Lawyers don’t have to be tech geniuses to understand that technology is changing the practice. In this episode of Law Technology Now, host Monica Bay talks with Chris Bentley about the legal innovation program at Ryerson University and the importance of weaving technology courses into legal education. They also discuss how even lawyers who don’t consider themselves tech savvy can still embrace the benefits of innovation in law.
Chris Bentley is the executive director of the Law Practice Program (LPP) at Ryerson University.
Law Technology Now
Technology and Innovation in Legal Education
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Bob Ambrogi: Hello, I’m Bob Ambrogi.
Monica Bay: And I’m Monica Bay.
Bob Ambrogi: We’ve been writing about Law and Technology for more 30 years.
Monica Bay: That’s right, during that time, we’ve witness many changes and innovations.
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Monica Bay: Which benefits not only lawyers and their clients, but everyone.
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Monica Bay: Tune in every month as we explore the new legal technology and the people behind the tech.
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Monica Bay: Hi, I’m Monica Bay and welcome to Law Technology Now. We have a terrific guest today, Chris Bentley and he’s with Ryerson University. I’m going to turn the mic over to Chris, who has a very interesting background not only in academia, but also in politics.
Chris Bentley: Hi Monica, delighted to join you today, great opportunity. I’m really privilege to be the now managing director of two programs here at Ryerson, a law practice program, a licensing program for lawyers and the legal innovations on, which will be the focus I know of today’s discussion.
I’ve had an interesting journey to get here. When I was in politics, you’re asking about, that, I was in politics in an Ontario for 10 years, a cabinet minister every year from 2003 to 2013 including four years as the Attorney General, but I had lots of occasion to go to schools, speak to a groups of students, and one day I found myself at a great fight class in my riding at London West and I was asking the students well, what do you want to do when you finish school, when you leave school?
And they had the usual collection of answers, doctor, wanting to go into business like my mom, engineer, nurse, teacher, none of them said lawyer, and then one young lad looked up at me and he said, no, when you were our age, what did you want to be? And I said, when well I was your age; I wanted to be a star hockey player for the Toronto Maple Leafs and a few of them cheered and a few of them might not have cheered and then I delivered what I thought was the winning line. I said, now that was a time when the Leafs were actually winning the Stanley cup.
And without missing a beat, this youngster looked at me and he said, oh you must be pre-historic. The Leafs haven’t want the Stanley cup in some period of time actually since 1967. But when I realized that my dream of playing professional hockey was a little more than a dream, I decided I wanted to go into politics, it’s what I wanted to do to help people, to change the world. I realized pretty quickly I wasn’t going to get elected out of high school so I thought I’d become a lawyer, advocate for people one at a time. I did that for 23 years until early January of 2002, I decided, well if I was ever going to do this political thing I’d better do something about it.
Spoke to a couple of friends of mine, had a little pub called The Barking Frog at 2:30 in the afternoon, told them what I was planning, they promptly fell off their bar tools. When they got back on, we established a route, I knocked on doors for 14 months, I got elected and spent 10 glorious years in politics.
I enjoyed every minute of it. The ability to make change, the ability to help people; the ability to drive initiatives was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. And it was during my time in politics that I actually met the President of Ryerson University who happened to be the guy, who encouraged to me to come to Ryerson after I left politics, and his name, he is Sheldon Levy.
And I’ll just tell you the story about how I met him. He came in to see me, I became the Minister of Training Colleges in Universities responsible for university funding. Shortly after he became the President of Ryerson, and he came in with the introductory comments and the list wishes, one of his list of wishes was that Ryerson be given some provincial funding to improve their library space. And the reason was that, by the accepted matrix they had the worst library space per student at any university in Canada.
So we had that discussion. It turned out several years later, we had managed to get them a significant amount of money and they built a fantastic new learning center. But that fall, three months later, my youngest was starting at Ryerson in a film making course and after the first week I asked her how it was going, and she said, well it’s going really well dad! But you got to do something about their library; you got to get them more money because they have the worst library space per student in Canada. I laughed, immediately picked up the phone and said to the President Sheldon I said, okay Sheldon, you just got to lead my kids out of conversation and from that point on we had a great relationship.
