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Governance & Social Justice

The next generation of lawyers will use technology to increase access to justice

An innovative vision for legal education

Governance & Social Justice

The next generation of lawyers will use technology to increase access to justice

Starting a new law school in the best of circumstances is a major undertaking. Opening the doors to one during a pandemic shows not only a determination to prepare future lawyers for a rapidly evolving legal landscape — as well as whatever new “normal” emerges from our current reality — but also a deep commitment to advancing social justice and democracy.

Ryerson’s Faculty of Law — Toronto’s first new law school in over a century — is the culmination of years of planning, legal consultation and approvals, but it started as a belief that the university’s innovative approach to learning should be applied to the study of law.

The school’s purpose is to train career-ready legal professionals who possess the diversity of skills required to expand the reach of justice for all Canadians, and to create a new cohort of lawyers who are innovative, nimble and well-equipped to meet evolving social challenges and shifts taking place in the Canadian legal market.

Meeting the needs of consumers and society at large

The legal industry — and with it legal education — is experiencing a transformation that is driven in large measure by the application of technology to legal work in ways previously unimagined, according to the school’s inaugural dean, Donna E. Young.

“Driving the genesis of the school is the development of a fresh perspective that combines legal theory, skill and practice,” she explains. “Our three-year Juris Doctor program is characterized by a thoughtful, practice-based approach that responds to the present and future demands of multiple users of legal services. Creating this program is providing us with a unique opportunity to help shape legal education in Ontario.”

a group of students sitting around a table
Ryerson’s new Faculty of Law welcomed its first class of students in September 2020

Young’s appointment marks another step in her already distinguished career. Her most recent position was at Albany Law School, where she was the President William McKinley Distinguished Professor of Law and Public Policy and a joint faculty member at the university’s Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies. Previously, she worked at Cornish Roland, a labour law firm in Toronto, as well as the Ontario Human Rights Commission and with the Legal Department of the City of New York. No stranger to Toronto or the Toronto legal community, Young is a first-generation Canadian raised in North York, the daughter of parents from Jamaica and Belize.

131
Number of years since the last new law school opened in Toronto

Working alongside Young is an impressive team of scholars with a broad range of interests and expertise who will help bring Ryerson’s Integrated Practice Curriculum to life.

“The faculty’s guiding principle is to train adaptive and flexible lawyers who can better meet the needs of consumers, communities and society at large,” says Young. “That translates into a dual focus on cutting-edge applications of technology in the legal sphere and issues related to equity and diversity. At the same time, our curriculum enables students to gain essential practical experience before they graduate.”

A track record of innovation

The faculty’s guiding principle is to train adaptive and flexible lawyers who can better meet the needs of consumers, communities and society at large. That translates into a dual focus on cutting-edge applications of technology in the legal sphere and issues related to equity and diversity.
Donna E. Young, Founding Dean, Ryerson’s Faculty of Law

According to Young, the emphasis on the growing role of technology in the legal sphere is especially relevant and a strong differentiator for the school. Students will get exposure to applications of artificial intelligence and quantitative legal prediction, technology-assisted review and predictive coding developments in eDiscovery, and a basic understanding of emerging transformative regulatory technologies, for example.

“There will always be a need for traditional lawyers,” Young concedes. “However, there is — and will continue to be — a growing demand for differently trained lawyers who are ready to become ‘legal knowledge engineers or consultants,’ ‘legal technologists,’ ‘legal process analysts,’ or ‘privacy, e-commerce and cyber security experts.’ Our goal is to produce this new generation of lawyers by infusing innovation in everything we do.”

She also notes that Ryerson has a proven track record in introducing novel approaches to the legal field, thanks to the success of its Law Practice Program — an eight-month engagement combining online training and experiential learning with a hands-on work term, as an alternative to articling — and the Legal Innovation Zone (LIZ), a global hub focused on building better solutions for the consumers of legal services.

a woman sitting in a coworking space
The Legal Innovation Zone (LIZ) is a co-working space and the world’s first legal tech incubator

“The faculty is making use of its strong linkages to the legal profession, as well as leveraging the experience we have gained — in large part through the LIZ — to extend Ryerson’s distinctive strengths in promoting entrepreneurial innovation in the legal sector,” says Young. “At the same time, we’re building on our record in furthering the principles of equity, diversity and inclusion throughout the university as a whole, as the faculty builds expertise in expanding access to justice.”

In a year of turmoil caused by Covid-19, Ryerson Law remains optimistic and is holding to its vision of offering students a leading-edge, future-focused legal education.

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