The Future Is Now

With today’s release of The Future of Legal Services in Canada: Trends and Issues, the consultation phase of the CBA’s Legal Futures Initiative begins.

Trends and Issues puts data and insight from original research commissioned by the CBA into a single document meant to provide an overview of major challenges facing the profession. The report – and the questions it raises – form a starting point for discussions and further consultations with stakeholders in the legal services industry.

We’ve been showing you bits of those papers here, and on the interim Futures website, for the last seven weeks. If you’ve been following along, the major themes should be familiar by now: globalization of business, along with a weak economy, rapidly evolving technology, empowered clients with new expectations, and competition from legal service providers both inside and outside of the industry are combining to create a huge pressure on the too-often conservative legal profession to change the way it operates.

Some members of the profession are standing their ground; some are streamlining their activities, finding internal efficiencies to meet what expert Richard Susskind calls the more-for-less challenge; and still others are seeking ways to turn the profession on its head, looking for disruptive answers that will please both clients and legal professionals.

If the research has shown anything, it’s that there is no single solution. And that could be the main reason why the profession as a whole – which in Canada is also geographically fragmented – has been slow to respond to the challenge: there are so many directions to choose from it’s hard to say which one to take. Is it declaring an end to the billable hour? Or is it allowing non-legal ownership of law firms? How about making far better use of paralegals and other non-legal professionals to do some work, while lawyers take care of the complex matters for which they’re uniquely trained?

And speaking of training – we must also turn the spotlight on the question of what lawyers of today and tomorrow need to learn, and then ask who is best placed to teach it. Law firm clients are less and less willing to shoulder the cost of training new calls, and yet lawyers young and not-so-young need to learn not only black-letter law but a number of other skills to meet evolving client expectations. How can and should that change?

And then there’s the whole question of access to justice. Access isn’t always about money, but that is an undeniably large part of the problem for many Canadians, as the CBA’s own Envisioning Equal Justice project, launched last summer at the same time as Futures, has discovered. Some of the means suggested to increase access – de-lawyering; unbundling of legal services; alternate fee arrangements; online dispute resolution; risk avoidance, etc. – are the same as those offered up as answers to Susskind’s more-for-less challenge, thereby bringing the discussion full-circle.

The answer is out there – or maybe more properly stated, the answers are out there. The Futures Initiative’s goal is to create a framework for ideas, approaches and tools to help the profession identify, understand and manage change so that Canadians are served by a relevant, vibrant and confident profession.

One of the ways we hope to achieve our goal is through the input of lawyers, legal- and non-legal professionals, clients and other stakeholders – the people living and working through the changes that are already happening. We want to facilitate a discussion about which paths to take in order to best serve the public while at the same time preserving the integrity of the profession. We want to hear about what legal professionals need – and need to do – in order to flourish in the next decade and beyond.

Our new website (www.cbafutures.org) will feature information, blogs and areas for comments. We hope anyone concerned with the future of the legal profession will stop by regularly to take part, and also engage with us on Twitter at #cbafutures.

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Comments

  1. “We want to facilitate a discussion about which paths to take in order to best serve the public while at the same time preserving the integrity of the profession. We want to hear about what legal professionals need – and need to do – in order to flourish in the next decade and beyond.” IMHO addressing what legal professionals need first is putting the cart before the horse. If the profession has clearly determined what the public and their client needs are they are that much closer to what the legal professional needs and which paths to take to best serve the public. Others have of course raised the point of the needs of clients in previous comments I’m just reiterating. Maybe it’s all about access to justice.