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Osler partners with Ryerson’s Legal Innovation Zone

|Written By Jennifer Brown

Ryerson University’s Legal Innovation Zone has teamed up with Osler Hoskin & Harcourt LLP to provide startups at the incubator with access to feedback and resources of big law.

Chris Bentley says it’s important for startups to see that the big legal institutions value innovation.

As a founding partner of LIZ, Osler will support the innovative startups working out of Canada's first legal incubator, which is creating a space for entrepreneurs, lawyers, students, tech experts, government players, and industry leaders to drive innovation.

“I think it’s enormously important for startups to see that the big legal institutions value innovation. The biggest challenge for startups is getting someone to actually try their product, try their innovation,” says Chris Bentley, executive director of the LIZ at Ryerson. “When you start getting major, well-established law firms saying ‘Hey, innovation is important,’ you’re going to send a message to the broader legal and business community that maybe it’s time to take another look at the innovation happening not only in our zone but in the broader Toronto community.”

The partnership began when Osler’s chief knowledge officer, Mara Nickerson, heard about the launch of the LIZ and met with Bentley and director Hersh Perlis.

“We’re trying lots of different technologies and different things these days and you never know where things are going to come from,” says Nickerson. “I thought it all fit with what we were trying to do in terms of encouraging innovation internally, so we decided it was a good fit and we would sponsor them.”

There are currently 13 companies working out of the LIZ.

“We benefit from the experience, eyes, ears, and practice of law firms like Osler and others,” says Bentley.

Map Your Property is just one of the companies currently in the incubator. It uses open-source data to identify 50 different data points on every property in York Region and Toronto. It’s one that has already had an opportunity to demonstrate their product to Osler’s commercial real estate group.

“It’s the first one I saw that I thought could have an application. I think our real estate group is trying to determine if it’s something they could pilot and give feedback on,” says Nickerson.

Map Your Property first started selling its system to land developers and it was at that point their clients suggested their lawyers would also benefit from using the product.

“It saves lawyers time. What used to take them 10 hours trying to find all this data, now they can pull it up in a couple of minutes and identify points they need to do a much deeper dive on,” says Perlis.

“We are focused on any system or technology-based innovation that is going to make the law faster and better whether it’s access to justice, has a focus on big law or on the consumer,” says Perlis.

Bentley says the relationship with Osler doesn’t guarantee a company access to the firm’s partners, but it ensures the lawyers will know what the companies are working on and give those companies the opportunity to have their innovations tested.

As part of this sponsorship, Osler and LIZ will work together on a number of unique initiatives over the next year; the first being a hackathon next month involving Osler lawyers, clients, and other industry participants, looking at how “big law” could be done differently to create greater client value.

“One of the things I liked about Ryerson and Chris and Hersh was their belief you can’t have too many of these groups to help Canada be that innovation leader,” says Nickerson.


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