The Fight for ABS Is Just Beginning

The recent Law Society Committee report on Alternative Business Structures has resulted in much excitement across the world among legal innovators.

I wish I could share that joy.

The report is thorough – and lengthy. One wonders how, with two jurisdictions having adopted ABS (Australia a decade ago and the UK over 2 years ago) there could be any debate on the rationale behind allowing such structures?

Why do we need a uniquely Canadian solution?

What is so unique about the Canadian legal environment that Australia and the UK do not already provide a well-researched, well-documented and well-experienced solution?

I’ve just returned from Australia and the Aussies I met were rightly insulted to think that Canadian lawyers feel that the decade-long Australian experience with ABS is of no use to Canada.

Afterall Canada and Australia are nothing alike, right?

Our populations (23 million in Oz and 33 million in Canada) are both stretched across vast countries.

We both have heavily resource-based economies.

We both weathered the GFC well.

We both have a band of mid- and large-sized law firms – then loads of small firms and solos.

In both countries, our large and mid-sized firms are facing lower legal demand and flattening profits.

We both have greying of the bar issues (particularly in rural areas).

We both have over-capacity issues with law students.

We both have severe depression issues among lawyers.

Yes, we are totally dissimilar and so of course, the Australian experience with ABS (which has been overwhelmingly positive) should be of no use to Canada and certainly should not be used as a model.

The Law Society was quite right to give the Aussie experience short shrift in its report and recommend that even further consultation be undertaken to ascertain if ABS is right for Canada.

Most disheartening was the laundry list of possible forms of ABS that the committee suggested – again as if there was no experience to draw upon from similar jurisdictions and that Canadian lawyers would actually be breaking new ground! What arrogance!

The silver-lining to more consultation is that the next Bencher election in the Spring of 2015 will, for once, actually have a bona fide election issue.

Lawyers will have the opportunity to choose Benchers based on their stance on ABS and their visions of what new legal services providers can look like for the benefit of all clients.

So, this is a call to action for legal reformers and legal innovators.

The next Bencher election will be the most important in our life-time.

Ask the pointed questions and choose wisely.

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