Directive for Change, Straight From the Chief

This past weekend Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin addressed CBA members at the legal conference in Calgary, Alberta. A complete copy of the speech is available here via National Magazine, and my live broadcast via Periscope is available here.

She addressed her continuing concerns about access to justice, but focused on the change already underway in the profession. She told a lawyer joke, which she admittedly refrains from doing,

“How many lawyers does it take to change a light bulb?”, it goes. The answer, “What’s change?”

I prefer the response to the question, “How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?” The answer, “One, but the light bulb has to want to change.”

The change McLachlin was referring to was driven primarily by the digital revolution. The impact of these technologies included:

    1. obtaining services that in the past only lawyers could deliver, primarily online
    2. the public demands legal services with greater speed and efficiency, and at less cost
    3. challenges to the monopoly of legal services by lawyers

Instead of responding to this internal discontent and external critiques with bleakness, lawyers should be looking at the incredible promise that these opportunities pose to the profession. Changes to the profession may also give rise to greater satisfaction in the profession. McLachlin described the vision of the legal practice of the future:

Consider the traditional legal office. Electronic communication with clients and colleagues frees lawyers from the need to huddle together in the same physical space, permitting more flexible work places and raising the possibility of the virtual law office. Such arrangements may increase efficiency, allow lawyers to reach clients they might otherwise not reach, and provide flexibility to people who for family or other reasons find it difficult to check into a distant office each morning and stay there the entire day. Once more, the key lies in finding the right balance – in this case the balance between the value of personal interaction and more flexible working arrangements.

Glen Kauth of Canadian Lawyer explained the significance of these comments for the CBA and the bar generally,

The comments come as the CBA itself faces significant change as it considers its Rethink process aimed at reinvigorating the organization to make it more relevant to lawyers. It was a theme incoming president Janet Fuhrer emphasized in her remarks to the CBA council yesterday.

“Every aspect of what we do is on the table and under the microscope,” said Fuhrer, who called on lawyers to embrace the CBA’s Legal Futures, Equal Justice, and Rethink efforts underway. “If we are unable to revise ourselves, then we risk irrelevance.”

Despite those challenges, Hollins noted the CBA has continued to play a significant role.

Although much of what was covered by this speech is already familiar with those of us following trends in the legal profession, to hear the Chief Justice express her thoughts on the subject validates much of what we have been discussing. It directs the bar, including the skeptics on the sidelines, to join the rest of us in the transformation of the profession.

The change is already underway, and McLachlin challenged all of us to be visionaries as to where this change may lead. But first, the profession has to want to change.

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