150+ Free Legal Resources for Start-ups

This is a giant list of 150+ free legal and law-related resources for Canadian start-ups and entrepreneurs. Look below for links to free business law guides, contract templates, student-run business law clinics, as well as online information boards. If you notice a link missing, please contact me here.

Giant list of free legal templates and resources for Canadian startups and entrepreneurs
There are tons of free law-related templates, guides, and information sources for Canadian start-ups online.

Free business law guides

These guides outline general information for businesses in Canada, written by some of the largest Canadian law firms. Some tend to be quite lengthy, but they’re a good primer on issues that may affect your business.

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Alberta

British Columbia

Manitoba

New Brunswick

Newfoundland & Labrador

Northwest Territories

Nova Scotia

Nunavut

Ontario

Prince Edward Island (PEI)

Quebec

Yukon

Free contract templates

Few lawyers draft contracts from scratch; contract templates can provide a helpful framework to build off of. However, you should not use these templates without speaking to a lawyer. Templates may not cover your business’s specific situation. Use them with discretion.

Canada

Ontario

Business law clinics for start-ups

If you’re a student or starting a new business with minimal revenue, you may qualify for free legal advice at a student clinic. These are some business-focused legal aid clinics started by law faculties across Canada.

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Alberta

British Columbia

Manitoba

Nova Scotia

Ontario

Quebec

Online legal Q&A, FAQ and information

Sometimes, you just need help understanding a single regulation or step in a proceeding. It may not seem like enough to talk to a lawyer about (although you still should if you can), so you can look for the answer online. What follows are a few online Q&A and FAQ boards that you may find helpful.

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Alberta

British Columbia

Manitoba

New Brunswick

Nova Scotia

Ontario

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Saskatchewan

  • PLEA, “Legal information for everyone”

Other free legal resources (not business-focused)

When it comes to legal issues beyond your business (like law suits, immigration, criminal, and landlord/tenant matters), check out the following low-cost resources across Canada.

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Alberta

British Columbia

Manitoba

New Brunswick

Newfoundland & Labrador

Northwest Territories

  • Legal Aid (Yellowknife, NWT): “confidential legal services, advice, and representation by a lawyer for residents of the Northwest Territories who would be unable to afford these services.”

Nova Scotia

  • Dalhousie Legal Aid Service (Halifax, NS): provides “legal aid services for persons who would not otherwise be able to obtain legal advice for assistance.”
  • Legal Aid Nova Scotia: “delivers legal aid via a network of 16 community-based law offices as well as 3 sub-offices.”
  • Mi’kmaq Legal Support Network: “justice support system for Aboriginal people who are involved in the criminal justice system in Nova Scotia.”
  • Newcomers to Canada: free information about “criminal law, domestic violence law, family law, general law, human rights & immigration status”
  • reachAbility: Lawyer referral service for persons with disabilities.

Nunavut

  • Legal Services Board of Nunavut “responsible for providing legal services to financially eligible Nunavummiut in the areas of criminal, family and civil law.”

Ontario

Prince Edward Island

Quebec

  • Pro Bono Quebec: public interest cases, partnerships, duty counsel and information.

Saskatchewan

Yukon

Three Main Themes from NCFA’s 2015 Crowdfunding Summit

March 3, 2015 marked the first annual National Crowdfunding Association of Canada (NCFA)’s summit at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto. The event combined informative, strategic, and regulatory updates for entrepreneurs interested in the space as well as a live pitching competition for startups.

The core idea: entrepreneurs in Canada currently struggle to raise capital when the amount is between $25,000 and $250,000. Crowdfunding is an attractive oasis in Canada’s barren venture capital landscape, but as we learned at the summit, we have a long way to go before crowdfunding realizes its full potential.

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I was lucky to have the chance to volunteer for the event. At the registration desk and on breaks I spoke with sponsors, attendees, and speakers alike. The pitching competitions were also extremely popular (here is a full list of speakers, sponsors, and companies who pitched). The event had a live twitter feed at #CCS2015 which was great for updates from the three simultaneous session-rooms. Nikolas Badminton from FreeLancer.com wrote a great LinkedIn post on the event here, and James Daigle created a Twitter list of speakers and attendees to follow here.

