Innovation Sandbox Year-in-Review
Starting in the first quarter of 2022, the Law Society of Alberta began accepting applications for participation in the Innovation Sandbox. The Innovation Sandbox allows the Law Society to support innovators in testing new ideas and models for the delivery of legal services in a controlled environment, with the Law Society providing both guidance and oversight.
Changes in technology, the emergence of alternative service providers and an increasingly globalized legal market have changed the legal environment in Alberta and in fact, around the world. As these changes continue to shape the future of the delivery of legal services, law and the lawyers who practise it, accessible and affordable legal services continue to be an unmet need for the public.
In a Sandbox environment, the Law Society is able to relax specific provisions of the Rules to allow entities – lawyers, non-lawyers, not-for-profits and for-profit corporations – the opportunity to explore delivery models for legal services that can potentially benefit the public.
In the past year, the Law Society has received 25 applications from interested parties. Of that 25, four have been approved. Details on approved Sandbox participants can be found on the Innovation Sandbox website.
Of the other 21 applications, 11 are presently under review, six have been delayed or gone dormant and four have been declined. Of those four that have been declined, three were paralegal organizations wanting to submit to the Law Society’s oversight to provide legal advice (which is explicitly outside of the mandate of the Innovation Sandbox) as well as one proposal did not require Sandbox participation to proceed.
Compared to other legal Sandbox environments in Canada (including British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario), Alberta’s Innovation Sandbox criteria is intentionally broad, allowing for applications that focus on any aspect of legal service delivery that may benefit the public. As a result, the types of organizations that have applied for the Sandbox are diverse, including technology, medicine, disability rights, real estate, constitutional law, immigration and corporations seeking to engage lawyers in new business structures.
It is important to note that many of the approved applicants and applicants that are expected to be approved are working on ways to assist lawyers (for example, three of the approved applicants have developed new client ID and verification systems that allow lawyers to verify the identities of their prospective clients without having to meet in-person). While these systems do require a relaxation of the Rules to operate, lawyers who want to use these new tools are not subject to disciplinary action if their product is approved by the Law Society.
The Law Society continues to receive applications from interested parties and will provide further updates on the Innovation Sandbox website as applicants move through the process.