When we come to a new fork in an old road we continue to follow the route with which we are familiar, even though wholly different, even better avenues might open up before us.
– George Manuel
Yesterday, the Canadian Bar Association invited us to join a conversation about the future of law. The CBA’s Legal Futures Initiative launched last summer and has been in a research and information gathering phase since that time, with the results trickling out now, and to be fully released next month.
In response to their invitation, a few conversations got started on Twitter yesterday (#cbafutures.) Following and participating in those discussions, I noted that resistance to change remains a significant obstacle to even imagining a different future for the legal profession.
Some of the early findings of the CBA Futures research, released yesterday, support that proposition:
Lawyers will have to find a way to work within the new normal to find a way to please their clients and while continuing to provide advice of an acceptable quality. As Charles Darwin might have said, evolve or become extinct.
“Forward-looking providers that embrace the future and their clients’ expectations will continue to be most successful,” the study concludes.
The implication is that some will struggle with change and that those who cannot adapt, will not succeed.
I have a friend who works in the area of health policy. He describes his job as change management, providing support and assistance to those working with human resources in addressing internal flux in policies and procedures. In the health sector, change is a constant and those who direct health policy are keenly aware of the need to manage the impact this has on the workforce.
Change is likewise inevitable in the legal profession, and indeed it has changed in many ways in the twenty years since my call to the bar. But technological developments and market forces have driven those changes, forcing our governing bodies and professional associations to respond and adapt.
Proactive change driven by lawyers has not been the norm in the legal sector. Though we are leaders in many areas, in our own backyard we tend to take a more cautious and tentative approach.
Perhaps that’s what this initiative will help us to achieve: innovative and imaginative thinking about what we do and how best to meet the needs of those we serve, moving forward.
And, though I am skeptical about a process in which those most interested in preservation of the status quo have formulated the questions designed to stimulate the discussion about what the future will look like, I am confident that there are strong voices and big thinkers engaged in the process, which is cause for optimism.
We are now approaching a new fork in an old road. At such places, there is always great opportunity, both for the exercise of imagination and for transformation to occur. I hope we won’t miss this turn and continue down the old familiar road.