Three main themes were repeated at the NCFA’s summit: crowdfunding is making capital markets more social, accessible, and challenging to regulate.

Crowdfunding is an inherently social investment tool

FundRazr’s CEO Daryl Hatton talked about how social media and crowdfunding combine to change the way people are investing. According to Hatton, Facebook makes up about 98% of FundRazr’s social shares. Investors want to promote their own investments to their friends.

The days where “angel investment” ended at local friends and family are over. Now early-stage investment can be fueled by dispersed networks with the strength of those community bonds. As one pitch competition judge put it:

Tonya Surman, CEO of Toronto’s Centre for Social Innovation talked about her experience crowdfunding “community bonds” to fund the centre’s real estate purchases. In addition to using social connections to boost business investment, it also has the power to share and spread ideas that help support communities. What a powerful combination.

Crowdfunding makes capital markets more accessible

Social investment may be a powerful promotion tool, but another theme repeated at the Summit was that Canadian business owners pursue crowdfunding because there is a scarcity of capital in our country. Although this may change as the startup industry heats up in Canada’s tech centers, for now, crowdfunding provides ready access to investors around the world.

There were startups at the summit applying the crowdfunding model to fund companies by connecting seed-stage startups with unaccredited investors (SeedUps.com) all the way to pairing private-equity ready businesses with high-value accredited investors (InvestX.com). All of them had one thing in common: they were capitalizing on the opportunity to provide easier and affordable access to equity (and debt) financing in Canada.

Crowdfunding is creating a regulatory challenge for Canada

Crowdfunding’s greater reach and accessibility creates a challenging regulatory environment, especially in Canada where securities regulations vary by province.

Vancouver lawyer and founder of Venture Law Corporation, Alixe B. Cormick, had an impressive presentation that outlined some current barriers to entrepreneurs in Canada seeking equity investment abroad. The complex interplay between US and Canadian securities regulations means that legal advice will be critical for business owners performing big fundraising rounds using crowdfunding. As a recent graduate and soon-to-be lawyer, it made me realize I need to keep tabs on this rapidly developing area.

In the meantime, I’m already looking forward to next year’s event. If you’d like to reach out to the NCFA or volunteer at a future event, become a member and reach out at NCFACanada.org.

Let me know in the comments: What’s your experience with crowdfunding? What would you like to see improved in Canada? Thanks for participating in the conversation.

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Failure Should Be a Graduation Requirement

Every university and high-school student should be required to fail one course before graduating.

It’s easy to focus on achievement, and reward those who meet (or exceed) expectations of performance.  Our school system feeds its success obsession using standardized tests, pass rates, and college admissions as a measurement of its effectiveness.

The problem is that many of the highest achievers graduate without ever being challenged.  They never learn how to take risks and fail.

Failure Hitting the Ground

The pressure to have high pass rates have made it tough to actually fail in Ontario high schools.  I’m not saying we should celebrate the failure to show up to class, or failure from a total lack of effort.

Real failure is about trying your hardest, and still not making it.

If every student were challenged to that level, we’d have the opportunity to teach real life lessons.  How to ask for help.  How to come to terms with your weaknesses.  How to push on when you feel like giving up.

With admission averages to many competitive Ontario university programs continuing the “upward spiral” that began over a decade ago, it’s no wonder students are allergic to failure.

At my alma mater, the University of Waterloo, you only have a 40% chance of receiving an admission offer to civil, mechanical, or software engineering if your high-school grade point average (GPA) is between 85 and 90%.  If your GPA is between 91 and 95%, the probability of being admitted jumps to 85%.

I’m not an engineer, and frankly, I would have never been able to make into a program at Waterloo if I had applied.  Even with such high admission averages, Waterloo was failing an average of 20% of its first-year engineering classes.  This bothered people so much they suggested making changes to the first-year curriculum in 2010.

