The idea that any of our law societies could sanction ABS – business structures that permit fee-sharing, multi-disciplinary practice, and ownership, management and investment by persons other than lawyers – has prompted vociferous debate about whether the legal profession should change. Benchers, legal ethicists, personal injury lawyers, and academics dominate the debate, with some arguing that if there’s no prospect of benefit to the public, we shouldn’t adopt ABS, versus others who argue that if the access to justice crisis continues, we shouldn’t maintain the status quo.
Often lost in the debate are the perspectives of those who stand to gain (or lose) the most from these reforms: clients, and new and young lawyers. On December 30, the Law Students’ Society of Ontario left a late gift under the Christmas tree (or threw a lump of coal down the chimney, as you prefer) by delivering a ringing endorsement of ABS in Ontario.
The LSSO believes that a form of ABS is “integral to the future of relevant, accessible, and responsive legal services in Ontario.” The barometer for change, they say, must be the public interest and access to justice mandates of our governing bodies. In their submissions (available here), the LSSO urges LSUC to consider that “any assessment of a fundamental reshaping of the legal services landscape ought to be looking for opportunities to narrow the gap between rights afforded and rights that can be exercised affordably.” In their view, the legal profession will not survive – in any form – if it fails to meet the terms of its social contract with the public.
The Law Students’ Society of Ontario speaks for students at all seven Ontario law schools – Lakehead, Windsor, Western, Osgoode Hall, Toronto, Queen’s, and Ottawa. Acknowledging that their perspective is made up of those who are just embarking on their legal careers, the LSSO says:
“We urge the Law Society to give due weight to the perspective of this constituency. Aspiring and young lawyers are a group whose practices and career trajectories will experience enduring impacts from any fundamental reforms to the delivery of legal services. Our generation in the wider population will live the consequences of regulatory inaction.”
The LSSO’s submissions have prompted the response of “so people who have never practiced law want a liberalized ABS regime.” A response that is disappointingly predictable, and dishonest to boot. The debate needs to move beyond a measurement of people’s qualifications. Instead, the debate needs to be about next generations of the legal profession, and their ability to meet the needs of the public.
LSSO concludes their submissions by telling us that “a profession that is unwilling to consider proposals for business model modernization, to venture outside of its consultancy model, to enact innovation-positive policy, and to question its bricks, mortar, and mahogany from time to time will eventually lose its distinction.” Which leads to the question: what is the future for new and young lawyers in Canada? And why should they care about Alternative Business Structures? Most importantly, how can they take up more room in this debate? Join us on January 21 between noon and 1pm for a #cbafutureschat, hosted by the LSSO’s Douglas Judson, on why ABS matters to prospective lawyers.