What Will Tomorrow’s Lawyers Do?

There are lots of ways to stop being a dinosaur – there’s no need to wait for the meteorite.

Corinne Mucilli made the point in the latest CBA Futures Twitterchat on the topic of new forms of lawyer employment for the emerging legal market.

Host Jordan Furlong of Stem Legal encouraged participants to discuss whether the dominance of “lawyer jobs” is coming to a close, and to provide examples of future lawyer employment before offering up this mind-blowing opinion: “As far as I know, there’s no richer potential resource for new lawyer employment than the latent legal market. Create a truly affordable/accessible law-related value service and watch clients materialize seemingly from nowhere.”

But he’s not saying the second verse is the same as the first. Key to Furlong’s suggestion that lawyers will do best by continuing to practise law are the words “truly affordable/accessible value service” – not business as usual.

Wednesday’s Twitterchat participants agreed the lawyers of the future will need to have and employ entrepreneurial skills and know how to streamline their practices for optimum efficiencies.

Among other things, that means “a marked de-emphasizing of the billable hour and firm hierarchies (and) increased collaboration between lawyers with differing expertise,” said Sarah Chisholm, a legal and privacy officer at G Adventures in Toronto.

One participant, identified only as “Cindy,” noted that there’s a lot of talk about future lawyers needing to innovate, but not a lot of discussion about current firms needing to address their “many inefficiencies.”

“The conversation about innovations (technology, flexibility, etc.) must include steps for current firms, especially people in management,” Cindy concluded, even though she remains skeptical that significant changes will happen “as long as the billable hour lives.”

The four characteristics successful lawyers in the future will share are an ability to work in a multi-disciplinary setting; they will be technology-enabled; agile; and creative, says Furlong.

Karen Dyck, a freelance lawyer in Manitoba, doesn’t necessarily disagree, but she doesn’t see those skills being in demand for the average lawyer anytime soon.

“Today the agile, creative, tech-using, multi-discipline collaborating lawyer likely isn’t ‘practising’,” says Dyck.

“Lawyers with these characteristics are now in corporate positions, non-profits and working as consultants. We say they ‘left practice’.”

Ian Holloway, Dean of Law at the University of Calgary, said law school admissions should be screening for people “who can flourish in the new world.”

That’s going to mean, the participants suggest, finding under-served markets and filling those markets’ need for legal services, perhaps by moving to a rural area, or by setting up a virtual firm to service those areas.

Flourishing in the new world, however, is not as easy as hanging out a shingle and offering flat fees to clients.

Mark Hayes, an IP, technology and privacy lawyer in Toronto, said it’s all well and good to talk about young lawyers needing entrepreneurial skills, but they run into the same problem as would-be self-starters in other professions. “Lack of capital, connections and training has to be addressed at early stages of law education and regulation,” he said.

James Wegener, a law student in Kamloops, pointed out that many new grads don’t have the luxury of being able to seek out new opportunities beyond the bright lights of big-city law firms with their fat paycheques. “Students still have high debt – (they) want and need high-paying jobs.”

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