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.

Canada

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.

Canada

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.

Canada

Alberta

British Columbia

Manitoba

New Brunswick

Nova Scotia

Ontario

Quebec

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.

Canada

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

Daniel Schutzsmith: Follow Thy Checklist and Prosper

During FITC Toronto 2015 I had the opportunity to hear Daniel Schutzsmith talk about project management in creative enterprise. In case you’ve never attended an FITC event, part of FITC is about dreaming big and fearlessly taking on life-changing projects. Another part of FITC is about actually getting them done. (For a full conference re-cap, click here.)

Daniel Schutzsmith’s talk was strongly in the second category. The main theme was that in a creative enterprise (or legal one), chances are that you’re not running short of great ideas. What may be missing, Schutzsmith says, are the processes that help you consistently deliver great results.

Checklist
Use a consistent check list for routine tasks and quality assurance

Background

After working for 17 different studios and co-founding digital creative design agency Mark & Phil, Schutzsmith shared his wisdom on what it takes to bring process into creative firms. The first step for entrepreneurs and agency owners is to get processes out of their heads. Answering over-the-shoulder questions on how to do things works when a company is five people or less. Larger teams quickly swamp managers, eating up precious time with questions that have been answered many times before.

That’s why Schutzsmith recommends we all live by DRY: Don’t Repeat Yourself. Documenting processes in an organization is that simple. In the early days, it actually helped save lives. Doctors eventually adopted a “checklist mentality” after realizing that doing every operation from memory led to some awful mistakes. Now every routine operation runs by checklist, and so should your business.

Clean Up the Mess

To start, Schutzsmith recommends documenting roles in your business. People generally like knowing what’s expected of them. Writing down what’s expected of each team member helps develop a work ethic and builds morale. It’s positive on all counts.

After roles are mapped out, everyone’s attention should turn towards the business. Schedule three sessions over beer or coffee, ideally at least a week apart:

  • Talk about everything that’s going wrong.
  • Talk about everything that’s going well.
  • Decide what the team would like to see working better.

That helps align everyone towards making things work better. Maybe there are things going wrong you’ve never thought of. Invite the usual gripers and the quiet ones. Find out how to clean up the mess before you’re running tight against a deadline.

Plan the Process

After your team has identified critical areas for improvement (for example, sales, HR or training new employees), it’s time to make a process. The final product should be documented, ideally in something simple like a checklist or flowchart. Schutzsmith recommends you find someone on your team who can help get this done. They can’t be too process-focused; it’s important to make room for creativity and freestyling. Similarly, he recommends defining tools but making space for people’s unique favourites. Balance is key, all with a DRY mentality.

A great example Schutzsmith featured in his slides was a checklist for the complete sales cycle. This list could be integrated into a CRM system, so initial contact with a prospect dropped the list in a client manager’s inbox. Processes don’t need to be stifling—ultimately they make time for more creative things.

Share, Evolve, and Scrap Every Process

Once your firm has a basic handle on its processes, Schutzsmith recommended they be openly shared, discussed, tweaked, and ultimately… scrapped entirely.

That’s because processes are living, breathing things. Sure, they change. They should be reviewed every six months. Steps might get obsoleted as teams find better ways. And they should be. Schutzsmith recommends that teams go a step further and throw processes in the garbage every five years. Building on the same skeleton only works for so long. If the entire process isn’t re-invented, we risk becoming dinosaurs.

Schutzsmith ended the talk with a call to action: go do it. Just write down a process. So what’s next on your list?

Technology and Innovation Events: Surprisingly, Still Analog

Digital media has made industry intelligence more accessible than ever: Twitter feeds, webcasts and shareable slide decks seem like they’ve made conferences obsolete. Yet in 2014, Las Vegas alone hosted 22,000 industry conventions with over five million delegates in attendance. The number has been growing annually and seems set to surpass peak pre-recession levels.

Why is that? Ask most people and they’ll say that not every experience can or even should be experienced digitally. Webcasts, online video, photographs, Slideshare and e-zines seem to augment live events more than they replace them. When given the choice, digital simply hasn’t caught up with the energy and excitement of in-person events. Maybe we’ll have to wait until both performers and audience members can attend as holograms or network between sessions in virtual reality.

band-cheering-club-2850-526x350
What is it about digital experience that fails to replicate live events?

Surprisingly, the business, startup and technology event space has kept a similarly strong analog flavour. Yes, audience members at tech-savvy “unconferences” may follow events remotely via Twitter, but they seem to equally enjoy the chance to meet presenters and attendees in person. I’ve had the chance over the past few months to attend events that apply lean manufacturing principles to law, discuss crowd funding trends and opportunities in Canada, and most recently, the Internet of Things (IoT) and wearable technology. Each event was recorded and experienced online, but also featured rich in-person engagement that any digital observer would miss entirely.

