology by working with the firm’s lawyers.

The firm will also work on its legal solutions with LegalX to drive better outcomes for its clients.

Monica Goyal, an electrical engineer who became a lawyer, developed both a technical legal tool, My Legal Briefcase, as well as Aluvion Law, a legal practice that combines technology innovation in legal services delivery for businesses. Speaking from experience, she says entrepreneurs need good guidance to develop their businesses.

Goyal considers herself lucky because she was able to tap into Carleton University’s business incubator, Lead To Win. She says mentors and feedback can help steer the work, and those with experience can make important business introductions. She sees a great deal of value in incubators specifically geared for the legal market.

“They keep you on track and keep you going forward, bring context to bear,” she says.

At Ryerson, LIZ continues to drive change and help more businesses develop.

In January, an additional 14 companies moved in to work on developing new legal products, getting access to the advice they require. In addition to incubating businesses, LIZ aims to help existing organizations bring new ideas to life.

And its goal is also to play a role in developing a justice system for the 21st century.

“The world needs an innovative legal system,” says Chris Bentley, executive director of LIZ and the Law Practice Program, also based at Ryerson University.

For example, Bentley says LIZ launched a workshop called Reforming Family Law, which ran in five sessions. The idea was to come up with a sensitive, non-confrontational approach to meet the needs of families before going to court in Ontario.

The goal of the four-month collaboration was to come up with solutions for families that don’t require government funding or rule changes.

The result is a tool that will be available to the public and is expected to be delivered to Ontario’s attorney general this month. Overall, Bentley, a former attorney general in the Dalton McGuinty Liberal government, aims to get the profession to consider its future. He likens law to medicine — what was good in the past may be vastly improved today.

“I’m encouraged there are risk takers,” says Bentley.

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