Canadian Bar Association Runs a Startup Competition at Its Annual Conference

Imagine the taxi industry investing in Uber. Well, maybe it should have.

Despite the comparisons between lawyers and the taxi industry, the preeminent lawyers’ organization in Canada—the Canadian Bar Association, is running the Pitch—a contest to select the best legal tech startups in the country. The Pitch takes place at the CBA Legal Conference on August 12, 2016. The CBA partnered up with important players from the startup world to reward the winners.

The China Angels Mentorship Program will consider all Pitch finalists for at least a $200,000 investment.

The winners of the Pitch will also get a residency at Legal X, which is one of the two major legal tech incubators in Toronto. Legal X is based at MaRS Discovery District, and is a brainchild of a powerful duo of Aron Solomon and Jason Moyse, both recognized with Fastcase 50 awards in 2015.

Two different panels are judging the contest. One selected the finalists from 33 initial submissions, and the other one will choose the winner.

The panels include notable angel investors, lawyers, legal profession critics and innovation thinkers, academics, and business executives. The final panel includes Chris Bentley, the executive director of the other major Toronto legal tech incubator—Legal Innovation Zone and a 2016 Canadian Lawyer Magazine top 25 most influential lawyer in Canada.

One of the CBA leaders behind the Pitch is Fred Headon (@fredheadon), a chair of the CBA’s Legal Futures Initiative, a Past President of the CBA, and current Assistant General Counsel with Air Canada in Montreal. In 2015, Canadian Lawyer Magazine named him among the top 25 most influential lawyers in Canada in the Changemaker category.

In a phone conversation, Fred shared some views on the Canadian legal tech startup scene and answered my questions about the Pitch. As I was in California at the time, I couldn’t help comparing the US and Canada when it came to legal tech startups. According to Fred, “Canada is seen as a leader in this area.” He also welcomed the transition of Canadian legal startups into the Silicon Valley. Fred preferred to see this as expansion rather than migration. He underlined that law is always local. Using a Toronto startup Ross Intelligence, which recently moved to San Francisco, as an example, he said he was delighted that “they continue to find a way home.”

Fred pointed at document review and online interaction with clients as the top two legal industry problems that tech could solve.

When I asked Fred if the end of lawyers was still coming, he said that a more common view in the legal world currently was that tech would supplement and improve rather than replace them. Perhaps, the taxi industry does have something to learn from lawyers.

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