Forced Change: Get With It or Get Left Behind

I first started working around real estate law and conveyancing in 2009.  At that time, the Land Title Office had been accepting electronic filing (e-filing) documents for a number of years, which had replaced the process before, physically land filing all documents at the appropriate registry.  There were a number of lawyers when I started who refused to e-file.  They were used to land filing.  I couldn’t understand it.  For a real estate office in North Vancouver to help someone buy a house in Kamloops, you could hit “submit” from your office or you could literally pay someone to go to the Kamloops registry and stand in line to file the application in person.  It seems like a pretty easy decision which one of those is more conducive to making money and not wasting time. But nevertheless, change is hard. A few years after that, around 2013, land filing became obsolete, and some lawyers never practiced real estate law again.

7 years later, I still work in a real estate firm. In March, the Land Title Office advised lawyers and notaries alike who practice real estate law that e-filing (which requires the used of Adobe Acrobat DC) is being replaced by Web Filing.   I have known about this since I returned to work after exams in April.  I knew this was coming. But I have done nothing, until today, to try and learn how to use the new system. I only tried today because I read some of these blog posts and realized I’m being part of the problem. Well that, and our e-filing applications started saying “this version of the form is being phased out” as of Thursday of last week, so I knew the end was near.

Why is it that although I know change is made for a reason, whether that’s to increase efficiency, help solve common mistakes or help make people’s lives easier, I still find it more of a hassle than a help?  I have been using the same process for 10 years and I know that process inside and out. Until that notice on my application that the end was coming, I had been feeling completely fine about not learning the new system. Of the 300 deals we have done over the past few months, only one was done through Web Filing.  So, I wasn’t alone.   The majority of firms were just like us: used to what we were used to with no desire to change until absolutely necessary.

Taking this class has made me realize how many areas of law could be helped by apps and more importantly, how much time could be saved. The number of times I’ve had to answer questions about what types of transactions GST gets paid on, it almost makes me upset thinking there could be a way for someone to find the answer themselves in a few short questions.  COVID-19 has created opportunities for delivery of legal services that were unheard of prior. The Land Title Office, during the pandemic, has allowed for videoconference signing with clients.  There are many additional requirements but it’s still possible where it was not before.

Between applications for easy access to information and lawyers being forced to embrace change and get uncomfortable more often, I think firms with staff and lawyers more able to respond quickly will have an upper hand.  Eventually, it will either be change, or get left behind.

Future Kamloops Mental Health Court … With Apps?

Becca Dickson

There are more than 20 designated mental health courts in Canada, none of which are in BC. Mental health courts are typically available to people who have been charged with a crime and who have mental health issues that relate to the criminal behaviour. TRU Law Professor Ruby Dhand and Kamloops lawyer Michelle Stanford are working on a proposal for a mental health court in Kamloops.

Mental health courts intend to divert people with mental health issues away from the criminal justice system and towards treatment and various supports in the community. To be sustainable, the court must be inexpensive to run, and have a measurable impact on the individual/community that it serves.

The future Kamloops mental health court could benefit from an app which streamlined its admission process. Below, I use the Nova Scotia mental health court’s admission criteria and statistics to outline why.

The Nova Scotia mental health court (now called the Dartmouth Wellness Court)  has been around for 10 years. In order for someone to participate in the court, they must be referred and deemed elibile to participate. The eligibility criteria include:

  • Being over 18 years old
  • Living in the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM)
  • Having a substantial connection to the HRM (for example – attending school in the area)
  • Having a mental disorder that is a recognized serious and persistent mental illness and is substantially connected to the offence.
  • Crown attorney consent

In the first four years of the program 687 individuals were referred to the mental health court, and 232 of them were deemed eligible to participate. Individuals who were referred waited an average of 50.58 days before hearing whether or not they were admitted to the program.

An app which asked the user basic eligibility questions could help streamline the process. It could ask plain language questions to determine preliminary eligibility (like “How old are you?” “Do you live in the HRM?” “Do you have a mental health disorder that is clearly related to your charge?”) The app could then create a report to be emailed to the next person who needs to see it to make further eligibility determinations.

In this unprecedented era of forced justice system reform, ideas like this that would have seemed really “outside the box” before might now be pretty much “inside the box” and have a realistic chance of being implemented, if designed well.

Full Disclosure

Dave Barroqueiro,
Constructor of Legal Apps and Lover of the Digital Age

Full Disclosure: I’m not a blogger. Maybe I should be.

To blog isn’t really something I typically would do. I was never really one to keep a journal. I was never really one to comment too much in message boards, or on Facebook, or Twitter, or anything of the like. Thinking about it now, for someone who spends as much time behind a computer screen as I do, and as actively interested as I am in issues related to legal technology, digital media, intellectual property, and so on, I wouldn’t ever really say that I have much of a “web presence,” per se. Though woefully behind the curve, the importance of blogging is beginning to dawn on me, particularly given my decision to pursue a career in law — a profession that depends as much as it does on name recognition. The areas of law I’m interested in — IP, technology, legal innovation — only reinforce this further. It’s the new way of the world; time to get on the horse. One has to start somewhere… may as well be here.

