In August 2014, the CBA published its final report entitled “Futures: Transforming the Delivery of Legal Services in Canada”.
In January 2013, the Futures Committee published a very comprehensive report entitled “The Future of the Legal Profession: Report on the State of Research”. This report summarized research conducted around the world by or about Bar Associations, Other Legal Associations, law schools, firms and legal futurists, articles, books, conferences and blogs. The methodology makes it clear that the focus was “the future of the legal profession and law firms”, access to justice and the role of bar associations. The scope of the research was limited to these sources.
It is an impressive survey, very interesting and useful reading. Clearly it was helpful to the authors of the final report.
But it made me think. Where was the research with respect to the experience of other professional groups, fields and industries facing significant changes due to forces such as cost, access and technology? Can it be true that the justice system is so different that experience and lessons learned in other sectors and disciplines has nothing to teach us? If the futurists are right that change is inevitable and that we must manage change in a strategic and effective way, it seems to me that it might be useful to draw on the extensive work on change and change management in business, organizational development, economics, psychology and sociology. If we are examining ways to focus more on “users” and to utilize functional diversity to provide client services (through paralegals, advocates etc.) then shouldn’t we examine the fascinating innovations in the healthcare sector which has introduced a variety of new roles (such as the nurse-practitioner, midwife etc.)?
Please do not interpret these comments as critical of the CBA and the tremendous contribution they have made through this report. I’m just suggesting that, as a next step, we need to look beyond the borders of the justice sector. Otherwise, we are limiting our learning, our creativity and our options by perpetuating our tendency to look at problems only within the context of our own silo.
I’m a big fan of Dr. Brian Goldman, host of CBC’s radio program “White Coat Black Art”. He is systematically removing the veil of the healthcare industry in Canada by tackling topical and often controversial challenges. I am constantly amazed by how often a topic he raises can be applied to the justice system and legal profession. For example, in his podcast September 21, 2013 (1) he addresses the issue of “patient-centred care” and “patient engagement”. He says:
“Until recently, at most Canadian hospitals, few of us would pay much if any attention to what patients have to say about how we run hospitals. We often think their opinions aren’t worth getting because patients just don’t know medicine.”
Substitute “law firm” or “court system” for “hospital” and “law” for “medicine” and I think you will get my point. He describes innovative hospital programs (often labelled “disruptive innovation”) that have had some successful in changing this culture by putting patients and loved ones at the centre of care. They are encountering many barriers and struggling to overcome them. I suggest that there are many parallels here and we can learn from the experiences (positive and negative) of the healthcare field.
Our work in pursuing a Social Lab approach to address the need for meaningful systemic change for families in transition through separation and divorce in BC has highlighted the need to recognize that this system lives within a larger social system that involves multiple disciplines. We will benefit by reaching out to those who come from different contexts but experience similar challenges.
It is good that we are looking to the future. Let’s take an even broader look as we move forward.
- (1) Extended interview with Leslie Thompson, Kingston General Hospital on “patient engagement”: http://podcast.cbc.ca/mp3/podcasts/whitecoat_20140131_36758.mp3