As a residence don for 1st year engineers at Waterloo, I witnessed first-hand what failure would do to some of those 18-year olds.  Adult responsibility for their own learning hit many of them like a truck.  Some reacted by doubling down and studying seriously for the first time in their lives.  Others escaped into virtual worlds online.

For those of us who overcame it, failure was the best lesson of our lives.  My first lesson with failure didn’t come until I took a Japanese course for credit, and was blown out of the water by classmates who had studied it as a second language in Hong Kong and China.  Failing test after test taught me how to push myself harder, to ask for help, and how to take responsibility for something marked with the letter “F.”

If every school required students to fail at least one course, it would make failing okay.  Students would be encouraged to take risks, and get seriously challenged without the risk of their average slipping to an unacceptable 89%.

To have the F count as course credit, the student should have to (1) reflect on why the failure happened, (2) make a plan to overcome it by using all the resources at their disposal, (3) develop a “plan B” if their first plan doesn’t work, (4) follow through with the plan, and (5) reflect on the experience.

What do you think?  Would this ever work?  Would this have enriched your overall experience in school, or should we wait until people graduate before they’re allowed to fail?

TEAMwork: Interdisciplinary Learning at its Finest

April 1st 2013 marks the end of my eight-month experience in the Technology Engineering And Management (TEAM) course at Queen’s University.

Every law school should have a course like TEAM.  It allows law students to work with engineering and management students, and trains legal minds to look for ways they can add value in real-world projects.

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What is TEAM?

TEAM is an interdisciplinary project course.  Senior students enrol in the course from chemical engineering, commerce, and law.  Each student begins the term by bidding on projects proposed by industry partners across Canada and the United States.

Students are matched to projects based on their interest and experience.  Teams of 3-5 students are formed for each project.  The TEAM class runs anywhere from 18 to 20 projects a year.

Former projects have included the retrofit of a manufacturing plant, innovative carbon capture processes, feasibility of a new oil pipeline upgrader design, geothermal energy production, and environmentally friendly oil sands worker housing.

How did TEAM start?

The TEAM course was designed by Barrie Jackson , an ex-Shell employee and Queen’s Adjunct Associate Professor, in 1995.  He realized that engineers never work in isolation, and should learn the business and legal side of their work.

TEAM’s great work continues thanks to the tireless efforts of Dave Mody, an Adjunct Lecturer and “Engineer in Residence” at the Chemical Engineering Faculty at Queen’s.  Dave meets with student teams weekly to guide and mentor student groups, and to share his 17 years of engineering and design process experience.

What was my experience like?

I was lucky to be matched with a fantastic client known in the energy industry worldwide.  Their head office in Canada is in Calgary, so our team was flown out to get briefed on our project in November 2012.  Next week, on April 2nd we’ll present our final presentation and report.

Our project is a concept design for an environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable remote housing unit for resource development workers.  We had a few different personality types and learning styles on our team.  It was a great leadership experience.

Have you ever had an interdisciplinary project that inspired you, or taught you things you didn’t expect?  Post it in the comments.

The legal angle of my project was on the aboriginal consultation requirements, and the environmental-regulatory requirements for an energy development project.  The nature of the project touched many areas of law, and it’s an experience I’ll never forget.

 

The Innovative Advocate: Canada’s Legal Future

The way legal services are delivered in Canada is changing.  Increased competition and a demand for lower prices has pressured law firms to slow hiring and deliver their services more efficiently.  After finishing my first year at Queen’s Law I started thinking about how law students can help firms meet the demand.  It starts with an open-eyes look at where our industry is moving.

Lawyer blended with a computer and USB port

The reality is that corporate in-house clients are demanding routine process work be done for less, putting pressure on law firms to deliver their services faster with less overhead.  2012 also marked the first year that non-lawyers are allowed to own law firms in the UK, dramatically expanding the capital available for those firms’ investment and growth.

