London Calling – but Are We Listening?

On my recent trip to London, England, it was arranged for me to be part of a panel discussion at Middle Temple Hall, one of the oldest legal buildings in London. Indeed, the room in which I spoke (Parliament Chamber) hosted the very first performance of Twelfth Night in 1602. By way of background, Middle Temple is one of four Inns of Court in London that are able to call men and women to the Bar.

So there I was, at the beating old heart of the common law, criticizing the current model of legal services delivery; suggesting that it be blown up and started over. The irony was splendid! Stephen Mayson (@StephenMayson) did an exceptional job of moderating the event as well as asking some tough questions of his own to myself and my fellow panellists, Paul Gilbert (@LBCwisecounsel) and Julie Thorburn of Lloyd’s Banking Group. The crowd was friendlier than I expected, perhaps they were thirsting for change.

In fact, in all the meetings and discussions I had with a broad spectrum of general counsel and private practice lawyers, acknowledgement of the need for change and the unabashed distaste for a system that had reached its best before date, was palpable and refreshing. These types of discussions are not taking place enough among lawyers in Canada. I continually remarked to my fantastic hosts at Riverview Law (@riverviewlaw is an ABS firm that is quickly attracting clients to its superb processes/service and definitely a firm to watch!) that these types of discussions and events do not happen in Canada.

Perhaps the fact that the Legal Services Act is now fully in force in the UK and the fact that ABS applications are flooding in, has caused an acceptable mind-shift among many in the UK’s legal profession. Or maybe it is just easier to find “my people” (read: legal innovators) in the UK. Whatever the reason, the UK is now firmly ensconced as the epi-centre for changes that will reverberate around the globe and will forever change legal services delivery.

Am I happy to be back in Canada – otherwise known as the land where legal innovation goes to die?

Do I really need to answer?

P.S. Among the fun elements of this trip was the opportunity to meet legal innovators who I had only “met” through Twitter – with some of us reverting to addressing each other by our Twitter names, all of whom are far too numerous to list here. The legal innovators “Tribe”, as Brian John Spencer calls it, is ever-growing and unstoppable. Join us, won’t you?


  1. It was really great to meet with you Mitch and hear what you had to say about the new world of legal services. You’re right we in the UK are hurtling headlong into the 21st century (kicking and screaming I’m sad to report) but great change brings great opportunity.

    I also appreciate you sparing some time to be interviewed for my blog which I know will be interesting to my readers.

    On that for those of you who would like to read more on Riverview Law take a look at this ( and if you want in inside track on what Karl Chapman thinks about the New World try this for size (

    Once again great to meet a kindred soul.


  2. The CBA is listening.

    We’re aware that technology and a host of economic, demographic and social factors are changing our current model of legal services delivery and we want to help our members adapt. That’s why we launched an inquiry into the future of legal practice two months ago.

    Over the next two years, we’ll lead the sort of dialogue you’ve described, bringing together all the major stakeholders in the profession — from clients and practitioners to managing partners and regulators and teachers — to examine the future market for legal services and to develop tools and resources to help lawyers adapt to change. Professor Richard Susskind, one of the leading lights in legal innovation, has agreed to serve as special adviser.

    I think some of the silence you’ve noticed here in Canada is about fear of change and about lawyers not knowing where to start. It’s also due to the fact that economic circumstances and our regulatory environment haven’t required us to change as quickly as other jurisdictions. We can wait to be pushed into the future by clients and regulators. But at CBA, we think it make more sense to be out in front. If we, as a profession, don’t keep up with client expectations, others will take our place.

    We owe it to our members to help them flourish by understanding the forces of change and where new opportunities lie. It’s also important that people trained in law and justice take the lead in these discussions. Society rightly expects that lawyers play an important role. Part of playing that role is delivering services in ways that meet client expectations in form and content. This means we may we may need to change our business structures and service delivery models, as they are doing in the UK.

    We’re looking forward to hearing from more Canadian voices in the conversation. Thanks for pointing out how others are getting this going. I hope you and those who follow you will join us.

    Fred Headon, First Vice-President, CBA

  3. Mitch in fact Richard Susskind, Stephen Mayson and Bruce McEwen have all been speakers at the CBA Law Firm Leadership Conference that has been run over the last number of years and which is upcoming in Calgary on Oct.28-30. We have canvassed with registrants the very issues that you have been discussing

  4. Fred and Gary,

    By listening, I mean actually doing something more than just talking about it once or twice a year at a conference and then forgetting about the discussions a day later.

    Given both of your comments, can I assume that the CBA supports bringing a Legal Services Act type of legislation to each province, as well as supporting Alternative Business Structures for Canada?

    That would not only be meaningful to the profession, but also a positive step in resolving the access to justice problem that plagues every province in this country.

    Time for action gentlemen – enough of the navel-gazing.

  5. Mitch my personal views have been well known for years. Bringing the ideas and knowledge to members has been our goal at the conference. It is the intention of this new CBA initiative to report to its members with recommendations and ideas for the future of the profession. The areas of which you speak will definitely be part of the project.

  6. Gary,

    I don’t know your personal views and I suspect neither do those who read my blog posts. It would be more helpful and constructive to set out your views instead of assuming readers know what they are.

    In any event, I wish the CBA well in its efforts. Good luck with your conferences, although I’m not at all convinced that running them will change a profession mired in inertia. It really is time for action.

  7. Mitch – a full day of the Midwinter meeting of the Federation of Law Societies of Canada was devoted to the regulatory implications of the ABS development. Anthony Townsend, the CEO of the Solicitors Regulation Authority and I spoke to the issues. The debate has continued in Toronto, Halifax and Vancouver, and it is clear that the Canadian regulators are looking closely at what’s happening in the Cube at Birmingham and the 39 ABS licensees (so far). The genie isn’t going back into the bottle and the Canadian regulators know that.

    But as I said in Yellowknife, 90 % of the licensed businesses will fall on their faces, and 10% will transform the entire profession. No-one knows which businesses will fall on either side of the line. I would suspect that more interesting innovation will come from the Co-op than Slater & Gordon.

  8. I have been speaking for broad scale change for some time including significant regulatory changes that would allow for better more efficient delivery of legal services. I grant you that inertia is certainly pervasive especially in a smaller market such as Canada but I certainly see the landscape changing albeit not nearly as quickly as some would like. Several years ago when Richard Susskind addressed a group of managing partners he was seen as too academic and theoretical and as espousing theories that did not apply here; he is now listened to as a visionary and leaders are paying attention and slowly pusing the rock up the hill. It is in this light that the Canadian Bar Association’s initiative was launched and will hopefully be able to provide very practical guidance, insight and recommendations.

  9. Thanks, Mitch. The reference to “listening” was answering your call from London, but we never planned to limit ourselves to that. The Inquiry will produce practical tools and support for Canadian lawyers. No navel-gazing here.

    And I agree – enough of the inertia. Looking forward to your thoughts as this project unfolds.