Access to justice in Canada is being both empowered and challenged by web or mobile application developers. That’s right, a profession which not too long ago only found a home in IT, where the culture of nurf darts and foosball fostered entrepreneurialism, has begun to impact the way legal services are provided in profound ways. A recent example is Legalswipe, an application-based platform which provides information on legal rights quickly and inexpensively. Developed by University of Ottawa Faculty of Law graduate Christien Levien, Legalswipe is a free application which provides an overview of legal rights, information on how to respond to police officers, and records and uploads police interactions to Dropbox automatically. Levien, who was a victim of an unprovoked police attack while an undergraduate student at York University, believes the application plays a vital role in the dissemination of legal education. Initial download numbers suggest the public agrees, attracting 10,000 downloads in the early stages following launch and overwhelmed the systems servers as a result of the traffic.
Public demand aside, applications like Legalswipe raise a range of complex questions relating to the future direction of legal services. Does better access to legal information achieve better administration of justice? As the demand for legal services shifts, how will the role of legal information applications impact the profession? How are web-based platforms impacting the business models of traditional law firms? What are the changing liability issues relating to legal applications? How will the rise the “applification” of the lawyer impact legal practice, education and governance? These questions remain areas of exploration for legal scholars and policy-makers, while entrepreneurs continue to push the threshold of what legal services are, and how they are administered, nurtured and developed. Applications like Legalswipe are only the beginning of a newly emerging entrepreneurism in the legal industry which will inevitably transform our industry.