No matter the sport – from soccer to debate club – a team will get nowhere if all its players are specialists in the same position.
But just as there’s no “I” in team, there’s no team in a law firm – not one that can, to stretch that sporting analogy just a little bit further, cover all the bases, so to speak. That is in part due to the regulatory framework under which lawyers work, of course.
Still, there is growing recognition that it might be helpful for lawyers to work in tandem with professionals such as accountants, real estate professionals, project management professionals, psychologists and others in order to provide their clients with a more holistic service, since legal needs rarely arise in a vacuum – there are quite often other related questions that need to be answered.
So when National Magazine’s Yves Faguy hosted the CBA Futures Initiative’s penultimate Twitter Chat on Tuesday – CBA President Fred Headon will host the last one just ahead of the release of the final report at the CBA Legal Conference in St. John’s in mid-August – his question was, “What will it take for lawyers to play better with others?”
Mitch Kowalski says lawyers “typically don’t work well as team members with others. Many need to be the alpha dog, which can cause problems.”
First of all, suggested one participant, lawyers have to stop thinking they’re the smartest people in the room and learn to graciously accept the input of people with different skills and capabilities in order to best serve their clients’ interests.
CBA President Fred Headon says clients want lawyers to solve their problems, first and foremost. “If that requires input from others,” he adds, “shouldn’t we be able to do so seamlessly?”
Dan Lear, a tech lawyer in Seattle, responded that “should” is the salient word – “many lawyers fail in execution.”
Karen Dyck, a freelance lawyer in Manitoba, says lawyers should consult, defer and listen to other professionals if the question isn’t purely legal and a creative response is required. She says as it stands lawyers work with other professionals mostly as agents to be retained and instructed, i.e., controlling not consulting. Daily exposure to others who are equally competent in their own fields can change a culture of superiority.
One way to move lawyers into a more multi-disciplinary way of thinking is value billing, says Joshua Lenon, Clio’s lawyer in residence.
“I agree!” answered Karen Skinner, a lawyer at Gimbal Canada Inc. “But moving to value billing brings us right back to the politics of compensation and incentives. We can’t have value billing without a serious change in incentives and a shift to client-centred thinking.
“Value has to be perceived from the client’s perspective, not the firm’s or the attorney’s.”
Having non-lawyer managers in law firms will help ease the transition to a multi-disciplinary practice. Kowalski says all parties need to have clear, defined roles, with no differentiation between lawyers and others.
Changing the business model by offering incentives to non-lawyers such as partnership could help, suggests @MyLawScout. “Multidisciplinary talent will run when the lawyer is always the boss.”
Asked how much of the problem is regulatory and how much is cultural, Natalie MacFarlane, founder of Positive Impact Law, responded, “The problem IS cultural, which then informs the regulations.”
@MyLawScout added, “Vicious cycle. Culture holds back regulators and regulators hold back culture.” Still, conversations like the one taking place in the TwitterChat are “a good sign that the culture is changing. Let’s hope the regulators catch up.”
Dyck pointed out that creative, innovative lawyers already collaborate with other professionals insofar as they can, but they need to have regulatory barriers removed in order to leverage those relationships to their fullest potential.
Corrinne Boudreau of Nova Scotia’s Two Certainties Law said regulators could help with guiding principles on issues such as dealing with conflicts and confidentiality. “As an entrepreneur,” she added, “I like principle-based regulation more than prescriptive rules.” She says the key is bringing in other professionals whom you respect and who bring value to the clients.
There is likely a good reason for regulations barring fee-splitting with non-legal professionals , “or they wouldn’t exist,” says Lear, who adds, however, “In my opinion it can be done ethically and responsibly without harm to the client.”