In many ways the taxicab industry is the canary in the coal mine. Silently ringing the alarm to tell us that technology companies are circling in on highly regulated industries, ready to disrupt them, ready to leave a wreckage at whatever the cost.
The scariest part of it all?
These new technology companies operate outside the law. In Your Profession, Your Future hosted by the Advocates’ Society, Monica Goyal explained that these new start-ups operate outside the law because they simply cannot afford to operate inside the law.
What will happen when new legal start-ups operate outside the law?
Once one of these apps gains marketshare, some law society out there will sue them. These new apps will hire lawyers. These lawyers will bring the inevitable argument: “This is a technology company and NOT the unlicensed practice of law.”
Regardless of the lawsuit’s outcome, law societies will fail to prevent the onslaught of legal services provided by technology companies. Therefore, law societies must begin to regulate actors beyond lawyers.
Currently in Ontario only lawyers and paralegals are regulated. This is concerning considering that the reign of lawyers is ending and the infiltration of new legal providers is beginning. “Ultimately,.. the disruptive effect of technology will trigger the end of lawyers’ monopoly (“the Great Disruption”, John McGinnis and Russell Pearce).” Given the inevitable triumph of new actors, regulation of all legal providers must occur, from the lawyer all the way up to the big company.
No one, no “thing” should be above the law. Professor Dodek’s remarks in “Regulating Law Firms in Canada” could easily be extended to start-ups and entrenched legal technology companies (e.g. LegalZoom):
Ultimately, law societies should regulate law firms because of the fundamental rule of law idea that no one is above the law and that the law applies equally to the most powerful as well as to the weakest in society. Law firms exercise significant power within the Canadian legal profession and within Canadian society. The perception that the most powerful within the legal profession lie outside of regulation has the potential to seriously undermine public confidence in self-regulation of the legal profession. It is not enough to simply regulate the individuals who make up law firms because law firms have an independent existence and identity. Individual lawyers promote their practices to the public through the vehicle of the law firm. The public sees law firms but does not see law firms being regulated.