So, when I decided to leave politics, he called me up and he said well why don’t you come to Ryerson? And I said okay, I taught part-time for 10 years while I was practicing, what I’m going to do, where should I go? He said well, do whatever you want. The Law Society of Upper Canada are regulated like the State Bar Association, he is proposing a new way that lawyer get licensed after they leave law school.
Traditionally up here you have to article for 10 months, working with a lawyer and then write some exams and this was a new innovative approach. They’re looking for proposals, why don’t we write one, I said well we don’t have a law school, he said yeah, but well yeah but we’re innovative for entrepreneurial, let’s do this, you write it, I wrote it, we got it, and we started setting that up. And it was while we were setting that up that they sat me in the former Google offices where Ryerson had developed a business incubator, a university based business incubator that was recognized last year is number one in North America, number three in the world university based business incubator.
I walked there one day and I said to the executive director of that, I said this, so how many of these businesses are doing something in the law and she said none and I said ah. Well, and they were 80 businesses at a time. So, I went to the President, I said Sheldon you need a legal innovation zone. He said what’s a legal innovation zone and then I did what I might have done from time-to-time, I’m sure never as a lawyer but yes from time-to-time as a politician when I was asked a very challenging question to which I had no idea what the answer was and I said well legal innovations zone of course it is – that’s why you need one. And he laughed and he said go ahead.
Monica Bay: What year was this?
Chris Bentley: That was two-and-a-half years ago.
Monica Bay: Okay.
Chris Bentley: And we became the first business incubator dedicated to legal tech in Canada and one of the first, we haven’t found another one dedicated to legal tech anywhere.
Monica Bay: I want to interrupt you for a second because I’ve got some questions about –
Chris Bentley: Of course!
Monica Bay: — that you are talking about.
Chris Bentley: I spoke for too long but I thought I’d give you the overview.
Monica Bay: No, you’re totally fine, it’s not that at all, but when I was up there because you were generous enough to invite me to do a presentation with you, I had a fantastic breakfast with one of my colleagues and friends who’s up there and I was really surprised about how long it takes students to actually get their ticket. I got my ticket, I went to university at San Francisco and I was in night thing so I was already having an extra year because that’s a four-year rather than a three-year, and basically after you get through you take the exams and you’re either in or you have to take it again and they have to take it again, blah, blah, blah.
But I was surprised at how — she was telling me that a lot of people aren’t even bothering to get their ticket because it’s, specially if they’re interested in Tech because it’s such a long process to be able to actually get your ticket.
Do you see that as a good thing, or do you see it as a bad thing or it’s probably in the middle somewhere there, do you think that will change because it seems like it really becomes onerous to some of the folks especially — their putting themselves the school. So, tell me about that for the Americas who don’t how this works?
Chris Bentley: You make a very important point Monica and let me preface it by saying that, people are still buzzing, The visit that you made on International Women’s Day.
Monica Bay: Oh thank you!
Chris Bentley: To speak — the Legal Tech Journey that you have witnessed and about your role in that journey and prodding it and encouraging it, reporting on it so thank you so much for that.
Monica Bay: Thank you!
Chris Bentley: The point you make of the length of time it takes people to qualify as lawyers and the attendant cost is extremely important and I would say two things about that. Up here, it takes a long time to qualify to become a lawyer. Before you get into an Ontario or Canadian Law School, you often require four years of undergrad so four years of undergraduate university, plus three years of law school.
Monica Bay: Yeah, in most schools that’s typically you go through in your first and for me I went to grad school and then finally I went to Law School. So, I think I was living in academia for a long time but what bothers me and I’m interrupting you, I’ll let you get right back to it, but what really bothered me, is I put myself through all the two years of all my education and I was broke, broke, broke, broke…
Chris Bentley: Right.
