Legal Clinics Could Benefit from Cloud-Based Contract Management
“Larger [legal] clinics could be better positioned to leverage technology and/or develop partnerships that actually expand client access to clinic law services,” states a report from Legal Aid Ontario, an independent but publicly funded and publicly accountable non-profit corporation in Ontario, Canada.
This need for merging of legal clinics across Ontario is a scenario that is taking a place in several other places across North America.
The Problem with Small Scale
A legal clinic or law clinic is a nonprofit law practice serving the public interest. Legal clinics originated as a method of practical teaching of law school students, but today they encompass also free legal aid with no academic links.
Given the non-profit nature of legal clinics, it is difficult for small clinics to achieve the necessary scale to shift the focus from administrative tasks to providing legal advice to those who need it most. “I think that’s a good idea. In a larger office, you can get more important stuff done as opposed to a lot of administrative stuff. Not everybody agrees with that, but most people in the clinics realize that’s our limitation – it’s the scale of the clinics”, says Stewart Cruikshank, executive director at East Toronto Community Legal Services.
Instead of focusing on keeping accountancy records or doing other clerical work, law students should be able to spend more time in providing the valuable pro bono legal to the general public.
The Need for Cloud-Based Software
Legal Aid Ontario explains that the necessary scale efficiencies can be achieved through the use of not only more connected offices but also more offices connected through modern technologies “This could be accomplished by significantly increasing the number of potential satellite offices, using telephone and the Internet more innovatively, and expanding the use of legal workers or intermediaries, especially in rural and remote areas,” indicates the report.
Under this scenario of legal clinics becoming part of a larger network and more of them appearing in far remote areas, cloud-based softwares are a perfect fit. With the purpose of reducing the time spent on administrative tasks, a legal clinic could make good use of contract management software. Legal clinics could drastically reduce the effort and time it takes to complete the different contract management process such as data entry, reporting, searching, tracking, document management, and renewals.
Additionally, it is important to point out that law students are the ones running these clinics. While they are great gratis help to the community, they also present a high turnover challenge. Cloud contract management software addresses this challenge by providing context when a contract is pulled up. The history of the contract, including all revisions, is immediately visible, as well as relevant data necessary for decision making. And unlike the change-tracking features in Microsoft Word, contract management software on the cloud wont allow people to disable the tracking capability. All changes that have ever been made- no matter how small and who made them- are clearly recorded. By keeping proper documentation of the process, the software becomes a powerful tool for establishing accountability and limiting the room for error.
While the movement of legal clinics to a more connected network it is an issue that requires the involvement of several community representatives, it is clear that experts in cloud-based technologies should be involved in the process. No matter whether it is a small office in a remote area or a large office in a busy downtown area, the selection of scalable cloud-based solutions such as contract management software are necessary. This way the level of necessary service can be fine tuned according to the size of the legal clinic and grow along with it.