The Solutions Lab: uOttawa students reimagine how legal services are accessed in Canada

Research and innovation
Faculty of Law - Common Law Section

By University of Ottawa

Office of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation, OVPRI

Students working in the Entrepreneurship Hub space
Roughly 80% of Canadians have unmet legal needs. Research shows that while most Canadians can identify a legal problem when they’re facing one, many aren’t sure what to do about it or don’t think the legal system can help. “That’s an access to justice problem,” PhD student Natasha Jaczek told a roomful of students taking part in this year’s Solutions Lab.

The week-long workshop organized by uOttawa’s Entrepreneurship Hub (eHub) is designed to foster student innovation through the exchange of ideas around issues critical to Canadians. This year, the eHub teamed up with the Faculty of Law, Common Law Section, to stimulate ideas around access to justice.

For this year’s Solutions Lab, students were asked to come up with technology-based solutions to address barriers Canadians encounter when trying to access our legal system.

In her opening remarks, Jaczek spoke about a project she successfully piloted called the A2J Legal Apps Challenge, in which she and other University of Ottawa law students created learning modules to teach high school students about their rights, access to justice and the potential of technology-based solutions.

“When young people are familiar with their rights, it’s much easier for them to advocate for themselves when they encounter a legal problem, even if that’s just knowing where to start looking for information. It’s the difference between building a fence at the edge of a cliff to protect people from falling versus having an ambulance waiting for them at the bottom.”

This year’s cohort, made up of 50 students across eight faculties, learned how to generate ideas, conduct market research and pitch a product that could potentially help bridge the access to justice gap. The workshop culminated in a pitch competition, where the winners walked away with a cash prize. 

Ideas ranged from helping people find and fill out legal documents online, levelling up people’s legal education through video games, offering people a low-cost mediation option to declutter a backed-up legal system and providing immigrant women with a tool, disguised as a weather app, to help them navigate domestic violence.

“More and more, we find that students want to use their skills to solve key issues within society,” says Kathleen Kemp, eHub manager. “Our goal is to provide them with a safe space to think of and test innovative ideas, while building critical entrepreneurial skills.”

Students who complete the Solutions Lab and are interested in seeing their concepts developed further are invited to participate in the eHub’s Startup Garage, a year-round accelerator program for entrepreneurs.