Monica Bay: What got me interested in this is how does that impact and is it de facto that it’s by nature it’s going to make it so that the folks who have more money and can do it better. I’m always interested in that and how they get around that, how do they make sure everybody can get in?
Chris Bentley: Yeah, and just to add that in Ontario, in Canada we have an additional year after leaving law school which has traditionally been called articling, you have to work with a lawyer and we have the new alternative to that, the law practice program, which is four months training followed by four months of the work placement but it’s still better part of an0 additional year before you can get licensed and go out on your own and practice as a lawyer.
It is a long haul. The cost of course both in terms of the actual cost, tuition and living and then the opportunity cost of what you’re not earning doing something else rather significant and I suspect, a big barrier to others. Do I see that part of it changing? Not that part of it. I think if left to their own devices, there seem to be relatively little incentive up here for the providers of legal education and the law schools to change either the time or the cost of what they provide.
I think more likely the bigger change is what they’re actually teaching and the degree to which they either voluntarily or more likely are required to incorporate Technology. The importance of Technology, different business approaches like lien and design thinking and analytics into the regular structure of law school and I see them being required to do that because the people who are hiring their graduates are going to looking for it.
Monica Bay: Yeah and I am sorry to go into that so much carcass. I want you to tell us more, what I really want people know about is, is what you’re doing at the Legal Innovation Zone which I was blown away with and I just last week, published an article by one of the folks that were there, I do a thing called Startups Snapshot for Codex, and I was mesmerized with what they were doing. I don’t know how to pronounce his name, is it Paolo Tonelli, help me with that and Darline.
Chris Bentley: Yes, Paolo Tonelli. Yeah.
Monica Bay: Paolo. It’s a great story so anyway I’m going to stop interrupting you and tell us more about it?
Chris Bentley: And what he’s doing but they should read your article.
Monica Bay: No, it’s okay! Go ahead.
Chris Bentley: But what they’re doing is they have both developed this idea for providing real time up to date information on the status of laws and regulations. You don’t have to go to the books, you don’t have to do the extended search through the net to find out whether a law has been amended or whether there’s a proposed amendment or regulation is current or not, you will get the real time information through his service.
And you’ll be able to curate those services so you actually get a push reminders, if for example, you’re interested in employment law there are numbers of statutes you’d be interested in, monitoring and a legislature proposes a change to a regulation or the legislation.
You would get push reminder or notification that is actually happening and he is doing this by programming himself and he has programmed a number of bots to upgrade the information automatically. In fact, he often works all night because they have a young family. He works all night. I come in early on the morning, I now say, good morning to Paolo and I say good morning to the bots.
Monica Bay: Now just in case we have people who aren’t as savvy about this as most of the folks who are doing it, what is a bot for someone who might not know what that is?
Chris Bentley: Yeah! Well it’s essentially that – it’s a computer that is a robot, that is generating…
Monica Bay: Aha!
Chris Bentley: Using data, generating information automatically and once it is appropriately program it can do its work, but it doesn’t require intervention by the operator, doesn’t require breaks, doesn’t want a day off, doesn’t get sick, tends not to complain, although I’m sure from time to time they get worn out.
Monical Bay: So it’s an Artificial Intelligence?
Chris Bentley: Yeah, he is using forms of that. Yes! One of the things I will confess to your audience right away is that, it is a bit of a miracle on the source of mirth around our household. The fact that, I am the Managing Director of the Legal Innovation Zone because my wife and kids will know that in our household I am the least tech savvy but as I often say to people, you don’t have to be Bill Gates, you don’t have to have Jobs’ seeing knowledge of technology, what you need to know is what they’d done and the importance of it and attach yourself to the people who are experts. Start to understand the power of what technology can do and how it can affect the way you deal with the consumers, individuals or businesses that you want to serve. And that’s the message and I can deliver that message very effectively because I rarely like get lost in the technology.
