#Cbafutureschat Recap: How to Become a Legal Innovator

Think outside the box.

Think of ways to use current tools creatively.

Think big.

Think niche.

Think of ways to blow up the current paradigm.

Think of ways to make the current paradigm work better.

… Essentially, opinions about how to transition into a future-ready legal profession are like vital organs – everyone alive has at least one that works for them, but there isn’t one that works for everybody.

Since the CBA Legal Futures Initiative was launched, many ideas about the challenges facing the profession have been postulated – their causes, their effects, and appropriate responses to them. One item that stands out for its position on both the “challenge” and “response” list is technology. Rapidly changing technology creates different expectations from clients, requiring different ways of working, but also makes different ways of working possible so that lawyers can better respond to the changing expectations of their clients. It’s a neat little Catch-22.

The result is that technology often ends up being touted as the universal panacea, regardless of the nature of the problem. And it’s true that, at least in the West where a large portion of the population carries access to a world of knowledge in their pockets, there is a sense that technology is power, and whoever can harness it in the best ways wins.

But as participants in the Futures Initiative’s May 22 twitterchat noted, technology has its limitations. The chat, on how to be a legal innovator, was hosted by Natalie McFarlane of LawLignment. It drew an international audience with a broad range of interests in the topic, from legal educators to new calls, to innovators in the profession. One of the questions McFarlane asked was: “Imagine the wish-list of beneficiaries of lawyering, what might be on the list?”

Answers included efficiency, transparency, cost-effectiveness and timeliness, all of which can be promoted by the use of technology.

But other answers, such as open communication, predictability, civility; billings that reflect the inherent value of the services rendered; providing clarity instead of the “mystery of law”; and personalized service have nothing to do with technology and everything to do with contact. That contact may be provided through technology – say a phone call or a teleconference – but it has a personal touch at its core.

When one participant suggested that a smartphone app could be a helpful innovation, another pointed out some more limitations: “Social tools enable lawyers to quickly self form communities with purpose, but (they) need to share value to build,” said Jon Busby, of Colchester, U.K. “It doesn’t matter how compelling you think an app is, if end users can’t easily engage with it then it’s pretty much doomed. For consumers, the number of legal transactions during a lifetime is low. Apps are high-transition tools.”

McFarlane noted that apps, if targeted to the correct niche, could generate the kind of volume and market breadth they’d need to make them worthwhile, but the point was taken.

Technology is a tool but it seems likely that it can’t in and of itself be the innovation. So far it has been deployed mostly to improve the efficiency of doing things that lawyers already do, both in terms of time and of cost – outsourcing to India is so much more viable, after all, if you don’t have to wait for the mail.

“The key to being a legal innovator is to question everything all the time. Never be complacent,” Mitch Kowalski tweeted near the end of the chat.

It seems sometimes we get complacent about technology, assume that it will be the answer. But while it’s been a disruptive force in other professions – one participant noted that the internet has turned the news media on its ear – so far it hasn’t played that same kind of role in the legal world.

So let’s ask the question: Can it? Should it?


  1. 1. The cost of legal services & 2. TWU’s sexual intimacy covenant.
    No innovation has solved the unaffordable legal services problem-the most threatening problem the legal profession has ever faced. The handcraftsman’s method of delivering legal services is causing the problem. But it’s not being challenged. Instead, all recommendations to improve it, taken cumulatively, will be like adding a motor to a bicycle when the capacity, speed, and cost-efficiency of a motor vehicle are needed. “Think out of the box” that is the present method of delivering legal services. It cannot be improved so as to solve the problem. It has been replaced everywhere by the support-services method, except in the legal profession. As a result, no law firm has a sufficient degree of specialization of its lawyers, reusable legal materials, or database management, plus the necessary high volume of legal services production, which together, produce the level of cost-efficiency necessary to make legal services affordable again. The cause of the problem is not the absence of the right improvement to the system. The cause is the system.
    But our law societies have made no progress. There is not even a public statement of acknowledgement of the problem, by any of them such as: the majority of the population cannot obtain legal services at reasonable cost (being a well documented assessment of the problem). Apparently they don’t acknowledge the problem as their problem.
    For example, the Law Society of Upper Canada’s (LSUC’s) webpage entitled, “Your Legal Bill – Too High?,” states: “The Law Society does not set fees for legal services and cannot reduce a lawyer’s or paralegal’s bill that you think is too high. However, there are certain steps that you can take to address any concerns you may have about your legal bill.” Then follows a list as to such steps, the last paragraph of which states: “If you have a complaint about your lawyer or paralegal that does not involve the amount of the bill, see the Law Society’s page on Complaining about a lawyer or paralegal.” That’s a denial of responsibility for the problem.
    However, if the law societies were sufficiently proactive as to maintaining legal services as affordable to the majority of the population, a webpage such as that could remain as it is, but with an addition explaining how very pro active they are in maintaining affordable legal fees. But they aren’t. Therefore that webpage must be interpreted as a refusal to accept the problem of unaffordable legal services as LSUC’s problem.
    As a result, the following are inevitable: (1) government intervention to solve the problem by reducing law society power as to the self-regulation of the legal profession; (2) the legal profession will continue to shrink when it should be expanding, in response to the ever-increasing need for lawyers–the spiraling-upward percentages of self-represented litigants, inter alia, prove that; and, (3) the legal profession will become largely a profession of employees. So, we must think our way out of that box because there is no “box” as threatening to the legal profession as that one.
    — Ken Chasse, member LSUC, & LSBC, Toronto,
    (but I’ll be in Vancouver on June 10th to vote at the LSBC’s Special General Meeting on the question of approving Trinity Western University’s proposed law school, given that TWU requires students and faculty to enter into a covenant that prohibits, “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.”)