CBA Futures Chat: Lawyers Learning to Play With Others

It’s National’s turn (finally!) to host a Twitter Chat with CBA Futures. The topic: What will it take for lawyers to learn to play with others?

It might strike some as an odd choice of topic. Lawyers are a versatile bunch, capable of representing clients in a variety of industries. They’re good at learning about different businesses and the challenges they face. Inevitably, in practicing their trade, they regularly come into contact with a wide array of professionals.

But that doesn’t mean that they listen to diverse points of view when it comes to running their own affairs.

Part of the reason for this is the regulatory framework that governs the profession. Law firms stand out from other businesses in that they have to be entirely owned and controlled by lawyers (though in Quebec it is possible to set up a professional corporations where up to 50 per cent of the firm is owned by non-lawyers.) And to the extent that non-lawyers provide services within a law firm, lawyers must directly supervise them. What’s more, there are rules that prohibit fees from being shared by lawyers and non-lawyers.

These rules, over time, have shaped how lawyers view working with others.

Market forces are also behind this state of affairs. Over the years, lawyers have tended to focus on specialized practices and, as a result, don’t make much of an effort to get a holistic understanding of a situation.

And yet, clients want greater choice in the provision of legal services. They are seeking more complete solutions to their problems. Why shouldn’t they be able to approach a law firm for both legal counsel and accounting or tax advisory work? What’s wrong with a family law practice offering financial planning advice as a complement to legal services?

Defenders of the status quo point to regulatory concerns – namely those surrounding solicitor-client privilege and the potential for conflicts of interest that can arise from multi-disciplinary service offerings. But can’t we come up with solutions that will assuage these concerns?

Beyond the regulatory issues, the divide between lawyers and non-lawyers is also deeply rooted in firm culture, though to be fair, there are examples of law firms out there slowly coming around to the idea that multi-disciplinary thinking might not be a bad idea.

Still, learning to play with others is a complex skill that develops over time. It requires treating others as equals and letting them take turns. It also involves negotiation, cooperation and concession. In a team setting, it means knowing when to defer to the proper experts as circumstances may require. It involves a shift in culture.

So here are a few questions for those of you who will join us on the next Twitter chat:

  1. How do lawyers currently work in law firm settings with other professionals?
  2. To what extent do law firms recognize the need to switch to multidisciplinary thinking?
  3. What should multidisciplinary practices look like?
  4. How can the regulators help to ease the transition for lawyers?
  5. What must be done to change law firm culture?

We’d love to hear from you.

Join Yves Faguy for a CBA Futures Twitter Chat (#cbafutureschat) on Tuesday, July 15 at 1 p.m. ET. Follow us @CBAnatmag.

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  1. Make more money by interdisciplinary practice: I work with experts in records management. Together we bid for contracts. I write the legal opinions as to the ability of clients’ electronic records management systems (ERMS’s) to comply with various laws concerning records. Law firms could be controlling that work by continuous service concerning clients’ ERMS’s, i.e., preventative law and not just remedial law. If ERMS-law were established as a major area of practice, having its own lawyer-experts, and employing ERMS experts, there would be no need to compete for contracts. Consider: what business or office doesn’t have an ERMS, if only a few desktop computers? And because of the high degree of automation that electronic technology enables, all commercial and other interactions produce electronic records. As a result, records are the most frequently used kind of evidence. That’s why the “review” stage of electronic discovery is so costly and time-consuming and still without an adequate solution. Records are now more important to everything that we do than are motor vehicles. Lots of lawyers depend upon motor vehicles for work. Even more lawyers should now be dependent upon ERMS’s for work. (And ERMS-law is only one of many areas wherein lawyers should learn, as Yves Faguy says, “to play with others.”) There’s money to be made. And given the fact that the legal profession has priced itself beyond the majority of the population, comments like this one are very much needed. Were it otherwise, there would be none of the many “futures initiatives” trying to solve this “access to justice” problem, and no need for CBA Futures Chats. Want to be an ERMS lawyer, then see my LinkedIN profile, and for related writings, see my SSRN site. – Ken Chasse.

  2. Make more money by using specialized support services: enable CanLII to do what LAO LAW does for law firms. It provides a complete legal research support service to law firms, plus related support services. Make its services available nationally and at cost. Because LAO LAW’s services are based upon a higher degree of specialization and greatly scaled-up production volumes than exist in any law firm, they are much more cost-efficiently produced. They cost much less. As a result, law firms and such support services do what each is best at doing. That creates the best multi-discipline practice.

    That formula will solve the unaffordable legal services problem, which is: the majority of the population cannot obtain legal services at reasonable cost. No law firm is big enough nor specialized enough to adequately use this engineering principle: “nothing is as effective at cutting costs as scaling-up.” It must be adequately used if the problem is to be solved. That requires that key legal services, such as legal research, be produced in large volumes by highly specialized lawyers.

    As its first Director of Research (1979-1988), I created the technology of centralized legal research that LAO LAW uses. It now has a 35-year history of experience, innovation, success, and saving Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) millions of dollars. Its existence is the product of its popularity and success.
    See: “CanLII as the Solution to the Unaffordable Legal Services Problem,” published on Slaw, Oct. 24, 2013.
    That solution will be a law society solution, for all lawyers, clients, and Canada’s population. Otherwise, the solution will be a government-imposed solution because, the problem cannot be left as it is, growing worse, demanding government intervention, and the loss of the law society powers and independence. The way those powers have been used for decades is what caused the problem. Fix it, or the practice of law will never be same. But the current law society Benchers will be happily retired when the finger of blame is pointed in their direction.

    The choice is that black-and-white: a law society solution, or law society guilt. — Ken Chasse, member, LSUC & LSBC.