How Mark Morris and Lena Koke are reinventing the legal profession

The co-founders of Toronto-based Axess Law are making legal services more convenient and affordable

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After working in the retail and real estate industries, lawyers and MBA classmates Mark Morris and Lena Koke founded Axess Law in 2012. They now operate 12 branches within Walmart stores in the Greater Toronto Area. The firm offers low-cost legal services including on-the-spot wills, various real estate transactions and immigration consultation, with a mission to provide Canadians access to justice.

Lena Koke: “One thing that led us to take the leap was recognizing we have a major problem with legal services being accessible to average Canadians. That realization, coupled with our experience in the retail area, made us think, ‘Is there a better way that we can offer these services in a more efficient and user-friendly manner?’ Most people work a Monday to Friday week and have a hard time taking time off work to meet with their lawyer. So we thought, ‘Let’s be open in the evenings, let’s be open on the weekends, let’s be open in areas that are accessible to people.’ They don’t have to drive downtown, find expensive parking, go to a big office building, sit in a waiting room, and feel intimidated. Here, they can take their kids out of their minivan, run in, and do their legal services at the same time as their shopping. We spent a lot of time and money building out systems and processes so we can offer legal services in a much shorter period of time.”

Mark Morris: “Of course, we have to maintain the strictest of quality controls while providing legal services, but that doesn’t mean we can’t develop better processes than what our current industry has. For example, the way almost all lawyers do wills involves three separate appointments…and on the fourth appointment, you get your final will, pay your thousand dollars and move on. However, steps one, two and three can all be combined into a single appointment. If someone knows what documentation they need to bring, then they should be meeting with a lawyer who intakes all the information and, using proprietary software, is able to produce a will on the spot. That doesn’t seem like a huge technological advance, but from a process perspective, that is a huge advance for our industry. Being able to put in place process improvements is what Axess Law is all about, and efficiencies allow us to provide services at lower prices.”

Koke: “Our goal is to have one location in each pocket of the GTA with good population bases. Our target demographic is really all Canadians. We do just as well in high-income areas as we do in medium- and lower-income areas. We might have a slightly different mix of services, but we do well in all of those areas. We’re looking at rolling out across Ontario, but we are very seriously looking at other provinces as well. On the services side, we’ve gotten as close to perfecting the wills and power of attorney areas as possible, but family law is a huge issue in Canada. Most middle-income people are financially hit hard when they go through a divorce and it doesn’t need to be that way. Right now, we’re working on some initiatives in the family law field as well as other areas. That’s something I’m excited about, in conjunction with our geographic expansion. I like to drill down in some of these service areas where I think we can make a big impact.”

Morris: “Someone told us very early on, ‘You’re starting with a coarse block of wood, and you have to continually sand, and you will never stop sanding. You can always get better, you can always refine more, you can always make it a better process.’ The continual need to improve is an exhausting goal, but is the only way to see success.”

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