Future Law

Canadian Bar Futures Report: What do Lawyers Do?

what do lawyers doA year ago, the Canadian Bar Association’s Legal Futures Initiative released its revolutionary report titled “Futures: Transforming the Delivery of Legal Services in Canada” As I have written about before, the recommendations in the Futures report are bold. If the recommendations are adopted, they would transform the practice of law. So far, change has been incremental.

What Do Lawyers Do?

Since the Futures Report was released, a lot of discussion has been taking place in Canada’s legal community about what lawyers do and how they do it. Legal education, innovation, and business models have been the topics of meetings of the CBA and the Futures Steering Committee. The proposals of the Report have been the subject of Twitterchats.

The Futures Initiative website has been populated with resources exclusively for Canadian Bar Association (CBA) members. These resources allow lawyers to adapt their practices in light of changes in technology, business models, and client expectations. The products include a self-assessment tool and a “Do Law Differently” website, which features videos reporting on new methods of delivering legal services. Another resource provided by Richard Susskind, a special advisor to the CBA Futures Initiative, distills consulting tips into a practical tool called “A Guide to Strategy for Lawyers.” Hundreds of CBA members downloaded the Guide on the day of its release. In the upcoming months, the Futures Initiative will add a tool to address the specific needs of new lawyers attempting to integrate the information of the report, as well as a series of podcasts featuring innovative legal professionals.

Lawyer training is also being tackled. Up next for the Futures Initiative is a comprehensive workshop on legal education. Submissions for the workshop were accepted through last month, and a one-day workshop is being planned for the winter of 2016.

Regulation of Lawyer Ethics

One major change that has been brewing as the Futures report was developed would affect the regulation of the legal profession throughout Canada.

By statute, Canada has 14 provincial and territorial law societies that regulate Canada’s 100,000 lawyers, Quebec’s 4,000 notaries and Ontario’s 6,000 paralegals. (The CBA is the national voice and advocate of the legal profession; it does not regulate the legal profession.) Every lawyer is required to be a member of a law society. Over the last several years, the law societies began giving reciprocity to one another. In other words, the credentials and competence of lawyers from all parts of the country have become universally accepted by law societies throughout Canada. Because of this National Competency Profile, all members of the legal profession can practice on a national level, regardless of where they were admitted to the bar and without evaluation by the local law society. In a speech to the CBA, Marie-Claude Bélanger-Richard of the Federation of Law Societies of Canada explained that nationalization of lawyer regulation is around the corner. She asserted that if any lawyer can move anywhere and have his or her law license recognized by any law society, there should not be any substantial variation in how the public is protected by legal regulators anywhere in Canada.

I wonder out loud whether the increasing number of states adopting the Uniform Bar Examination portends a similar change in the United States. In other words, if a lawyer admitted in one UBE state is allowed to practice in others, why would regulations be different or need to be handled state by state?

Practice Structures for Lawyers

The Futures report has sparked a major debate regarding its proposal to allow lawyers to practice in alternative business structures (ABS). These alternative business structures include non-lawyer ownership of firms, as well as “one-stop shop” structures that include a range of professional services, legal and otherwise, for clients. Discussions on the pros and cons of these new business structures are still very active. Opponents to ABS express concerns about the absence of concrete evidence that these structures have benefited the jurisdictions that allow them and whether such business models would pose a threat to ethics and confidentiality. Those who support ABS look to its potential for innovation and ability to tackle access to justice problems. A more detailed discussion of the benefits and concerns regarding alternative business structures will be the subject of an upcoming blog post.

ABA’s Commission on the Future of Legal Services

The American Bar Association’s Commission is also one year old. It has been studying issues affecting the delivery of legal services with a goal of recommending changes to attorney regulations that may improve the delivery of legal services and the public’s access to legal services.

As I predicted, the report has been a subject of study by the Regulatory Opportunities Working Group of the American Bar Association’s Commission on the Future of Legal Services. This working group is also considering regulatory innovations in other countries and the Limited License Legal Technician (LLLT) model in Washington State.

Part of the Commission’s work is to gather input from members of the legal community and clients, technologists and innovators about ways to deliver legal services more effectively and efficiently. Nearly two dozen grassroots meetings have been held around the country so far. Another one is coming to the Chicago area this fall. Stay tuned.



Our intern Jessica Saltiel contributed to this post.

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