We got together with one of the founders of Small Claims Wizard to talk about the possibilities surrounding the innovation of the legal field through the use of technology. Although it's still in the early stages, Small Claims Wizard promises big things by creating a software program intended to simplify the smalls claims court process. Selena told us a little bit about what it is like to start from the ground up at one of Canada's biggest incubators, MaRS Innovation centre.
Tell us about Small Claims Wizard. What does it do?
It's an online software that facilitates and simplifies access to small claims court. The idea came about when I worked as a court reporter. It was there that I witnessed some of the pitfalls in our legal system – particularly around the lack of efficiency and access to justice. These experiences inspired me to harness the power of technology in order to enable the average person to access and process claims more efficiently. Some of the features of the software include: a step-by-step guidance through the small claims process, managing court documents and evidence relevant to the user's case, standardized forms for submission to the court, legal commentary and referral programs to affordable lawyers. These are only a few of the exciting features I was able to develop.
Do you think that software forms part of a wave that's going to disrupt the legal profession?
To be honest, I think that's a bit of an overstatement. One software system is not going to completely disrupt the legal system. Disruption means absolutely reconfiguring the relationship between lawyers, clients and the court system. I don't think there's anything out there that has done that. We are starting off by taking conservative steps, such as attempting to make law more accessible for litigants and improving their confidence in the Canadian legal system by demystifying the process of accessing the court system. Although one may think that this poses a challenge to the legal profession, my team and I believe that technological innovation can be profitably combined with the interest of the legal profession. All these factors aside, my focus is mainly about improving the relationship between people and the legal system, and if there are a few disruptions in between, it's worth it.
Are you saying that there are incremental shifts toward improving the industry as a whole, rather than a complete eradication of the traditional practice of law?
Exactly. I am aware that there are limits to the promise of technology and there are socio-political implications associated with its domination and use. For example, people have already built artificial intelligence which can read and build contracts. However, that's far from a complete reliance on machines. At the end of the day, law is a human phenomenon that requires a human element. It's important to note that when we speak about innovation and law, we must avoid making the fallacy of perceiving technology as a savior to all our problems. There is a difference between disruption and sustainable innovation—with the latter being more applicable to the current legal landscape. It's more appropriate to think of technology as rejuvenating how lawyers practice, servicing their clients and how regular folks engage with the legal system.
Most of your startup has been developed at MaRS. How did you become involved with this incubator?
I was selected as part of the competitive Studio-Y Program from an application process which accepts only 25 candidates a year. This program is funded by the Government of Ontario and hosted at the MaRS Discovery District. It's a great program because they do not take any equity in my company and they provide a monthly salary for the duration of the fellowship. I also get a lot of support from the administration and incredible people who work here, such as Aron Solomon and Jason Moyse. MaRS provides access to a tremendous amount of resources, such as mentorship from other founders, communication with VCs and the space to put together a team. My company and my confidence would not be where it is today were it not for my fellowship at MaRS.
How did you put your team together?
Networking, networking and more networking. It's an old tool in the toolbox, but it's still an effective way to build a team. My current challenge is not in putting the team together, but in finding a way to keep the team committed when their only compensation is equity.
How do you conduct effective networking that goes beyond small talk?
When it comes to networking I always ask two questions: (i) if you were me, given everything you know about my company and what I'm doing, who do you think I should talk to or reach out to, and (ii) how can I help you. People forget that there has to be reciprocity. Keep in touch even if you don't need anything.
Are there any challenges to being a young female founder?
Sometimes I think I have more doubts about myself in comparison to my male colleagues. Getting advice from a female perspective has also been difficult due to the shortage of female role models in the workspace. Otherwise, I would say that it's been great. I'm glad I've chosen to be an entrepreneur and I look forward to what the future has in store.
What advice would you have for people just starting their business in Toronto?
Fall in love with the problem, not the solution. It's harder to create a problem to solve rather than having a problem and solving it. I think it's also important to believe in your vision, otherwise it's easy to walk away when it gets tough. Selecting the right people to work with is also key—even if it takes a bit of time, don't settle.
Thank you for joining us and being a part of our own startup initiative!
*Andreea Andrei is a 2016/2017 articling student at Aird & Berlis LLP.
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