Law courses look toward future of the profession

tech tools
The program gives law students the technology skills and understanding

The legal profession of the future will look different than it does today, if the creators and students of Osgoode Hall Law School’s Justice Innovation and Access to Justice Program have anything to say about it.

The program offers courses that provide skills that are not usually taught as part of legal education, such as collaboration, an understanding of technology and a user-centred perspective.

“We looked at the changing legal environment and saw that it is very different that it was 10 years ago,” Nicole Aylwin, co-academic director of the law school’s Winkler Institute for Dispute Resolution, who designed the program in collaboration with Osgoode’s Experiential Education Office. It was initially funded by York University’s Academic Innovation Fund.

“We thought about what kind of skills students would need to work in a radically different legal marketplace. Beyond technical skills, students needed to have skills that aren’t usually taught as part of legal education, such as collaboration, an understanding of technology and a user-centred perspective.”

The program comprises three courses: Access to Justice and Innovation, a first-year elective; and two upper year electives: Legal Information Technology and Designing the Future of Justice: Introduction to Legal Design. The courses provide JD candidates with an opportunity to learn the theory and tools needed to promote innovation in the legal field and apply them to real world access-to-justice issues,” said Aylwin.

The courses

Access to Justice and Innovation, the first-year course, attempts to infuse students with an understanding of innovation in justice combined with a look at access to legal services for civil and family matters. People who are representing themselves in court, since they can’t afford legal services, speak to the class, making access to justice come alive.

The Legal Information Technology course requires the students to develop “a fully formed design concept for some kind of technology that meets a legal services’ need in Ontario,” said Aylwin, while Designing the Future turns the students into consultants for partner organizations with legal challenges. The students are tasked with using design thinking to create innovative solutions to the challenges.

The students

The program also aims to empower students to be leaders, and, if Lily MacLeod and Faith Cameletti are any indication, it is succeeding. The two women, now second-year law students, took the Access to Justice and Innovation course last year.

“I was inspired by the course to sign up for an intensive practicum with the ARCH Disability Law Centre this year since access to justice is different if you are a person with a disability,” Cameletti said. “The class changed the way I would like to approach my legal practice, perhaps by offering clients unbundled services so they can just get what they need.”

MacLeod was similarly inspired, and is doing an intensive practicum with the Osgoode Student-Run Legal Clinic.

“I realized that there is an access to justice crisis in family law,” said MacLeod. “The class opened my eyes to all the barriers there are to accessing justice: finances, mental health and racism, for example.

“We both hope to take Legal Information Technology, too, to help design an app that would improve access to justice and to learn about emerging technologies in the profession that we can use in our own practices to make justice more cost-effective, efficient and client-centred, whether that’s on our own, in a firm or with another organization.”

Sylvia Basso, a mature student who had a career in human resources before entering law school, is currently enrolled in Designing the Future. Her team is working with the Pro Bono Students of Canada, a group that assists people with financial challenges in filling out legal forms at no cost, to find ways to serve more clients.

“It’s early days yet, but we’re thinking about their processes from a human-centred design perspective,” she said.

This client-focused perspective is one she says is often missing in traditional law school classes, but one that she sees having increased importance.

“We need to be able to adapt to a changing environment and design theory is a tool in my toolbox that will be applicable in the future,” Basso said.

In closing …

Aylwin is proud of the program she spearheads and pleased by the positive feedback.

Osgoode is a leader in experiential education,” she said. “We won’t know the impact of these courses for a while, but we already see employers expressing a need for these skills.”

By Elaine Smith, special contributing writer to Innovatus