JuricertTM teams with PrivateExpressTM to change the future of online communications and transactions for Canadian lawyers

The Law Society of B.C. plays a lead role in introducing a unique service for online exchanges among Canadian lawyers, their staff and clients. B.C. lawyers are invited to join a pilot project now, before the service is offered widely in the Fall

JuricertTM teams with PrivateExpressTM to change the future of online communications and transactions for Canadian lawyers

"On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." This line, from a popular New Yorker cartoon, has come to symbolize the many ironies and perplexities of electronic communications. For businesses and professionals wanting to take advantage of the convenience, speed and cost-effectiveness of online operations, questions remain: Do you really know who you're dealing with on the Internet? How do you know your communications are safe? Are your documents private and secure?

Lawyers share these concerns. Yet the advantages of electronic communications in the practice of law are undeniable, and the future holds promise of even greater opportunities, such online registry filings and paperless transactions. There is no turning back to the old ways of doing things … and now there is no reason to want to turn back.

A trusted pathway into the new economy

In cooperation with the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, the Law Society of B.C. has done ground-breaking work towards creating for the legal profession a reliable, safe and trusted service for electronic communications. That hard work has now brought results.

Canadian lawyers, their staff and clients will soon be able to exchange electronic information and documents within a new system that 1) authenticates the identity and professional credentials of lawyers and 2) provides an easy-to-use digital courier service that — unlike email — is safe, reliable, timely and secure, and is a cost-effective alternative to traditional courier services.

The service will be offered through JuricertTM Services Inc., a federally incorporated company that is currently owned by the Law Society of B.C., but structured to allow for ownership by all Canadian law societies. The business of Juricert is to increase security and to authenticate the online identity of Canadian lawyers and other professionals. To that end, Juricert entered into an agreement with PrivateExpressTM Inc. of San Mateo, California on June 23 to license a digital courier service that will underlie the Juricert authentication service.

For more than a century, law societies have played the pivotal role of authenticating the identity and credentials of lawyers — such as through official certificates of standing — and this authentication is relied upon by courts and government agencies worldwide. This Juricert program will allow law societies to continue in that tradition, and lawyers to continue in their tradition as trusted providers of legal services, all in pace with modern technology.

What are the advantages for lawyers?

The PrivateExpress software has a user-friendly interface and functions similar to email, allowing users to send, receive and track receipt of messages and attachments over the Internet. What makes the service unique, however, is that each user is identifiable within a "virtual private network" (VPN). A VPN uses the Internet, but each transmission is securely "locked" on sending and "unlocked" on receipt, using the public key infrastructure (PKI) technology, in particular, the world-recognized Entrust® encryption technology. (For more on how PKI technology works, see the January-February, 1999 Benchers' Bulletin.)

Under the Juricert program, there will also be authentication certificates to identify the professional status of users. If a lawyer ceases as a member of the Law Society or is suspended, his or her online certificate will be revoked, which will be known to others relying on the system. A free version of the system will also be available to clients and law firm staff for receipt of messages, or the full service can be licensed for their use at a discounted rate.

There will be some clear advantages to lawyers in registering for the Juricert/PrivateExpress service and using the software:

  • The identity and professional status of all lawyers using the service will be authenticated online;
  • Confidential communications (lawyer/lawyer or lawyer/client) are encrypted, confidential and cannot be read by others;
  • The integrity of communications is assured, and messages and attachments cannot be altered during transmission;
  • Communications and attachments are recorded and tracked, and lawyers receive proof of sending and delivery;
  • Because of identity and delivery verification, communications cannot be repudiated;
  • The risk of users initiating or proliferating viruses anonymously or "spamming" within the network is eliminated;
  • Transmissions are fast, timely and less costly than traditional courier;
  • The service provides the framework for future online applications, such as online filing of land title documents;
  • The software is simple to install and as easy to use as email.

Are there ethical considerations?

The Law Society Ethics Committee continues to monitor issues relating to lawyer electronic communications, in particular those communications in which it is prudent to verify the identity of the person sending the email and the integrity of the communication. The Committee is of the view that, when enhanced security and verification are required (such as in the provision of undertakings), and lawyers intend to communicate by electronic means, they should use a secure system that permits verification of identity.

How will Juricert offer the service?

In setting up its service, Juricert has made a commitment to purchase 8,000 digital courier licences from PrivateExpress. Juricert will receive these licences at no cost from PrivateExpress for the balance of 2000, and at a greatly discounted bulk rate for 2001.

These licences will be funded by the Law Society and provided through Juricert as a member service at no charge to all B.C. lawyers who wish to register. This is seen by the Law Society as an important initiative to supply B.C. lawyers with the tools necessary to maintain their position as trusted legal service providers, now and in the years ahead. Juricert has also negotiated a substantially discounted rate for law firms to provide staff and clients with the full service that will allow them to send as well as receive messages. More details will be coming.

Juricert also intends to sell some portion of the 8,000 licences to other Canadian lawyers and notaries, in cooperation with their respective law societies. As the service expands and gains a firm foothold in the legal community, Juricert expects to offer the service to other professions.

Juricert chose to work with PrivateExpress because that company offers commercially available software and service of high quality that combines the reliability and privacy of courier delivery with the ease, speed and affordability of the Internet. Juricert has also signed a memorandum of understanding with MacDonald Dettwiler, which will participate in the project by providing a website for Juricert and the back-end programming expertise necessary for the online authentication of lawyers.

How can lawyers sign up?

A Juricert pilot project will be underway in July and August this year. The expanded service is expected to be ready for the whole profession this Fall. Watch for details.

A pilot begins now

Lawyers who would like more information, or who would like to participate in the Juricert/PrivateExpress pilot project this Summer, are invited and encouraged to contact Ron Usher at the Law Society office:

Law Society of British Columbia
845 Cambie Street
Vancouver, B.C. V6B 4Z9
Tel. (604) 605-5310
Toll-free in B.C. 1-800-903-5300
Fax: (604) 646-5902
Email: juricert@lsbc.org