Monica Bay: Well I’m in the same situation because I’ve always been focused on what does it do, what is the community, how is this changing, how is it making better but I used to annoy when I was at ALM and I had to attend so many meetings with the folks who were doing developments, I’m not under the hood, and oh my God! There were these sometimes where they will go on to these just deep, deep, deep things and I’m certainly going how long is this going to be and how can I get out of it because exactly what you’ve said, we don’t need to know how to do it. What we need to know is what does it do, what does it solve, who does it help and I absolutely love what these folks are doing but I couldn’t do it myself if my life depended on it. So, we’re on the same camp on that.
Chris Bentley: And that’s the point we need to keep making because when, especially with rooms full of lawyers—I find when people start talking technology, is so divorced from what many lawyers know what their background is. It can be a very intimidating.
Monica Bay: Oh yeah!
Chris Bentley: It’s Hard define the entry point for the average not terribly tech savvy lawyer and it’s even harder for them to understand how something that has an application in a different field or non law field, could possibly be relevant to their special and particular consumers. So, I think it’s always helpful when those who been in the field such as yourself can take the complicated and make it adjustable for lawyers and so they can feel comfortable getting started. And then once they’re started of course, they’ll have tenacity that they bring to everything and consume with great rabidity.
Monica Bay: And we have to remember the baby boomers are now retiring and I have made my first story at ALM on a typewriter. I was there for 30 years. I’ve always been absolutely just completely interested in change management. I loved that.
I always wanted to have the newest toy, but I wanted to it be, that’s why I am an Apple girl because it’s pretty much you don’t have to have a PhD in some of the stuff to get it, but it is important to do it and what fascinates me all the time, is the things that we just adopt really fast and the one’s that take forever and they last five minutes, but it’s just that whole shifting to me, if you think about it how we bank?
When I was a young girl, you’d go to the bank from ten in the morning till three in the afternoon, and you’d have to put in your day. Now you do it on your phone, the phone thing has happened with that, but we could we could go on to this forever, and want to get back to you. Tell us about the Ontario Access for Justice challenge, what is that?
Chris Bentley: Why don’t I, before I get to that, why don’t I just step back a second and talk about the zone and what it does, if that’s —
Monica Bay: Please do.
Chris Bentley: If that would fit, so I said to the president we need this legal innovation zone, and we really set it up for one key purpose and that purpose is a continuation of what I worked on as a lawyer, what I worked on in government, what I’m interested in now, making sure people who need legal assistance and advice can get what they need, when they need it, in the way they need it at the price they can afford, and those are the goals of the legal innovation zone.
We have three key lines of business,, if you will, one is to support entrepreneurs, start ups. They make an application, they want to do something smarter, faster, better in the law. They make the pitch to us, they don’t have to have an established business, but although we took part-time enterprises when we started, we now only take those who are actually committed full time to the enterprise. We provide them with the usual co-working space, a Wifi, the access to mentors, the access to business both law and non law support that you need, the communications, the networking, and the like.
We make introductions to the legal community, and they benefit not only from the legal start up community here but from the broader business start up community that Ryerson has developed. It is quite an echo system that’s been developed here. So that’s number one. We have 17 full-time companies and 35 plus entrepreneurs.
The second line of business is to work with organizations for-profit. We got a relationship with Osler’s law firm or government not-for-profit, to help bring their innovation agenda to life. So on an going or on a project basis, we can help them shape their innovation agenda and just more importantly to actually bring it to life. Ryerson has done this in the non-law areas and we are bringing this to the law area.
And then the third is what I call the stir the pot area and I love this. We notionally call it modernizing the justice system, developing the 21st Century justice system, but really it is finding ways of forcing change. Those are our three main areas and we do lots of speaking, so invite great speakers yourself to come in and give a perspective on law, technology, life to broaden the thinking. We do internal speaking projects. We have been around the world in a number of places either speaking at, or attending conferences. So try and to develop community of change, interested in bringing better, faster to consumers of legal advice and information, that in a broad relief is what we do here at the Legal Innovation Zone.
