CBA National’s top 10 articles for 2016
December 22, 201622 December 2016
Here are the top stories that resonated with our readers in 2016.
1. Shaking up the academy
By Leo Singer
Canadian law schools are suffering from an existential crisis.
The prospective lawyers emerging from their hallowed halls are unprepared for a profession in flux, critics argue. It’s a new world out there: Billable hours and traditional large firms are giving way to new business structures, law is becoming increasingly globalized, and entrepreneurs are creating new ways to deliver cost-effective and flexible legal services.
Meanwhile, law schools are struggling to reconcile the contradictions and tensions inherent in a cobbled-together educational mandate. They find it increasingly tough to defend high tuition fees and higher expectations. And they remain mired in a debate about the true mission of a legal education, and its role in society.
2. The real reason Canadian law firms are in big trouble
By Davide Pisanu and Mike Ross
No, it isn’t the ranks of innovative legal tech start-ups springing up now that the fintech boom is starting to move into the mainstream. And it isn’t a result of fee pressure from increasingly budget conscious in-house departments. It’s the hubris, the belief that they don’t have to change, that will most harm Canadian law firms. As one of the firm leaders we interviewed during an informal survey conducted among partners at the biggest law firms across the country and their largest clients, said “I think that we’re pretty much immune from disruption.” This is not a recipe for survival.
3. The lawyer vs the law firm
By Jordan Furlong
"Clients hire lawyers, not firms,” is the oldest line in the business development handbook. Law has long been a personal services business with a strong relationship component: clients come to rely not only on a lawyer’s expertise, but also on his or her judgment and advice. By contrast, the law firm is equally far away from the client, normally present as just a name on a letterhead or an invoice. Most of a law firm’s clients deal primarily, if not exclusively, with one lawyer or small group of lawyers and staff.
Lawyers have sufficient confidence in this dynamic that they exercise an extraordinary degree of autonomy within their firms. Ask a typical law firm partner to vote on a proposal that will compromise revenue in the short-term but enhance profits in the long term: in most cases, the thumb predictably will be turned down. The brand of the individual lawyer has consistently trumped the shingle of the firm under which he or she happens to practice at the moment.
4. A basic right
By Agnese Smith
Dismissed for years as a utopian thought experiment, the concept of a basic guaranteed income is now enjoying a renaissance as fears about automation and technological unemployment are on the rise.
The speed at which basic income has snowballed onto the public agenda has been astonishing. How to translate the idea into law is another matter altogether. If the past is any indication, decisions on welfare will likely remain a task for elected lawmakers. But could we see the day when the courts step in and rule that the Canadian Charter protects economic rights, even a basic income guarantee, as fundamental to human survival?
5. Supreme Court sets ceilings on trial delay
By Justin Ling
Out with the old Morin framework, in with the new.
The Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the framework, which was intended to guarantee accused the right to a speedy trial under s. 11 of the Canadian Charter, is, among other things, “too unpredictable, too confusing, and too complex.”
In a system plagued by delay, the top court’s ruling could have huge impacts by setting presumptive delay ceilings in criminal trials.
6. Who owns space
By Doug Beazley
When Canadian-American tech mogul Elon Musk stood before an International Astronautical Congress audience in Mexico in September to roll out a wildly ambitious plan to start ferrying human settlers to Mars over the next decade or so, online comment boards instantly lit up with armchair engineers arguing over whether the plan could actually work.
The tiny international community of specialists in space law, on the other hand, zeroed in on a different question – whether what Musk was planning would be legal.
Sounds academic, right? It’s not – not any more.
7. Justice understood
By Justin Ling
For as long as there have been open courts and a free press, media have covered trials to inform, sometimes to entertain, and generally to ensure that justice is not only done, but seen to be done. But with the justice system coming under the increasing – and often uninformed – scrutiny of the court of public opinion, it's legitimate to ask whether it needs protection of its own.
In simpler times there was no question that courts could take care of themselves. Town criers were trusted to deliver news of court verdicts and sentences without adding their critique of the legal process, trying to shape public opinion, agitating for change or disparaging the abilities and approaches of the lawyers, judges and juries responsible. And their reach was limited to the people who could physically hear them.
8. Clerking at Canada’s highest court
By Corey Larocque
Clerks at the Supreme Court of Canada get “a ringside seat” to watch Canada’s highest-ranking judges wrestle with cases that affect the lives of Canadians, says Owen Rees, an Ottawa lawyer who spent three years overseeing the high court’s clerking program. They work in a “fertile intellectual environment” and enjoy the satisfaction of contributing to the work of the country’s final court of appeal.
“It is one of the best jobs you can have in the legal profession,” says Rees, himself a former Supreme Court clerk.
9. Women, law and alcohol
By Jennifer Taylor
The wine-loving woman has become something of a stereotype, at least in certain corners of North American pop culture. Picture Scandal’s Olivia Pope – trained as a lawyer – and there’s probably a large glass of red wine in one hand and a big bowl of popcorn in the other. It’s no different in the real-world legal profession, where events for women lawyers often feature wine as the focal point.
That’s just the way it is, I thought.
And then I read this article by Kristi Coulter, which went viral over the summer (be warned: it contains lots of swears) and woke me up to the connection between the pressures that professional women face, and the social pressures to drink. Coulter wrote, “there’s no easy way to be a woman, because, as you may have noticed, there’s no acceptable way to be a woman. And if there’s no acceptable way to be the thing you are, then maybe you drink a little. Or a lot.”
10. Legal analytics: Where are the data scientists?
By Yves Faguy
What is it that lawyers do?
“They help people navigate complexity and manage enterprise legal risk," according to Daniel Katz, an expert on emerging legal technology and one of the speakers at a conference put on by LegalX and Thomson Reuters in Toronto this week.
A follow-up question to that is, how does one put a dollar figure on a lawyer’s work, other than relying on the billable hour? Unfortunately for clients, it’s the complex nature of legal services that makes it so hard to ascribe value to what lawyers do. For the unsophisticated client in particular, it’s almost impossible to separate the wheat from the chaff.
But in the age of data analytics, that is all quickly changing.