Final CBA Futures Report Is Now Available

2 years in the making.

7 key findings.

22 recommended actions.

Those are the numbers behind the CBA’s Futures: Transforming the Delivery of Legal Services in Canada report, released today.

The initiative was established in 2012 to “examine the fundamental changes facing the Canadian legal profession and to help lawyers understand and respond to those changes.”

The 106-page report identifies seven key findings, the result of thousands of hours of work through commissioned research and extensive online and in-person consultations with “a broad cross-section of lawyers, clients, law students, and other legal stakeholders,” and in-depth interviews with selected innovators.

Three teams of legal experts from across the country led the research in three main areas: legal education and training, ethics and regulatory issues, and business structures and innovation.

In short, the report’s seven key findings are:

  1. Transformative forces are changing the Canadian legal profession
  2. Lawyers need to be freed to work differently
  3. The entities in which lawyers work should be regulated
  4. A commitment to diversity in the profession should be embedded within the entities delivering legal services to the Canadian marketplace and within the governing bodies of law societies
  5. Legal education and training should be regarded as life-long processes, and educators should be empowered to innovate
  6. Data on the legal profession should be collected
  7. There is great opportunity in the transformation of legal services in Canada, and a great opportunity for the Canadian Bar Association to help facilitate

In every aspect of the legal profession — from how lawyers are trained, to practice structure and organization, to regulatory systems, to continuing professional development — the themes of innovation, flexibility, and choice are present throughout the findings and recommendations. The CBA has recognized that one size does not fit all in either the legal profession or the general population. Innovation is the “key to establishing a viable, competitive, relevant and representative legal profession in Canada.”

In finer terms, the report gives 22 recommendations that suggest concrete ways to meet the goals outlined in the findings. In short:

  1. There should be Flexibility in Business Structures
  2. CBA should lead by example in Promotion of Innovation
  3. A Centre of Expertise and Information should be established
  4. With careful regulation, Alternative Business Structures should be allowed
  5. Fee-sharing with and Referral Fees to Non-Lawyers should be permitted
  6. Delivery of Non-Legal Services by MDPs and ABSs should be permitted
  7. Model Rule commentary on Independence of Lawyers’ Opinions should be amended
  8. Compliance-Based Entity Regulation should be adopted to promote ethical best practices
  9. Compliance and Reporting on Diversity should reflect ethical and legal requirements
  10. In the Model Code, Effective Supervision of Non-Lawyers should be required, as opposed to direct supervision
  11. Law Society Directors should be elected and independently appointed
  12. Expanding Criteria for Law School Admission to take into account life experience, rather than just pre-law university.
  13. Debt Forgiveness Programs should be established for law grads who practise in certain realms
  14. Law School Entry and Exit Data should be collected and published
  15. Legal educators should have the freedom to create New Models for Legal Education
  16. Legal education curricula should focus on skills for Problem-solving in the Practising World
  17. Legal education should Focus on Learning Outcomes, developed in consultation with stakeholders
  18. Easing Restrictions on Law Students in Legal Clinics would encourage and broaden participation
  19. There should be Structured, Rigorous and Consistent Pre-call Training to ensure new lawyers can practise safely and effectively.
  20. Consistent Knowledge and Skills Standards for Certification should be applied
  21. Parallel Legal Programs in related areas (such as legal technology) should be developed to support the legal field
  22. Continuing Professional Development should meet outcome-based standards.

As one would expect, a report of this magnitude will take some time to decipher. What will regulators, educators and practitioners do with it? That, I suppose, is my question.

Will it result in actionable change? Or are we doomed to yet another round of “change discussions”; spinning us through the “more talk” cycle once again.

And not to be too much of a cynic, but we have to recognize that “more talk” is a distinct possibility. As an example, I can recall discussion surrounding “MDPs being a critical next step for future practise”, for what? 20 years? Likely longer.

This report is good enough that Canadian lawyers will be quoting from it 10 years from now. It’s full of great ideas, and actually charts what I would call a brave path. I only hope, as I expect most of those involved with its production, that this report acts as a catalyst for modernization. The Canadian legal industry deserves a level playing field in the global marketplace.

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