Start-ups look to shake up the low-tech legal world at Canadian Bar Association contest
Joanna Smith, The Canadian Press
Published Saturday, August 13, 2016 8:48AM EDT
OTTAWA -- A willingness to embrace technology might not be the first attribute that comes to mind when one thinks of the legal world.
The Canadian Bar Association is trying to change that.
At its annual conference Friday, the 36,000-member organization hosted 'The Pitch', where start-ups came onstage amid disco lights and thumping pop music to make the case for their innovative products and services meant to make the job of a lawyer easier -- and maybe even a little less expensive.
Think Dragons' Den, the reality television business show on CBC, but for lawyers.
The winner got a two-week residency with LegalX -- a program at the MaRS Discovery Centre in Toronto -- and all five finalists will get an interview with the China Angels Mentorship Program, which supports early-stage businesses who want to enter the Chinese market.
That could result in an equity investment worth at least $200,000.
Calling himself the company founder and "top dog", Cian O'Sullivan says the overwhelming majority of small and medium-sized business owners do not hire a lawyer to review their commercial contracts.
Beagle uses artificial intelligence to scan and analyze a contract, taking a couple of minutes to do what would take an ordinary human being hours -- billable hours, if they are a lawyer.
The program quickly determines responsibilities the contract obliges each party to fulfil, how to terminate it and even produces a visual heat map showing who stands to benefit the most from its terms.
Loom Analytics (People's Choice Award)
There is an astronomical amount of legal information available online in Canada, but searching it for trends can still take going through thousands of pages of the written word.
Mona Datt, the co-founder and president of Loom Analytics, says her product brings statistical analysis to legal research.
A lawyer about to argue motion before a judge can run a search through the program to get figures on past outcomes, including the number of times that particular judge has granted or denied the same kind of motion in recent years.
Blue J Legal
Benjamin Alarie, the company CEO and founder, says his product helps take the guesswork out of complicated legal questions, giving clients more confidence in what to expect.
While a lawyer has to rely on experience and educated guesses, Blue J Legal asks a series of questions, compares the facts and circumstances to past decisions and calculates the chances of winning the case.
"This is a really powerful way to reduce ambiguity in the law," he told the judges.
Adam La France, CEO at Knomos, says lawyers spend an enormous amount of time on research, with digitalization of case law offering few ways to speed up the process.
"The digital version is nothing more than a glorified PDF," he said.
Even worse, lawyers within the same firm are not tracking the research done by their colleagues, which often leads to duplicating these expensive efforts over time.
Developed with the help of people with experience in the video game industry, Knomos is a web-based application that uses data visualization and machine learning to improve research speed and depth, as well as track what other users in the organization have looked at most often.
A judge relies on past precedents involving a number of factual and legal issues to calculate the time that fits the crime: Is the accused a first offender? Did he plead guilty? Did he show remorse? Was he on bail at the time of the offence?
It can be menial and time-consuming work to search through legal databases for relevant cases.
Rangefindr allows users to click on tags matching the factors of the case at hand, narrowing thousands of cases to a handful of relevant ones.
It also highlights the range of sentences that have been handed down for those similar cases.