May 20, 2022

Canadian Innovation Week: Innovation in Legal Practice

Mitch Kowalski, our visiting professor in Legal Innovation, reflects on how innovation and legal tech have transformed the legal marketplace since he first launched his course five years ago.
Mitch Kowalski

Mitch Kowalski is the Gowling WLG visiting professor in Legal Innovation at the Faculty of Law.

Director of Development Ainsley Grant shares a virtual coffee with UCalgary Law’s visiting professor in Legal Innovation, Mitch Kowalski, reflecting on how innovation and legal tech have transformed the legal marketplace since he first launched the course five years ago.

Q. When the course began your mantra was “preparing students for the legal marketplace of 2025.” Have any of the more lofty or futuristic possibilities you explored initially come to fruition in the legal marketplace?

A: Legal services are so incredibly slow to change - until it gets kicked in the pants. Fortunately for my course, COVID has forced legal services to change to survive. The most futuristic possibly that has come to fruition is the concept that you don't need a massive law firm around you to do work for most clients; technology allows lawyers to do more with less, and to work from anywhere. This will continue and it may cause lawyers and the public to see law as less prestigious.

Q. How has the content of the course evolved since you began teaching it?

A. I teach the course in real time, so it changes every year. Every year there are new ideas, new players, and new ways of approaching legal services.

Q. Has the pandemic accelerated innovation in the legal services industry? If so, in what ways? Do you see any risk for “regression” once the pandemic is over, or are these changes here to stay?

A. COVID has been a tremendous impetus for change; but there is massive risk of regression. Already various courts have gone back to making in-person hearings the preferred method. And some law firms have mandated that WFH is over, and everyone needs to get back into the office. We will have to wait and see if lawyers will meekly go back to the office or push back, demanding firms allow WFH.

Q. In terms of transforming access to justice, what do you predict will be the most important development in the legal tech space in the next five years?

A. The most important development will be in the courts. My hope is that other provinces will implement BC's Civil Resolution Tribunal for smaller disputes. And I hope that the CRT will move to include higher value matters. I believe that asynchronistic dispute resolution is the future of A2J.

Q. What are some of the biggest barriers or challenges to innovation in Canada’s legal marketplace?

A. Three things: Lawyer's natural fear of failure (in the context of new service delivery options); lack of client demand for new service delivery options and new pricing; lack of competition from new players.