Technology Has the Power to Improve the Legal Profession

Gavel outlined in neon blue hits a round hardwood block. There are 8 hexagonal shapes that have icons that represent the justice system. A scale, columns, tip of a pen drawing a line, handcuffs, cupped hand with a checkmark in a box in the hand, etc.

The profession of law is steeped in time-honoured traditions and procedures. While the past has served us well, we must also look to the future and learn to embrace the potential benefits of emerging technology.

The provincial government’s $166-million plan to deliver more legal services online, replacing paper-based procedures with a digital platform to support access to the Superior Court of Justice and the Ontario Court of Justice, is the latest example of how technology is being implemented to improve the court system in this province.

Funding was announced on June 18th, but the Courts Digital Transformation initiative was first introduced in November 2021. The government promised that it “will be the most significant single step forward in the digital evolution of justice in Canada, replacing outdated paper-based procedures with an online platform to manage cases, documents and schedules”.

Game-Changing Technology

“Our government’s new digital solution is a game-changer that will provide Ontarians with on- demand access to their legal matters,” said Attorney General Doug Downey. “Building on numerous recent breakthroughs, this central piece of the Justice Accelerated Strategy will provide the tools needed to better meet expectations for how justice can be done in 2021 and beyond.”

According to the Ministry of the Attorney General, the initiative will allow court users to:

  • digitally access court information 24 hours a day from anywhere;
  • submit and view documents online;
  • file even more court documents in more types of matters;
  • have easier, faster access to court records;
  • schedule matters and appearances;
  • pay fees online;
  • receive decisions electronically.

As part of an ongoing plan, the government announced in February 2022 that it would be investing $65 million over five years to ensure that more courtrooms across the province are equipped with technology to enable people to access hearings through video or audio. Court users can now electronically submit more than 700 different types of court documents for family, civil, divisional and small claims court matters, the ministry states. The recent move was hailed by Ontario Superior Court Chief Justice Geoffrey Morawetz and Ontario Court Chief Justice Sharon Nicklas.

"We applaud the government’s investment and support towards the modernization of court processes, procedures and technology,” they said in a joint statement. “The Ontario Court of Justice and the Superior Court of Justice remain committed partners in this critical modernization project and to collaborating with our justice partners to replace several antiquated technology programs with a more seamless and streamlined system to support both courts and across business lines.”

Pandemic Brought Unexpected Challenges

The COVID-19 pandemic brought about a dramatic societal sea change and the Canadian legal system was not spared. However, technology allowed law firms to pivot quickly to continue to serve the public.

At Gluckstein Personal Injury Lawyers we have long taken a forward-thinking approach to technological innovation. Because of that, we were able to seamlessly transition from a traditional physical office-based model to a telecommute-based firm when COVID hit.

We were one of first Canadian law firms to implement Filevine, a cloud-based customizable file management software platform with enhanced security measures. This platform allows our lawyers and authorized support staff to readily access “virtual” filing cabinets from any secure location worldwide.

Moreover, the Zoom platform was incorporated into our existing technology portfolio, including video conferencing, webinars and VOIP features, to allow us to stay connected with clients, experts and team members.

We made the most from emerging technology, integrating other cloud-based software programs into Filevine, including MedChart (for electronic requests for medical records), Tracument (for remote fax, secure send and mail capabilities) and VineSign (for remote electronic signatures). Still, some innovations that allowed us to keep practising were not wholly embraced by the profession.

Always Searching for the Next Great Innovation

Being proactive and seeking out new technology can benefit our legal services, which is why I am always looking for the next great innovation. In order to stay current and be as effective as possible in our interactions with clients, other lawyers, and the courts, it only makes sense to take advantage of what technology offers.

Paper-based procedures are now not only outdated but inefficient and costly. However, under the Ontario’s government’s plan, they will be replaced with an online platform to manage cases, documents and schedules.

Court participants, including members of the public, lawyers, self-represented litigants, judicial officials and court staff, will be provided with capabilities to help people quickly resolve legal matters.

The government assures us that the “new end-to-end digital system” will be designed with user experience in mind and will feature online self-service, integrated case tracking and streamlined court operations.

Thomson Reuters, which has been awarded the contract to deliver the new digital justice platform, has stated in Lessons Learned in Courts Digitisation that embracing new technology “is imperative not only to keep pace with public expectations of justice and governmental institutions in a modern developed economy, but also to serve as the foundation and catalyst for improving efficiency throughout the system.”

Digitization Reduces Risk

Moving away from a paper-based system reduces the risk of documents “being irretrievable due to loss, damage or misfiling … as well as reducing paper, printing and storage costs”, according to Thomson Reuters, adding that online digital files are searchable and easily retrieved and shared.

The report also noted that online listings and calendar functionality provide court staff with the information necessary for efficient planning and scheduling. This results in the best use of resources, including court room availability and judges’ time, which has the potential to enhance the public’s experience with the court system.

Online information provides all those involved in a case with simultaneous access to documents as soon as they are filed, according to Thomson Reuters.

“This enhanced visibility will enable all parties to arrive at court fully prepared”, the report states. “Judges and officials will be able to access the court lists online so they will be informed of any changes as soon as they are made. This will minimize the chance of adjournments due to missing documents, information or people.”

Understanding the Implications

While there is a tremendous upside to digitalization, it is only prudent to take the time to consider every aspect as we move forward.

For example, in India, where the Chief Justice discussed the judiciary’s vision for digitization of that country’s courts, there is concern about “challenges of data integrity, privacy, cyber security and also centralization of these systems.”

It was reported that in India, while the ability to view and participate in judicial proceedings through virtual courts is revolutionary, it also brought “its own challenges for the judiciary to regulate information and re-sharing of live streaming videos with in-court comments.” While virtual court provides a convenient and economical alternative to traditional courts, “it also fundamentally changes the very foundations and we need to understand its implications,” the author notes.

Technology has the power to enhance the way the legal profession practices, and to improve access to justice. But we must also be careful how we use it. As we have recently seen, while innovations such as artificial intelligence can make our professional lives much easier, there can be consequences if lawyers fail to use due diligence whenever they interact with artificial intelligence.

In the end, an ongoing and meaningful partnership between the innovator and the user of emerging technology will be necessary to ensure success.


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