Full Disclosure: I’m a bit of a computer nerd. Always have been. Always will be.

It may be difficult to believe — rugged rock n’ roll exterior and all — but I’m a pretty big computer nerd. Like, Revenge of the Nerds kind of nerd. From the time I received my first computer at age five (they didn’t come with a mouse then), there has always been something about computers that fascinated me. The very thought that this “magic box” had limitless potential to do anything my imagination could conjure up has been a driving force in my life — from dismantling and rebuilding the family computer as a child (it didn’t go over well – maybe should have asked permission), writing programs in BASIC as a nine year old, building websites and learning graphic design as a teenager (and later, as a component of my job), and now, combining my interests in the law and technology by developing a legal applications. Many don’t get a thrill out of the minutiae and tedium. I get lost in it.

Full Disclosure: I’m a bit of a dreamer.

really like making things. Rock n’ roll songs, websites, clay sculptures, legal apps… you name it. There’s a sort-of indescribable joy about taking an idea in your head, putting it into action, and refining it to death until it becomes something tangible. It never really ever ends up manifesting itself as it did when you had originally conjured it, and that’s okay. The real fun is in the journey. As I work away at my own little legal expert system — Mobile Rights Made Easy — I’m not too worried that it isn’t exactly as I’d imagined it when we began to undertake the development of the app. While the app does less than we’d originally conceived, it does it better than I’d ever imagined. Here’s to the journey.

Full Disclosure: I have a bit of an anti-authoritarian streak.

I’m a punk rocker to the very core; an anti-traditionalist, a rogue — especially when it comes to law. I’ve never been one to buy in to the idea that, because everyone else is doing something a certain way, that it’s the right way or the best way to do it. I really hate being told what (and how) to think. It’s on this point that I butt heads with my chosen profession. As we all know, law is just about as culturally conservative and slow-moving as the professions get. We’re not supposed to like disruption. We’re not supposed to like radical change. But… you know what?do like those things — they push and drive us to do more… to be better than we have been. The proliferation of disruptive technologies into the practice of law has already begun. As resistant as the profession has been to technological innovation and change, the cracks in the dam have begun to reveal themselves, and it is only a matter of time before the levees break. We are at an impasse: ride the wave, or be drowned by it. I plan to hang-ten. Cowabunga.

Consumers to Creators: Taking Control of our Tech

Parvej Sidhu

Access to justice is often conceptualized as a gap requiring a bridge. Artificial intelligence (AI) is helping by bridging another gap, between the justice system and the tech world. By drawing on the lawyer’s knowledge and the software developer’s expertise, AI is helping legal professionals complete their work faster and with greater accuracy, but also helping the public address their legal needs on their own. The ground-breaking Civil Resolutions Tribunal in BC is an excellent example of the latter.

I’ve been learning how to build this kind of AI in Professor Katie Sykes’ class, “Designing Legal Expert Systems: Apps for Access to Justice.” It’s been a welcome exercise in creativity and an exciting introduction to artificial intelligence (made possible by very beginner-friendly software from Neota Logic). It’s also, however, made me question my relationship with technology. In particular, I’ve been thinking about another kind of gap, found between what we wish technology could do for us and what we’re actually using it for in our day-to-day lives.

It’s not always obvious that our relationship with technology evolves as fast as the technology itself, partly because we don’t really make a lot of conscious choices about how heavily we’re going to rely on it. None of us woke up one morning, for instance, and decided to designate our cell phone as our hand-held computer, GPS, and mobile personal assistant. Most advances in tech, whether they be in health, communications or artificial intelligence, creep up on us. When we do make choices, they’re constrained by what we are offered on the market as consumers. I think this translates to a lot of wasted potential. The carefully curated features of the latest “smart” devices out there are hardly a response to our cries for help. Many smart products are designed to solve “problems” that don’t exist for a majority of this planet, if at all. I am reminded of this every time my washing machine decides it needs to lock my clothes inside it and I’m forced to unplug it to win them back.

In the course of solving problems that don’t exist, technology also creates problems we’ve never seen before. Earlier this year, news broke on artificial intelligence that can detect, with considerable accuracy, someone’s sexual orientation just from their photographs. My initial awe quickly gave way to concern about the gross violations to human rights and privacy that would result if this AI were abused.  In these murky waters, our relationship with technology devolves further, and we’re relegated from consumers to mere subjects.

As consumers or subjects, what can we really do about useless, invasive or unsettling uses of AI? It’s clear to me that the engineer-consumer divide in how we interact with tech isn’t conducive to socially responsible or responsive innovation. To my mind, challenging this dichotomy is a good place to start, and those of us building “apps for access to justice” have been given the opportunity to do just that. In the legal context there is enormous potential and incentive to harness the power of AI to serve our own needs as well as the needs of our colleagues, our clients, or the public in general. These are specialized needs, and they require tomorrow’s lawyers to experiment as creators and innovators if they are ever going to be met.

Access to justice is a real problem, and real solutions are possible with the use of tools like artificial intelligence. The first step in discovering those solutions is to recognize the role we have to play as creators in control of our tech.