What I’m saying isn’t novel or brand new. I only started to think more about the analog/digital interplay at conferences after my last event. I was there in person, but while tweeting about the event I started a conversation with someone in the room. Here’s what happened next:

Maybe that interaction was pretty rudimentary for folks who’ve used Twitter for a long time as a communication tool. For me it was next level.

During that presentation there was no opportunity to meet the people two seats to the left, right, in front or behind me–except in a virtual extension of the conference. For me that was made possible by Twitter. Yes, Twitter has its faults. It’s still largely text-based. It presents itself in a torrent that’s hard to make sense of without practice. It’s also still largely confined to static text and pictures. Despite those weaknesses, Twitter’s main benefit stands: people can absorb conference insights without taking a Thursday afternoon off work, or travelling to Toronto like I did.

Thinking years ahead, we’ll likely see more in-depth ways to experience and live events like conferences or lectures. Right now human beings are manually punching words and photos into handheld devices to record them online. An archive of the event is then available by hash-tag for later review. The problem is that relying on humans to live-tweet everything means we miss out on the uniquely attention-grabbing perspectives and conversations. Everything that pulls people’s eyes off their phones: networking, handshakes, meetings and “wow” moments–escapes digital archiving because we’re living the moment.

However, if we had devices that were auto-recording or capturing events, capturing themes automatically in “hash-tags” (or live chat-rooms) both attendees and non-attendees could experience the event from a drone’s view, for example, while reviewing live commentary from experts and enthusiasts. Combined with virtual reality, this experience could be extended to sounds and movement–the event itself could be paused or rewound to make more time for in-depth analysis or discussion.

I think one day I could be meeting new people at a conference “face to face” while we’re both watching a presentation from other sides of the auditorium. Or, I could broadcast my live experience to friends, family or coworkers to have company while attending alone.

I’m not sure that experience will ever be “better” than attending events live in real-time (with all its unexpected meetings and events, like my meeting above). Chances are that technology will just continue augmenting live events’ excitement and energy. Only time will tell.

Wearable Tech Out of Sight, In Mind at Genesys’ Toronto Tech Summit

Wearables, user experience (UX) design and the internet of things (IoT) took the stage at Genesys technology’s first Toronto Technology Summit this April 2, 2015. Attendees were guided through afternoon talks and discussions by Betakit’s high-energy senior editor Tom Emrich (@tomemrich). I attended the event to learn more about Canadian startups pursuing opportunities in the area and I wasn’t disappointed.

Surprisingly, the event wasn’t all positive on wearables: the theme was that IoT has a long way to go before it reaches its full potential. Wrist wearables like Fitbit and the Apple Watch have the same problem as phones—they take our eyes away from the world. IoT is really about freeing people from a reliance on visuals for data. We won’t see the best IoT until we’ve fully unlocked our other senses’ potential to interact with our environment, including movement, sounds, touch, breathing and yes, thinking.

When entering the tech summit’s venue at 87 Elm Street, I couldn’t help but notice one thing: Genesys’ Markham team was out in full force. I have no relationship to Genesys but I have to say they did a great job organizing the event. The event was free and the staff were friendly—it was hard not to like the bright-eyed co-op students who came to talk about their first job. Many were from the University of Waterloo. For software developers, UX designers and tech folks out there, Genesys also made it very clear that it’s hiring.

Genesys Toronto Tech Summit

The event started out with casual networking over a great lunch spread. I met a few Genesys employees who seemed genuinely excited about their jobs. They explained that the company makes call center software that uses your voice to direct your call. As a Genesys spokesperson later explained, there’s more to it. They want to move to a point where customer service calls going “off the rails” can be detected in real time. For example, Rogers could hear customers threatening to transfer to Bell immediately so supervisors can save the day. Not a bad idea.

The tie-in to wearables, IoT and Genesys is this: technology like voice-detection is about building more efficient links between the physical and digital world. Whenever it’d be faster to think, breathe, talk or gesture rather than push a button or click a screen, there’s an opportunity for wearables and IoT to speed things up. It’s about building technology that’s passively aware and responsive. In a similar fashion, great UX design is intuitive and lets people interact naturally with digital displays. The Summit speakers did a great job elaborating on those three themes.

Wearables can monitor your brainwaves

The first headliner speaker at the event was Jay Vidyarthi (@jayvidyarthi) from Toronto-based startup Muse, the brain-sensing headband. I hadn’t heard about Muse before, but their idea is worth talking about. They’ve designed a headband that measures the Electroencephalography (EEG) waves emanating from our heads. As Jay said during his talk, EEG technology has been around for a long time. The Muse difference is that it offers clinical-grade EEG for $299 MSRP, instead of a $30,000+ hospital setup.

The device’s measurement capability provokes some interesting questions. For example, could we use it to monitor and predict oncoming epileptic attacks? Jay said that the company is talking to research institutions all over the world who are interested in using the Muse headband to study EEG waves.

