New Fork, Old Road

When we come to a new fork in an old road we continue to follow the route with which we are familiar, even though wholly different, even better avenues might open up before us.

– George Manuel

Yesterday, the Canadian Bar Association invited us to join a conversation about the future of law. The CBA’s Legal Futures Initiative launched last summer and has been in a research and information gathering phase since that time, with the results trickling out now, and to be fully released next month.

In response to their invitation, a few conversations got started on Twitter yesterday (#cbafutures.) Following and participating in those discussions, I noted that resistance to change remains a significant obstacle to even imagining a different future for the legal profession.

Some of the early findings of the CBA Futures research, released yesterday, support that proposition:

Lawyers will have to find a way to work within the new normal to find a way to please their clients and while continuing to provide advice of an acceptable quality. As Charles Darwin might have said, evolve or become extinct.

“Forward-looking providers that embrace the future and their clients’ expectations will continue to be most successful,” the study concludes.

The implication is that some will struggle with change and that those who cannot adapt, will not succeed.

I have a friend who works in the area of health policy. He describes his job as change management, providing support and assistance to those working with human resources in addressing internal flux in policies and procedures. In the health sector, change is a constant and those who direct health policy are keenly aware of the need to manage the impact this has on the workforce.

Change is likewise inevitable in the legal profession, and indeed it has changed in many ways in the twenty years since my call to the bar. But technological developments and market forces have driven those changes, forcing our governing bodies and professional associations to respond and adapt.

Proactive change driven by lawyers has not been the norm in the legal sector. Though we are leaders in many areas, in our own backyard we tend to take a more cautious and tentative approach.

Perhaps that’s what this initiative will help us to achieve: innovative and imaginative thinking about what we do and how best to meet the needs of those we serve, moving forward.

And, though I am skeptical about a process in which those most interested in preservation of the status quo have formulated the questions designed to stimulate the discussion about what the future will look like, I am confident that there are strong voices and big thinkers engaged in the process, which is cause for optimism.

We are now approaching a new fork in an old road. At such places, there is always great opportunity, both for the exercise of imagination and for transformation to occur. I hope we won’t miss this turn and continue down the old familiar road.


  1. Karen,
    Thanks for bringing attention to our initiative – and even some cautious optimism.
    You’re right – if there’s one thing the research we’ve done since last summer has taught us it’s that change isn’t just necessary, it’s inevitable – it’s here, in fact. While the profession has adapted to past technological changes, none of them have required lawyers to change what they do, they’ve just offered different ways to do it. That is no longer the case.
    In the words of one observer, the technological changes upon us now – knowledge management, automated document assembly software, invisible offshoring to name just a few – add value for the client but drain value from law firms.
    For these reasons, and others, the legal profession has to take a good, long look at what it does; what it should do; what it can do – and what it can do without. Lawyers have to talk amongst themselves about it; they need a forum to offer up innovative and (dare we say ) disruptive ideas about the path the industry needs to take – not just to protect its entitlements, but to better serve the people who need access to its services. That’s what we hope to do with our consultation phase – open up the conversation not just to people who agree with everything we say, but to critics, to people who will add big – and small – important ideas into the mix. We’re looking forward to it.

  2. Re: writing style of this article: authors of non-fiction, desiring to be read by their colleagues, should not write as though composing a movie script, i.e.:
    (1) I don’t want a display of the author’s literary cleverness by first, “setting the scene”–to do that adequately, at the least, there should be audio accompaniment, and directions as to camera placements and angles.
    (2) the title, “New Fork, Old Road” does not tell the reader what the topic is. In fact, it implies that the author will not get to the point until well down in the article, if at all. So whenever I see this author’s name, I will leave reading her work to a time when I have lots of time on my hands, which is never.
    (3) not until the 5th paragraph does Ms. Dyck reveal what her exact topic is–the paragraph beginning, “Lawyers will have to find a way … .” And,
    (4) not until the very last paragraph is the use of such an obscure title explained. This “who dunnit” style of the denouement and surprise ending is not compatible with the purposes of professional writing to inform colleagues.

    If Ms. Dyck charges her clients by the billable hour, and begins all professional communications in this same way, then her every client should be given a stopwatch and a copy of Rule 2.08(1) of LSUC’s (Ontario) Rules of Professional Conduct: “A lawyer shall not charge or accept any amount for a fee or disbursement unless it is fair and reasonable and has been disclosed in a timely fashion.”

    Please Ms. Dyck, require of your readers only a “fair and reasonable” time. Otherwise, your readers will suspect that you’re “churning the account,” i.e., billing for and taking up an excessive amount of their time. But, you must be a very charming lady, because every one of my submissions to SLAW has been subjected by the editor to a much more disciplined standard of writing.
    Also, I may have an article or two of my own soon published on Slaw, giving you an opportunity to return the volley. I’m always willing “to stand corrected” if we both shall benefit.

    — Ken Chasse, Toronto.