In Futuro: What the CBA’s Legal Futures Report Means for You
On August 14, 2014 the Canadian Bar Association (“CBA”) released the final report from its Legal Futures Initiative titled Futures: Transforming the Delivery of Legal Services in Canada (“the Report”). The release of the Report was hailed by Queen’s alumnus and legal futurist Jordan Furlong as a “watershed moment for the legal marketplace in Canada,” while one Albertan lawyer described it merely “noteworthy” that the advocacy body recognized what has been happening in the Canadian legal landscape for years.
The Report’s most significant recommendations are: (a) to allow non-lawyers to own, manage, and share fees with lawyers, so that legal service firms can grow by outside investment; (b) to allow firms to regulate their compliance with ethical standards (instead of individual lawyers); and (c) to embrace new ways of educating and training lawyers, and updating lawyers’ skills as they enter and continue in the profession.
As access to justice is critical for a functioning society, the Report’s focus is on providing greater access to justice in Canada, in part by giving lawyers the tools to provide “quicker, cheaper, and smarter” legal services.
It is likely that the CBA is also aware that as long as self-regulating lawyers are ineffective at providing accessible high-quality services for the Canadian public, the legitimacy of lawyers’ monopoly on legal services can be openly challenged. Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin did just that at a University of Toronto conference in 2011 when she said, “If you’re the only one who can provide a fundamental social need from which you benefit, I think it follows that you have to provide it.”
What does the Report mean for us as current Canadian law students?
If the Report’s recommendations are adopted, we may be the last legion to be educated and trained in the “old ways” familiar to today’s practitioners in Canada: where lawyers rule the legal roost, law schools thrust the cost of “legal skills” training to articling principals, and law firms’ high-priced monopoly on legal services is protected from outside investment and competition. It may also mean that the future law firm you join (or start) will be able to offer diverse services beyond the one-on-one legal consultation model that dominates today. You and your firm may need skill-sets in IT development, project management, and financial modelling to succeed against the competition.
Whether or not change actually results from the Report is far from certain. In some respects it already has, because the Report seems to embrace the legal training model called the Law Practice Program (“LPP”) that will graduate its first cohort later this year. I’ve previously argued that the LPP will replace articling entirely, but we haven’t seen that happen yet. The other changes to law firm business structures and the Report may not happen at all.
The CBA, after all, is an advocacy body with no direct regulatory authority over the provincial law societies such as Ontario’s Law Society of Upper Canada (“LSUC”). The Report’s contents first need to be adopted or rejected as formal CBA policy, which may happen in whole or in part in February 2015. After that it’s up to the provincial law societies to adopt or reject the recommendations. If the provincial law societies wholeheartedly reject the Report, certain provinces may take more direct action to reform legal services. One example of this would be to follow the UK’s approach and dismantle lawyer self-regulation altogether.
What is for certain is that we are about to join a profession that is testing its old limits and assumptions. The growing pains and soul-searching that produced the Report will continue to affect us as the years go on and providing access to justice will fall on our shoulders. Price pressures on law firms will continue to evaporate articling and early-stage employment opportunities. The future may look grim, but according to the CBA’s Futures Report, it’s also full of opportunity. The question is, will you seize it?
Ivan Mitchell Merrow (third-year JD/MBA) is a columnist for Juris Diction.
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