Six Buzzwords in Search of a Context

Globalization. Technology. Economy. Unbundling. Alternative billing. Offshoring.

A CBA-commissioned survey of the state of the research into the future of the legal profession suggests that while these words come up again and again in the thousands of pages of text devoted to the subject, that is where it ends. While there is a near-consensus on the forces driving change, and how law firms might adapt to the new normal this change will bring, there are few recipes showing how best to implement the ideas, and fewer cases still of them actually being implemented.

The American Bar Association held its first Seize the Future conference in 1997 to study the state of the profession and how it might need to transform in order to remain relevant. The conclusions drawn at that conference vary little from the conclusions drawn in more recent writing. That could, of course, be because there are no actual solutions to the problems that bar associations, legal professionals, law schools, consultants and thought leaders have seen coming in recent decades. But we doubt it…

In the 16 years since the ABA conference, little pro-active action has been taken, according to the CBA study. Most lawyers have brought at least some new technologies into their practices, which in some ways has sped up the way we work, though the full force of their potential has not yet come to bear on how most of us work. As we said in our first blog post here, client expectations are changing – quickly and profoundly. In some small pockets, so too has the practice of law.

CBA commissioned this research and launched the Legal Futures Initiative because despite the profession’s success in insulating itself from these pressures around us, we must not only adapt but get out in front. Globalization and the economic pressures are not going away. Technology is not only underutilized in practice and the courts – it is changing how clients want services delivered and reinforces their view that there must be tasks we can perform differently and more cheaply. Unbundling, alternative billing, and offshoring are all starting to take hold and through technology and globalization, clients are becoming more aware of them and their potential.

So, where do these six words find a context? Right outside your office door. Standing right there with a host of other issues that the research has been warning us will show up any day. Someone once commented on the increasing awareness of environmental concerns by pointing out that a few years ago we had never heard of it and now it’s all around us. We don’t even have the comfort of not having heard of it earlier.

How do lawyers really change how we deliver services? What skills do we need to make that change? What kinds of businesses can best bring to market new ways of delivering legal services? And what needs to change in how we are regulated to let those things happen? These are questions are among those that #cbafutures want to address with more precision, more clarity, and with more concrete answers for the Canadian context than has been the case so far. We have started that work. Now we need your help to turn the research into reality. Join the conversion.


  1. “Someone once commented on the increasing awareness of environmental concerns by pointing out that a few years ago we had never heard of it and now it’s all around us.” If that really is the case, perhaps, legal professionals should pay more attention to popular music (to find out what’s going on). Looking at the lyrics of popular songs dating back to the 70s geniuses such as Marvin Gaye were writing and singing about environmental issues.