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  • Writer's pictureRidhey Gill

Leading Legal Innovation with Hersh Perlis, Co-Founder of the Legal Innovation Zone

Updated: Jul 19, 2020

When it comes to learning about legal innovation, there couldn’t be a better place than the Legal Innovation Zone (LIZ). Founded in 2015 by Chris Bentley, former Attorney General of Ontario and criminal lawyer, and Hersh Perlis, former Chief of Staff of Deloitte’s AI practice and Senior Advisor to several ministers in government, the LIZ was the world’s first legal-tech incubator. Fast forward five years and the LIZ has become a global hub focused on building better legal solutions for the consumers of legal services, which they accomplish through their various programming, initiatives, and legal-tech startups that they support.

The LIZ has played such a significant role in my journey up until this point. Working with this organization has taught me so many things and introduced me to amazing people, but there are three key learnings I will keep with me for the entirety of my legal career:

  1. Technology is an asset that can be leveraged to create better legal solutions and help lawyers automate parts of the job that take up time and money so that they can focus on being even better in their practice.

  2. There is a significant accessibility issue when it comes to law at all levels from individuals of low to middle income to small-medium sized businesses. Innovation and technology are needed to make the law more accessible to all. We need to focus on creating legal services that are simpler, faster, and more affordable.

  3. An understanding of business principles can go a long way in bettering your practice. Especially if you wish to build your own practice some day, the legal knowledge you gain from law school will need to be combined with business expertise in order to successfully tackle the accessibility issue and truly bring legal services into the 21st century.

Co-Founder and Director of the Legal Innovation Zone, Hersh Perlis, took some time to chat with me about these things. See our conversation below!

What is your elevator pitch for the LIZ?

Hersh: Our saying is, “the LIZ is focused on building better legal solutions for the consumers of law”. When we say consumers we mean both individuals and corporations. We’re really there to drive better access to legal services for consumers where for decades and decades, if not centuries, the vast majority have not had adequate access. We do this by focusing on technology and innovation, process improvement, and re-regulation.

How does legal-tech impact change in the industry?

Hersh: Legal technology solutions enable lawyers and other professionals to offer legal services faster, more efficiently, and in a more price conscious manner--technology allows you to bring that to the masses. There are a lot of things that can be automated in law whether it is a very simple technology or using real AI that can, for example, analyze thousands of contracts in minutes where it may take a lawyer a much longer time. You are able to reduce the time that it takes to go through a case and reduce the expense of having an army of lawyers go through it. The amount of education that’s available to us that you can now personalize to your clients and customers without even having a lawyer be there at the beginning is amazing, so you can arm people with information that they’ve never been armed with before and then they can make informed decisions of what steps to take next. The key thing to remember is almost every study shows the most powerful outcome is when you combine the lawyer with the technology. This is not about one or the other, this is about finding ways to bring them together to better serve the customer!

Where do you want to see the legal profession in 10 years?

Hersh: I want to see a legal profession that is serving the majority of the market, whereas now the vast majority of the market cannot afford and cannot play in the legal world. So anywhere from, depending on where you’re looking, 40-80-90% of the population including most of the small-medium sized enterprises and individuals do not have access to justice. In ten years, because of various innovations and technologies, I think lawyers can open up markets that were never able to be opened before and hopefully make law accessible to the masses. At the LIZ we have a series called The Legal Gold Rush which talks about this vast trillion dollar market that is untapped whether it’s because of the lack of technology, innovation, business practices, or regulations. I hope in ten years the regulations change, the technologies are used differently, and business operations change whereby lawyers are able to service people like you and I whereas today, the overwhelming majority of us can’t afford legal services. This is no longer an access to justice issue where low income individuals cannot afford legal services. Middle class and even upper middle class don’t have a chance of affording legal services.

What can Ryerson Law students expect from the already established ecosystem of legal innovation (the LIZ and LPP) at Ryerson University?

Hersh: We’re all very excited to see what comes from the first year of Ryerson’s law school and growing from there. I think students should be excited to have a place like the LIZ, a world leading legal tech zone, who will be there to support them and to give them skills that aren’t available at every other law school. Students will have a place to explore law in the way they want to explore it, whether that means testing out an idea or joining a startup. There will be a lot of opportunities to join the LIZ and experiment and to, frankly, fail. It’s a great lesson that often most schools don’t teach, especially in law school, but failing is good. You learn a heck of a lot from failing. The LIZ is a place where experimentation is certainly encouraged and I’m excited to see how we can work with the students of Ryerson Law.

How can law school students prepare to lead differently in law? For students who want to make a change, what advice would you give to them?

Hersh: I think law students should go in with an open mind and remember everything that they used and they learned before law school. Law school is fantastic and teaches critical thinking, analysis, and other unbelievable skills, but sometimes it overlooks the technologies and the everyday business skills that we pick up from other places. So, I think law students should explore new technologies, whether they are legal technologies or not because anything that’s being used in other sectors can be brought into law, and keep an eye open for different ways of doing business because remember - you don’t always have to end up at a traditional law firm. I think this new generation of legal professionals are much more open to challenging systems than other generations have been, which places you in a good position to use your instincts to lead differently.

I couldn’t have asked for better mentors and industry experts to learn from these past few years than from Chris and Hersh themselves, along with the rest of the LIZ team. They have inspired and encouraged me to tap into my own leadership potential in the legal industry. I hope to take all that I have learned at the LIZ with me to Ryerson Law and used my combined education and experience to lead differently in law.

Do you have a legal-tech idea? See how you can get involved with LIZ programming here.


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