It’s National’s turn (finally!) to host a Twitter Chat with CBA Futures. The topic: What will it take for lawyers to learn to play with others?
It might strike some as an odd choice of topic. Lawyers are a versatile bunch, capable of representing clients in a variety of industries. They’re good at learning about different businesses and the challenges they face. Inevitably, in practicing their trade, they regularly come into contact with a wide array of professionals.
But that doesn’t mean that they listen to diverse points of view when it comes to running their own affairs.
Part of the reason for this is the regulatory framework that governs the profession. Law firms stand out from other businesses in that they have to be entirely owned and controlled by lawyers (though in Quebec it is possible to set up a professional corporations where up to 50 per cent of the firm is owned by non-lawyers.) And to the extent that non-lawyers provide services within a law firm, lawyers must directly supervise them. What’s more, there are rules that prohibit fees from being shared by lawyers and non-lawyers.
These rules, over time, have shaped how lawyers view working with others.
Market forces are also behind this state of affairs. Over the years, lawyers have tended to focus on specialized practices and, as a result, don’t make much of an effort to get a holistic understanding of a situation.
And yet, clients want greater choice in the provision of legal services. They are seeking more complete solutions to their problems. Why shouldn’t they be able to approach a law firm for both legal counsel and accounting or tax advisory work? What’s wrong with a family law practice offering financial planning advice as a complement to legal services?
Defenders of the status quo point to regulatory concerns – namely those surrounding solicitor-client privilege and the potential for conflicts of interest that can arise from multi-disciplinary service offerings. But can’t we come up with solutions that will assuage these concerns?
Beyond the regulatory issues, the divide between lawyers and non-lawyers is also deeply rooted in firm culture, though to be fair, there are examples of law firms out there slowly coming around to the idea that multi-disciplinary thinking might not be a bad idea.
Still, learning to play with others is a complex skill that develops over time. It requires treating others as equals and letting them take turns. It also involves negotiation, cooperation and concession. In a team setting, it means knowing when to defer to the proper experts as circumstances may require. It involves a shift in culture.
So here are a few questions for those of you who will join us on the next Twitter chat:
- How do lawyers currently work in law firm settings with other professionals?
- To what extent do law firms recognize the need to switch to multidisciplinary thinking?
- What should multidisciplinary practices look like?
- How can the regulators help to ease the transition for lawyers?
- What must be done to change law firm culture?
We’d love to hear from you.
Join Yves Faguy for a CBA Futures Twitter Chat (#cbafutureschat) on Tuesday, July 15 at 1 p.m. ET. Follow us @CBAnatmag.
See more at: cbafutures.org.