The primary use Muse is going after is helping people meditate by making them more aware of (and therefore control) their brain waves. They liken Muse to a gym for your mind. The device can help you monitor your attention span and strengthen it over time. Personally, I thought that use was interesting but its benefits need scientific support. What did stand out about the company was its exceptional use of customer-centric reviews and feedback loops to improve the product. It was a great intro to the next topic, which was about making design methodology core to a business.

Design culture is about simplicity and efficiency

The second headliner at the Toronto Tech Summit was Joel Grennier (@jgrenier05) from Ottawa’s You.i. Joel switched gears away from wearables and focused on design as a business methodology. You.i created the design cross-platform multi-device UX you’ll see on Canada’s new Netflix competitor Shomi_. From what Joel showed us in his very sharp looking slides, the UX on Shomi is formidable.

Joel had a few pointers on creating well-designed products. The first was that truly responsive “infused” design processes take time to build. Companies can’t add a designer to a software engineering team and call it a day. The management at You.i made a conscious decision to build an integrated design-programming team culture. Joel warned that your company needs both willpower and dollars behind a design strategy before it will amount to anything. However, if design is taken seriously and built into a true capability, it can “change a company’s trajectory.”

How does a company do that? Joel had two great examples. At You.i he said that HR had to make “design” a sought-after language, just like in software. The company had to be able to recognize design talent, seek it out and retain it. I liked that idea, but I liked the second one even more: You.i took all the art and pictures off the walls. Every wall is covered teams’ ongoing work product, to create a culture of transparency and generate discussion. Talk about an embedded focus on design.

Toronto has leaders in UX design and wearables, but there’s work to be done

For the rest of the afternoon, the Toronto Tech Summit continued on with other great speakers:

  • Macy Kuang (@macykuang), an expert developer for Google Glass/ Google Cardboard;
  • Leor Grebler (@grebler) from The UBI, a platform that integrates voice commands and language interaction with IoT devices;
  • Renn Scott, Founder and Chief Designer, Daily Goods Fashion Tech;
  • Nick Van Weerdenburg (@n1cholasv) from io Inc.; and
  • Director of IoT at Telus, Sachin Mahajan.

During the talks, topics like the Apple watch and Fitbit came up. However, the audience piped up and was quick to point out the current limits on wearables and IoT. The wrist-bound tech that’s entering the mainstream market has all the flaws of the phones they’re meant to replace. What consumers want is to be able to freely interact with their environment while also benefitting from the information that tech makes available.

Although the legal and privacy issues inherent in wearable tech and IoT never made an official appearance at the event, it was a success all the same. I’m looking forward to attending Genesys’ next Toronto Technology Summit this coming Fall 2015.

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

Start Up or Join Up?

Recent graduates from post-secondary schools across Canada have an interesting choice to make: should they start up a new enterprise or accept an offer to join an established one?

The student start-up dream has been immortalized by wild success stories.  Legends abound of university drop-outs like Mike Lazaridis (creator of the BlackBerry) and Bill Gates, as well as graduates like Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Mark Zuckerburg – all students who left university to pursue technology start-ups that changed the world.

Intelligent and creative students across the country are faced with a choice when they graduate.  They may have innovative and ambitious ideas for new businesses, but are inundated with offers from businesses that need the best and brightest new graduates to survive. When faced with the choice between working for an established enterprise like Research In Motion (RIM), Google or Facebook, and starting their own venture, how should a student decide?

The price of failure – risk – is often the largest deterrent for anyone considering an entrepreneurial venture.  Students who finance their education with student loans (about 26% of Canadian students according to StatsCan – I think it’s closer to 50%) might have no choice but to accept an offer of steady income that helps pay down their debt.  Even for those rare few students that manage to graduate debt-free, sometimes a steady paycheque is too tempting to resist.  When you graduated university/college, wasn’t money your largest concern?

Students might also be concerned about missing the opportunities for networking, training and resume building that a large enterprise might offer them.  There’s no doubt about it, yesterday’s start-ups are now large firms with fixed budgets that have attractive perks for new hires.  The trade-offs are similar to the differences between working for a small company vs. big company – only with added risk and potential reward. So what’s stopping young entrepreneurs from getting hired?

A new wave of student organizations have started promoting youth entrepreneurship, encouraging students in high school, college and university to pursue their innovative ideas. Impact, UBC’s Enterprize Canada and EPIC Tech are three examples of student run not for profit organizations that are fostering a new community of student entrepreneurs that aren’t afraid to innovate.  These organizations are supported by venture capital and consulting firms looking to foster a new generation of clientele, as well as government agencies that (like the rest of us) would like to see more jobs created on Canadian soil.

Universities are catching on.

The University of Waterloo has created an entrepreneurship-based student residence called VeloCity, where students form teams that develop actual mobile media businesses over the course of the academic year.   This business community holds seminars and information sessions about starting a successful venture, and acts as a gateway into venture support networks in the wider community, like the Accelerator Centre.  This is a trend that is sure to continue.

Now when asked the question, “start up or join up” what would you do?