Modern Legal Practice

I was invited recently to take on the role of editor of the journal, Modern Legal Practice, which is published by Globe Law and Business. I was honoured to be asked and quick to accept, even though my role as an associate editor on the Italian Law Journal and Slaw columns give me less time for other pro-bono and non-law focused activities.

Modern Legal Practice is a relatively new and growing journal which deals with a broad range of topics to do with the practice of law, embracing business and the development of it, strategy, leadership, governance, risk management, remuneration, diversity, talent management, technology, ethics, marketing and more. Its publishers write:

“Legal service providers today face unprecedented challenges: globalisation, the ‘more for less’ challenge and the war for talent to mention just a few. This new journal arises out of our successful book series on the business of law co-published with the IBA and offers practical guidance on how to manage or grow a law firm or an in-house team successfully as a business.

The quarterly journal features articles by leading practitioners and thought-leaders on topics ranging from strategy, business development, leadership and governance, to compensation systems, knowledge management, technology and financial management. In addition to substantive articles, each issue will feature a regular section on GC Perspectives [………], examining the specific challenges faced by in-house legal providers.

[It] will be of practical interest to all lawyers aiming to build their law firm or in-house legal team; whether you are a managing partner, a senior partner or running an in-house legal department, a practice head, business director or a partner seeking to contribute to the growth of the firm”.

For me, the commitment and challenge in taking on the editor role is primarily a learning one, through which such relevant skills as I have can be applied to and be exchanged for the enormous degree of knowledge to be gained from reading about topics that apply to legal practice and general counsel, that I have largely ignored until now. Mine is a legal academic and law publishing background steeped in black-letter law, in which case and statute law and drawing upon analysis thereof and expertise therein, are paramount. Therefore, I shall be most interested to understand the shift, and the extent to which there is one, in favour of a focus on soft skills, emotional intelligence, commercial nous and the role of law and lawyers in society. I am assured that the modern practising lawyer has a much greater interest in the business of law than in the application of individual experience and expertise, partly because increasing reliance can be put on processes, tools and artificial intelligence resources to manage access to sources and analysis. Hence, experience and expertise can be applied more aggressively to business and practice growth and development. I have little doubt, though, that these are key factors in the obvious and steady decline of the law publishing business and in turn reinforce the directional change in favour of legal information and technology. From a law publisher’s point of view, I might have a concern about the potential absence of the certainty and profitability of legal change, which are guaranteed with a reliance upon cases, legislation and other primary and secondary source material. Particularly but not exclusively in the fields of tax, employment, corporate, social security law, change is rapid and continued so new twists, turns and analysis will always feed the machine. I wonder if the same can be said about lower-level content and if so, to what level of width, depth and variance does that apply in the absence of a continuous body of legal rules as a basis for the written word. I am certain, however, that wherever the focus is placed, optimal quality and relevance of writers’ and providers’ output are essential criteria for success.

How such developments affect the fortunes of legal information and solutions providers remains to be seen. On the one hand, the sweeping up of smaller providers by the duopoly continues, a recent one being O’Connor’s in the USA, making things look pretty much as ever. Quite old-fashioned businesses seem still capable of being traded, the sale of Chambers and Partners to Inflexion being one. At the same time, despite any hype that may accompany it or questionable practices on the part of sales and marketing people, technical innovators report that many barriers to entry have fallen, that software has advanced rapidly, as have database management improvements, As such, what was not possible even a few years ago now is and the pattern continues. One such example might be as Paolo Tonelli, of Canada’s Codify Updates, reports. His view is that almost everything is possible now and they are limited not by technology any more but acumen, skill and knowledge. The task now is said to be to work on those elements every day and systematically increase human capacities to match that of which the technology is capable, while creating and/or maintaining growth, profit, integrity and quality. I don’t know if he is correct, just optimistic or more likely, somewhere in-between. Messages of this kind seem less believable, however, when they are communicated in the style recently seen from Wolters Kluwer Law and Business and in the context of the disrespect of customers that is frequently shown by the publishers. Looking beyond the hyperbole of publishers, it might be that the likes of the acquisition by CanLii, of what was previously its technology partner, Lexum, and Fastcases’s addition of several titles from Littler, indicate evidence of bottom-up change and consolidation. Perhaps Modern Legal Practice, as time passes, will discuss some of these issues.

Relevant to the question of issues affecting practice, Max Walters recently wrote in the (English and Welsh) Law Society Gazette of the extent to which some English barristers are reporting high levels of stress arising from their work, working environment and government policy. The view is borne out in the recently published book The Secret Barrister: Stories Of The Law And How It’s Broken. Barrister, Ronald Jaffa, in reviewing that book, has written of legal aid myths such as the old canard of all criminal defence lawyers being paid vast sums per hour.….. Legal aid rates for solicitors in a two-day trial in the Crown Court work out as below the London living wage of £9.75 per hour”. So significant is the book and its content that the Criminal Bar Association and Young Legal Aid Lawyers have raised sufficient crowdfunded money to ensure that a copy of it is sent to every UK Member of Parliament. One might be concerned that such circumstances are hardly conducive to a functional legal system, especially in relation to criminal defence and perhaps these and similar issues are usefully addressed by a greater focus on modern legal practice, in addition to the law itself.

Clearly, Slaw successfully taps into modern legal practice trends, albeit with a primary focus on Canadian practice but additionally with much broader application. Many, if not most of its blog post categories and range of columns are consistent with my extended focus of interest and I hope to be able to look to many Slaw contributors and readers for articles and advice that will help ensure that Modern Legal Practice (the journal) continues to grow in influence and popularity. In turn, it will permit, to an increasing extent, the dissemination and exchange of knowledge and experience in legal, knowledge management, administrative, technical and other circles around the world, including Europe, the Americas, the Far East, Australasia and the fast-moving developing nations. Among articles to date, opportunities and challenges in Latin America, Africa and of course, surrounding the Brexit implications, have been covered.

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