During the Toronto launch of Doing Law Differently this past week, I had the opportunity to sit down with Jordan Furlong and some of the NewLaw Pioneers featured in the report. Nate Russell previously summarized the report here.
The report is important because the changes in the legal profession don’t affect anyone more acutely than law students and young lawyers, who will actually live to see the changes sweep across the industry. “This report needs to be read by every student in the country,” said Fred Headen, a past President of the Canadian Bar Association and chair of the CBA Legal Futures Initiative.
Mark Morris of Axess Law, one of the pioneers featured in the report, described how they are already one of the leaders as notaries and conveyancers, and are already breaking into family law. The difference in their approach is they studied best retail practices and developed their law practice around that to handle large volumes. Their innovation was to differentiate by adopting what other industries have already perfected.
Samuel Witherspoon of Mira Law said that “family law has a massive access to justice problem.” They sit in the middle ground between those who can afford legal aid, and the very few who can actually afford a lawyer.
Shelby Austin of Deloitte Canada, another pioneers featured in the report, emphasized that big law firms still offer incredible training that young lawyers shouldn’t forego.
The training they provide though rarely develop the skill sets for the legal alternatives, because the alternatives is not what their business is focused on. These law firms, and the legal system, offers no guarantee of opportunities or employment to the lawyers of the future. D. Casey Flaherty speaks to the future in The End of Lawyers, Period.,
The law does not exist to keep lawyers employed…
We’re trying to introduce something innovative and useful. We’re trying to make things better…
Lawyers don’t warrant special protection from progress.
Witherspoon, the most recent law graduate of the group present, noted that there were no legal resources focusing on NewLaw at all when he was in law school at the University of Calgary. He recommends Massive Open Online Courses to learn to program, with free classes from MIT and Stanford.
Some law schools are trying to change that. At a “Technology and Transformation in Law Advisory Group” meeting I was invited to recently, Dean Sossin explored how Osgoode is trying to build courses to run alongside the curriculum to help students explore these emerging opportunities.
James Williams of Google, who teaches a technology course at Osgoode, was not a fan of teaching law students how to code. “I’d rather they learn about the context they are practicing in.”
My proposal to integrate technology and new practices into legal education was to focus on competence, confidentiality, and cost containment.
Lawyers can no longer practice today without some technology, and refusing to adopt these skills is as much a competence issue as substantive law. The confidentiality concerns around using cloud computing and digital data should be addressed without undue paranoia. And finally, if lawyers learn about how technology can cut their operating costs significantly, they can be motivated to adopt technology to turn a greater profit (or sometimes, just break even).
The question is how easy it is to make these changes to an existing law school that has been around for over a century, in a profession steeped in tradition and resistance to change. Bureaucracy and red tape may stifle innovation to the point where a new contender might be more successful.
Mitch Kowalski, also attending the Futures meeting, noted that the University of Calgary is now taking these issues quite seriously in their curriculum development with performance-based learning. But the real upstart might be an entirely brand new law school.
Last December, Ryerson University announced they were considering their own law school. The Ryersonian reported:
“We think Ryerson could provide an innovative approach to law education that is very different from the rest of the system,” said Mohamed Lachemi, Ryerson’s new interim president, in an interview with The Ryersonian on Monday. “We are doing the consultation with the community and of course we have a lot of work to do with the government and the law societies. That feasibility study is starting right now.”
In the open town halls I’ve attended at Ryerson, I’ve heard that the intention would be to create something entirely different, based on the practical skills already taught through the LPP program.
A new law school at Ryerson would look to integrate with its existing incubators and applied learning, and actively recruit from populations who wouldn’t normally attend law school. As a Ryerson graduate and current faculty member, I would agree with Chris Bentley’s comment that the school has a unique approach to education and accomplishing its goals.
Furlong pointed out at the Futures meeting that just last week the Young Bar Association of Montréal observed that the up to 18% of students in Quebec are unable to obtain an articling position. Their reaction was to call for lower admissions to law schools in the province.
But Furlong’s response was that what we need is not less lawyers, but less lawyers of the same kind of what we’ve seen before. “There are more lawyer opportunities, more needs you can fill,” said Furlong. Unfortunately most young lawyers and law students are still largely unaware of what these opportunities might be, which is why the new report focuses on some of the lawyers who are exploring these new grounds.
When Trinity Western University was seeking its law school, I was vocally opposed on the ideological grounds, but also the pragmatic basis that there are better contenders. If we are building new law schools, let’s build the law schools of the future.
The law school of the future probably means a lot less about legal traditions and how law has been done in the past, and a lot more about how it could potentially be. It might mean less of a focus on studying precedent, and more on how to create it, in new and innovative ways.
That’s the type legal education that might even be worth going deep into debt over.