The COVID-19 pandemic has been a life altering experience. In some areas, we have learned the ability to go without luxuries, now inaccessible or difficult to acquire. In others, the importance and required nature of certain elements of our lives have been underlined.
In the scope of legal education in Canada, the learning environment has been drastically altered. No longer gathering and learning side by side socratically in a classroom, Canadian law students are now forced to master material virtually.
Outside of the classroom, the legal ecosystem has been forever altered by the pandemic. The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin noted in an article for The Lawyers Daily, that “it is no secret to anyone that our legal system and its institutions (courts, law practice, legal education, legal regulation, and access to justice) have been gradually breaking down for most of the last 20 years”. In her opinion, COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption and ushering in of new techniques, models, and ideologies.
One of these new ideologies is the importance of legal innovation education and the impacts it has on the ability of new lawyers. Increased education of legal innovation techniques and principles has been shown to improve access to justice issues and assist counsel in procuring case-related research more efficiently and advise their clients with greater efficacy.
The principles of legal innovation and useful tools derived from its philosophy are impactful for all those touched by the law. In my opinion, it should be required that all law students gain proficiency and aptitude in this area before graduation.
Here are three reasons why.
1. A mandatory legal innovation curriculum would be easy to administer virtually, and can easily be tailored to a specific region or province.
In this new COVID-19 age, additions to any mandatory law school curriculum must have the ability to be administered virtually with ease. Legal innovation training, with its roots in internet programs and resources housed in virtual environments, would be successful in a distanced setting.
When innovation is the goal, an exchange of ideas across borders and continents can be incredibly helpful. Many challenges that the legal community (and those who are impacted by it) currently face are not unique to Canada. A worldwide approach that calls on members of the legal profession for input and feedback on new innovative ideas would be incredibly beneficial. This is easily and arguably, best accomplished through a virtual learning environment.
Further, innovative ideas and tools created by law students would ideally have the ability to be customized to a specific jurisdiction. Having a global mindset throughout the educational process would work to provide an array of perspectives. This is easily accomplished in a virtual setting.
2. The payoff is huge.
As a law student, it can be difficult to produce work (memo, term paper, presentation, etc) that can make an impactful difference. We may write a particularly insightful article, or comment on a recent judgment in a manner that resonates with our peers, but due to the nature of the legal education process, this connection is limited.
Legal advice clinics have been a beloved opportunity for law students to achieve the real, tangible impact they may desire. The introduction of mandatory legal innovation education would provide law students with many more chances to make this impact.
In our class, Designing Legal Expert Systems at Thompson Rivers University Faculty of Law, we have spent the past semester building browser-based legal applications (without the need for coding!). Using Neota Logic, my classmates and I have teamed up and identified important issues facing both legal practitioners and the general public, and are in the process of designing a digital resource (think of an in-depth questionnaire) to provide solutions and answers.
My group is currently in the process of producing a mental health resource app for legal practitioners. Our app will work to identify the most critical issues facing the user and will provide specific and tailored advice to assist in the alleviation of symptoms, and the general improvement of their mental health. In my opinion, using Neota Logic in this class is a fantastic example of some of the opportunities for tangible impact created through legal innovation education. Introducing a mandatory legal innovation curriculum would provide an opportunity for all Canadian law students to work creatively to solve important issues facing those in their community.
3. If it continues to be ignored, what will happen?
As mentioned previously, innovation is occurring, whether the legal community is accepting of it or not. The forced adoption of many innovative technologies due to the COVID-19 pandemic has required law firms and law schools to act differently than ever before.
This change is accelerating. Key stakeholders have clearly expressed their desire to implement innovative resources and technologies, as most often, they not only improve the client experience, but also the firm’s profitability. Firms are betting heavily on this change as well, to spearhead new competitive advantages. Like any educational curriculum, updates are required when precedent changes. It is clear that the old roadmap of firm operation is no longer effective, and will be swapped with a new, forward-looking approach.
Canadian law schools must equip their students appropriately, and require legal innovation education for graduation.