Justice Innovation & Access to Justice Program

Justice Innovation & Access to Justice: Training Tomorrow’s Lawyers

By Nicole Aylwin & Kim Bonnar*

The legal world is changing. Technology is augmenting – and often disrupting – the way in which legal services are being delivered and the pressure to provide “better, faster, and cheaper” legal services in a time of fiscal austerity is mounting, both in private firms and in the public administration of justice. At the same time, it has been widely recognized in Canada that we are dealing with an access to justice crisis. Reports such as those produced by the Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters, The Canadian Bar Association’s (CBA) Futures reports, and their recent, Do Law Differently: Futures for Young Lawyers report, each point to the need for innovation in the legal profession generally, but also in legal education more specifically. Collectively, these reports identify an additional set of skills that new lawyers will need not only to succeed in the profession but to thrive in it. Key among these critical skills:

  • The ability to employ an expansive user-centered vision of access to justice
  • An entrepreneurial spirit
  • Technological proficiency
  • Strong emotional intelligence
  • Knowledge of how to design services that are more flexible, versatile, efficient and cost- effective. In short, services that are designed for the user.

Of particular interest to us at the Winkler Institute and Osgoode Hall Law School, is the way in which we prepare the next cohort of lawyers to meet this changing legal world. What new skills will our students need to succeed in this changing legal environment? What tools can we provide them with to help them navigate what will likely be nontraditional career paths? How can we prepare them to not only feel comfortable using technology, but empowered to embrace it in ways we haven’t yet considered? And, finally, how can we ensure that access to justice becomes a core lens through which our students view their legal practice – whether that practice is at large firm in a large city, or is a solo practice in rural Ontario.

These are the questions that preoccupy us. They drive us to think innovatively about legal education so that those who graduate from Osgoode do so as agile and creative thinkers with a deep commitment to access to justice that will make them innovators in the new legal marketplace. Over the past year, the Winkler Institute has worked in collaboration with Osgoode’s Experiential Education Office to develop a Justice Innovation and Access to Justice Program (A2J Program) that begins to address some of these questions. The A2J Program, which consists of three innovative courses, offers JD Candidates an opportunity to learn the theory and tools that are needed to promote innovation in the legal field, apply these tools hypothetically in case studies and simulations, build partnerships with community organizations and apply theory to real world access to justice issues.

Significant background research went into designing the A2J Program, which was generously funded by York University’s Academic Innovation Fund. The content and structure of each course is based on a fusion of theoretical knowledge, research into best practices and experience, feedback from those who have engaged in similar work and the extensive experience of Osgoode Hall Law School in delivering experiential legal education. We are pleased to share our report on the first stage of the A2J Program in the hopes that this knowledge sharing will aid the many other legal educators across the country who are working to provide new ways of “teaching law differently”.

We look forward to sharing our experiences in teaching these classes and will report back after the first Designing the Future of Justice course concludes at the end of the Fall term.

We would also like to thank all of those who spoke with us about the inspiring and innovative courses that are currently being taught in law faculties across Canada as well as in the US. Your willingness to share your experiences and offer you syllabi have truly enriched this work.


*Nicole Aylwin, Assistant Director, Winkler Institute for Dispute Resolution & Kim Bonnar, Manager, Experiential Education and Career Development.