Now, you asked me about the access to justice challenge so, the government of Ontario through the Ministry, of the Attorney General was interested in our start up community here, and they were interested improving access to justice of course, as everybody is. They said well could you run a challenge for us? We said sure. So they provided some funding to run it and $50,000.00 in seed money for the top three initiatives.
So we put out an application process. We have 30 applicants. We had 10 that we allowed to make pitches. The top six came in to the zone for four months to further work on and develop their idea. They made a pitch to a panel and the top three were chosen. Paolo was one of the three finalists and they all shared seed money. And the ministry really liked it and now they’re looking to build on that and do something I think with even more impact.
Monica Bay: And speaking of building on it, when you bring the folks into it and they are working with you in that time, do you guys have a piece of the final action like when they go live, I mean is this a way that you can build the program, how does that work?
Chris Bentley: Yes, we don’t, we don’t take a piece.
Monica Bay: Really? How come?
Chris Bentley: So well, Ryerson’s culture has been that they, it is a university, they want to encourage and teach innovative and entrepreneurial thinking. They have a spinoff from their business incubator called Ryerson Future’s which once you graduate from the business incubator; you can choose to go to Ryerson Futures which helps you with advanced advice, support funding and they will take a very small piece for that.
We decided from the beginning, no our business is encouraging change that will benefit the end consumers of legal advice and information. Our business is encouraging a community of those who are building jobs and wealth by a doing things or looking at doing things differently. Our business is strengthening legal structures by making them work better for those who are supposed to serve. But we’re not in the business of taking pieces of the action, that’s just not what we’re doing.
There are other’s who will do that who bring great advice and that’s fine that’s what they can do, but we’re not doing that. They get free space here, in the bigger business incubator that Ryerson has they charge a few hundred dollars a month after a period of four to six months, we haven’t started doing that. What we’re trying to do to advance the Ryerson mission, the broader social mission is to generate that moment of change in law.
Monica Bay: And we’re running out of time, I could talk to you forever but what haven’t I ask you that you wanted to talk about and then afterwards I want to make sure that you can tell us if for folks who are listening, how they can reach out to you? So, those are your last two questions.
Chris Bentley: Absolutely! So, this is – let me make a point that we have had wonderful discussions with people at Duke, Ukraine, London, England, Vancouver, Colorado, Stanford, this is not simply an Ontario thing. Innovation can happen anywhere and once it happens somewhere it can be imported anywhere else.
So, one of the things I tell people here that if we don’t innovate somebody else is going to so if you want the jobs and investment here, get going, but I say that the people that we spoken to Denmark, we give them advice, we give them support, we’re happy to collaborate on projects. It is an enormously exciting time and the broader community I think needs to find ways to support each other, learn from each other. So, we’re not repeating the same mistakes and we’re building something that is socially beneficial.
So, if there are some of your listeners who haven’t been in contact, gosh by all means, find us on the website, the legalinnovationzone@ryerson or email me at chris.bentely@ ryerson.ca, my director Hersh Perlis as well. He is a non-lawyer, great entrepreneur and innovator and you say why have a non-lawyer as the head of legal innovation zone and I chuckle when I answer that question I said well I’m a lawyer, I know a lots of lawyers. I need somebody who’s going to ask the questions that I’m not thinking of. I need somebody who’s been in business, who sees it from the different perspective. So, we work a very well together and we’re more than happy to have conversations with people who are interested.
Monica Bay: Chris Bentley, thank you so much for your time. It’s been an absolute pleasure to spend this time with you and the stuff we’re talking about is really important and I’m so glad you brought up so much of that. I’m going to give the last word here and thank you again.
Chris Bentley: Thank you very much Monica for the opportunity, more importantly for your leadership, your determination to share information, your encouragement. We’re looking forward to your next visit to Ontario, Canada, in Toronto, and maybe it’ll even be when the Yankees are playing the Blue Jays.
Monica Bay: Oh! And all for that. Thank you all and we’ll see you in the next edition of Law Technology Now.
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