Top 25 Most Influential lawyer Donna Purcell on access to justice, innovation and legal technology

Purcell shares her experience in improving access as an entrepreneur

Top 25 Most Influential lawyer Donna Purcell on access to justice, innovation and legal technology

Describing herself as an entrepreneur, Donna Purcell has a professional role that is aligned with her natural inclinations. Named one of Canadian Lawyer’s Top 25 Most Influential Lawyers in the Changemakers category, the founder and chief innovation officer of Alberta-based Donna Purcell QC Law eagerly works to promote change and break down barriers in the legal system. She cites three interrelated barriers to people’s access to justice: complexity, lengthy time required for court hearings, and high costs. 

“[These barriers result] in many people not using the system at all or maybe giving it up and not making it there or trying to do it as self-represented litigants, which then makes it even more complicated and slows down and backlogs the system even more, creating a bit of a vicious cycle,” Purcell told Canadian Lawyer.

The solution, she believes, lies in legal innovation and technology. Although innovations are not easy to apply in the legal system because of technicalities and privacy concerns, there are advantages in using remote courts and digital signatures. Remote courts, for example, eliminate the need for a physical location for hearings, thereby allowing people to use the system from afar, reducing the cost of accessing justice, and simplifying the system itself. Some of the convenient innovations implemented in her own office are remote work and a cloud platform to store and exchange electronic documents, thus minimizing the need for paper.

Asked about her plans to continue addressing the delivery of innovative legal and court services, Purcell says: “[At] the beginning of the pandemic, I realized that we, as a society, have developed too many silos and therefore it’s almost like there’s nobody in charge. So, we need to collaborate more. I believe that if we can collaborate through all the major players, including the government, the court system, the legal profession, including the pro bono players, as well as the citizens, then we can use technology and legal innovation to really improve the system and run it more like a business.”

Purcell says she has strengthened her business background by attending the Harvard Business Analytics Program. She appreciates how a course such as operations and supply chain management can teach about production assembly bottlenecks similar to those encountered in the court system.

“If there was some way to use some legal innovation to coordinate the systems better, we could deliver better access that way … [If we turn] to paperless and have all the systems, the bandwidth and everything in place, then we can coordinate all the best practices that we found throughout the pandemic to greatly improve access to justice while also likely cutting costs,” she says.

Watch the exclusive interview here

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