Look to the Future by Looking Outside Our Context

In August 2014, the CBA published its final report entitled “Futures: Transforming the Delivery of Legal Services in Canada”.

In January 2013, the Futures Committee published a very comprehensive report entitled “The Future of the Legal Profession: Report on the State of Research”. This report summarized research conducted around the world by or about Bar Associations, Other Legal Associations, law schools, firms and legal futurists, articles, books, conferences and blogs. The methodology makes it clear that the focus was “the future of the legal profession and law firms”, access to justice and the role of bar associations. The scope of the research was limited to these sources.

It is an impressive survey, very interesting and useful reading. Clearly it was helpful to the authors of the final report.

But it made me think. Where was the research with respect to the experience of other professional groups, fields and industries facing significant changes due to forces such as cost, access and technology? Can it be true that the justice system is so different that experience and lessons learned in other sectors and disciplines has nothing to teach us? If the futurists are right that change is inevitable and that we must manage change in a strategic and effective way, it seems to me that it might be useful to draw on the extensive work on change and change management in business, organizational development, economics, psychology and sociology. If we are examining ways to focus more on “users” and to utilize functional diversity to provide client services (through paralegals, advocates etc.) then shouldn’t we examine the fascinating innovations in the healthcare sector which has introduced a variety of new roles (such as the nurse-practitioner, midwife etc.)?

Please do not interpret these comments as critical of the CBA and the tremendous contribution they have made through this report. I’m just suggesting that, as a next step, we need to look beyond the borders of the justice sector. Otherwise, we are limiting our learning, our creativity and our options by perpetuating our tendency to look at problems only within the context of our own silo.

I’m a big fan of Dr. Brian Goldman, host of CBC’s radio program “White Coat Black Art”. He is systematically removing the veil of the healthcare industry in Canada by tackling topical and often controversial challenges. I am constantly amazed by how often a topic he raises can be applied to the justice system and legal profession. For example, in his podcast September 21, 2013 (1) he addresses the issue of “patient-centred care” and “patient engagement”. He says:

“Until recently, at most Canadian hospitals, few of us would pay much if any attention to what patients have to say about how we run hospitals. We often think their opinions aren’t worth getting because patients just don’t know medicine.”

Substitute “law firm” or “court system” for “hospital” and “law” for “medicine” and I think you will get my point. He describes innovative hospital programs (often labelled “disruptive innovation”) that have had some successful in changing this culture by putting patients and loved ones at the centre of care. They are encountering many barriers and struggling to overcome them. I suggest that there are many parallels here and we can learn from the experiences (positive and negative) of the healthcare field.

Our work in pursuing a Social Lab approach to address the need for meaningful systemic change for families in transition through separation and divorce in BC has highlighted the need to recognize that this system lives within a larger social system that involves multiple disciplines. We will benefit by reaching out to those who come from different contexts but experience similar challenges.

It is good that we are looking to the future. Let’s take an even broader look as we move forward.



  1. Thanks for this, Kari. Perhaps because I often find myself waiting for hours on end to be treated in a walk-in clinic or a hospital emergency room for yet another sports injury, and because I have had little success finding and keeping a family doctor, I’ve often thought of the frustrating parallels between accessing our justice system and accessing our health care system as an average citizen.

    In my opinion, both systems need to be reconfigured in a major way to put the litigant/patient/user at the centre of service or care as you identified. To be meaningful and effective, I think any reconfiguration must involve a significant amount of disruption for practitioners– legal or medical. I say that as a rather contented legal practitioner myself. But I think there is too little public accountability from us/them at the moment, and if we are to have accessible and affordable systems for achieving equal justice and health care, the public must soon demand it.

  2. I wish.See no evidence in Canada. Thanks for the read.

  3. Thanks, Kari,

    (Disclosure: I am the Chair of the CBA Legal Futures Initiative which issued the reports you mention).

    As part of our work, we looked at how client expectations are changing and noted in our research that their experience with other services providers is, not surprisingly perhaps, influencing what they expect from the legal profession. That then takes us right to your point: “what can we learn from other professions?” We reached out to a number of other professional associations to solicit input. I wish more had responded. As we look for inspiration, I think we should all continue to reach out like that and to consider our own experiences with other service providers. When I present our recommendations to lawyers I often use examples of how other professionals work to illustrate in concrete terms what is shaping client expectations. There are many things that make lawyers different from other professionals, but that should not stop us from learning from others about how we might better serve our clients.