Here at home, lawyer-only firm ownership still reigns in Canada, but mergers with international players push our largest firms into ever-greater levels of competition.  Lawyers-turned-entrepreneurs in Canada are in turn growing their shares in the consumer market by launching online legal services.

New entrants to the market still haven’t quenched the demand for lower legal costs. Canadians face serious access to justice issues, and even middle-class litigants find themselves increasingly forced to represent themselves in court.

How are law students responding to these challenges?  Traditional not-for-profit work in legal clinics like Queen’s Legal Aid and Pro-Bono Students Canada is popular while in law school, but how many students continue their pro-bono efforts post graduation?  How does this solve the problem for clients who aren’t poor but still can’t afford legal advice?

I believe the change starts with how legal services are delivered.  I believe it starts by getting students thinking about innovative ways to bring the law to Canadians.

Law-students for Technology and Innovation (LFTI) is a student-run organization Nikolas Sopow and I created this year at Queen’s Law.  We’re passionate about finding better ways to deliver legal services.  We’re law students, but we’re not afraid of the changes coming to the Canadian legal scene.  Within three weeks we recruited four more executives to our team, and we’re still growing.  By 2015 we plan to have LFTI clubs at every law school in Canada.

Our projects this year are as diverse as our leadership team.  We’re hosting a speakers’ panel in Winter 2013 titled Technology on the Legal Frontier: Current and Future Ways to Practice Law.  We’re fundraising for computer literacy skills in Kingston by hosting a LAN party for video-game enthusiasts.  We’re blogging on the latest legal tech to hit app store shelves.  And we’re letting everyone know how the delivery of legal services is changing, so our classmates are prepared when they graduate.

Needless to say I’m excited at what LFTI has set out to accomplish this year.  Being prepared for the changing legal environment in Canada is about more than making a living as a lawyer.  It’s about making legal counsel affordable, providing greater access to justice, and ensuring Canadian firms remain competitive in the global market for legal services.

What areas of legal service delivery do you think could be improved?  How does legal education need to change in order to keep up?  Be creative, and ask tough questions. The innovative advocate is Canada’s legal future.

  • Ivan

Note that this article was published concurrently on LawIsCool.com

Two Links Worth your Time

Finding what’s relevant online can be a real challenge at times.  The speed and urgency with which RSS feeds, social media titans (e.g. the Seth Godins, Chris Brogans and Guy Kawasakis of the world) and Twitter pros push content have the power to make even the most tuned in info-sponges feel like river weeds being held under by the current.

If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, here’s a simple way to find content you care about: ask 2 friends to share 2 links they feel are important, and pass them along.  This method was inspired by Six Pixels of Separation‘s Mitch Joel, who makes a weekly effort to post “6 Links Worth your Time” with help from 2 friends.

Here are mine this week (which happens to be National Volunteer Week):

James Lockyer – a professional bio on one of Canada’s great legal heroes, James Lockyer of Lockyer Campbell Posner, based in Toronto, Ontario Canada.  Why is he a hero?  Lockyer spearheaded the late 90’s wrongful convictions movement as a reaction to “get tough on crime” policies and irresponsible media coverage that locked innocent people behind bars.  People like Guy Paul Morin and David Milgaard are two of his most famous clients — both convicted of heinous crimes they didn’t commit.  Stories of wrongful convictions like this one are heartbreaking, and it’s because of champions like James Lockyear that the stories don’t have to end in tragedy.

Governor General David Johnston – a fairly comprehensive bio on Wikipedia of Canada’s newest GG, and former President of my alma mater, the University of Waterloo.  Johnston is a hero of mine because of his distinguished academic career,  his dedication to public service, and the way he remains approachable despite it all.  A true leader, he helped grow Waterloo into the city and academic hub it is today.  He had this message for Canadians on National Volunteer Week — a message he has practised in the past, and continues to uphold in one of our highest appointed public offices.  If only more Canadians could be more like the Right Honourable David J.

If you’re not inspired after reading about these two gentlemen’s distinguished careers, please share a link or two of people who DO inspire you — I look forward to learning about them.