Inspired by the CBA Legal Futures report on Transforming the Delivery of Legal Services in Canada, here’s our biweekly round-up of noteworthy developments, opinions and news in the legal futures space as a means of furthering discussion about our changing legal marketplace.
The Canadian Forum For Civil Justice makes the point that while legal technology is often assumed to improve access to justice, many existing legal tech projects focus on enhancing existing services, instead of expanding the ways in which justice may be accessed. Similarly, Patricia Hughes of the Law Commission of Ontario wants to make sure that an increased reliance on technology in justice doesn’t serve to further diminish access to justice through an assumption that everyone is conversant with technology.
Ryerson’s articling alternative, the Law Practice Program (LPP), came up for review in October. Though a Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) Committee initially recommended that the LPP be terminated, several commentators questioned that recommendation, including Jordan Furlong, Ian Holloway, and Noel Semple. On October 31, the Professional Development and Competence Committee reversed itself, recommending that the program be extended for another 2 years, and this extension has been granted. The debate has been divisive, to say the least. Detractors complain the program has done little to create more or better-trained lawyers, while proponents call it an innovative and effective tool for training new lawyers outside of the traditional articling paradigm.
In addition to running the LPP, Ryerson also founded the Legal Innovation Zone (LIZ). On October 20, 2016, the University took its first steps towards opening its own JD program. Chris Bentley, executive director of the Legal Innovation Zone and Law Practice Program at Ryerson, says that lawyers are missing out on plenty of legal work because they can’t change fast enough. He says that Ryerson’s fundamentally different approach to law school would produce lawyers able to meet unmet needs. He also says the law school being proposed is fundamentally different than what’s on offer currently, and that when people talk about challenges law students have securing articling and full-time positions, they forget the multiple studies talking about unmet legal need.
In British Columbia, the BC Court of Appeal has found that the Law Society of British Columbia’s (LSBC’s) decision to not allow the Christian Trinity Western University (TWU) to establish a law school was inappropriate, even though TWU discriminates against LGBTQ persons. The Court of Appeal issued a scathing judgement that found LSBC’s actions infringed on Charter rights, saying (at para 193) that a “society that does not admit of and accommodate differences cannot be a free and democratic society — one in which its citizens are free to think, to disagree, to debate and to challenge the accepted view without fear of reprisal. This case demonstrates that a well-intentioned majority acting in the name of tolerance and liberalism, can, if unchecked, impose its views on the minority in a manner that is in itself intolerant and illiberal.” “The law society is of the view that this matter is of national significance,” said LSBC president David Crossin and the LSBC is seeking to appeal the BC judgment to the Supreme Court of Canada while TWU is appealing an Ontario Court of Appeal decision that went against it.
The University of Saskatchewan has announced a justice research centre to address key gaps in data and access to justice research in Canada. The centre, CREATE Justice, will focus on transforming legal and justice services and removing systemic barriers to justice, according to a news release issued this week. “This centre will help make important data more readily available for informed and credible research and policy making,” Brea Lowenberger, access to justice co-ordinator at the College of Law, said in the release.
Labour lawyers say Legal Aid Ontario is dragging its feet when it comes to allowing its articling students to unionize, following the three years it took the organization to agree to negotiate with its staff lawyers’ chosen union. LAO articling students are now waiting to see the results of a vote that will determine if they join The Society of Energy Professionals, as a dispute between the union and LAO draws out the process.
Thompson Reuters’ 2016 Association of Corporate Counsel was held last month. Topics included turning in-house legal from a cost- to profit-centre.
According to the Thomson Reuters 2016 Legal Department In-Sourcing and Efficiency Report: The Keys to a More Effective Legal Department, more than 40 percent of (in house) legal departments indicated the top benefit of increasing efficiency is being able to focus on more strategic work, and many are turning to legal department operations professionals to enable them to be more strategic in how they advise the business. Survey here.
Mark Cohen in a recent post argues that “the corporate segment of the market is keen for a “safe,” scalable provider that combines legal, IT, and process expertise, a viable alternative to the traditional law firm structure.” He also writes that the US market should have access to British-style alternative business structures; online courts may help improve access to justice; and the way law firms operate ought to change to get in line with how modern organizations operate. Meanwhile, Jordan Furlong argues that power and prestige are increasingly falling into the hands of the consumer, and in corporate transactions this will increasingly necessitate change in law firms’ “traditional” operations.
Stanford’s CodeX–The Stanford Center for Legal Informatics is accepting applications for a Resident Fellowship for the 2017-18 academic year. Applications close December 15, 2016.
The gender pay gap for US BigLaw partners is a staggering 44 percent.
It is estimated that 70 per cent of law graduates hold an average of more than $71,000 in government and bank debt at the end of three years of law school. Bradford W. Morse, Dean of Law at Thompson Rivers University, calls this a “crisis,” especially for underserved communities. He argues that lawyers who practice in rural communities should be granted student loan forgiveness, noting that the CBABC presented a Report to Premier Christy Clark warning that “[i]f left unaddressed, the demographic realities will result in hundreds of communities and tens of thousands of BC residents without access to legal services.”
Access to justice in Alberta is under the microscope. A review of Alberta’s Justices found that only one-third of those named to Alberta’s Court of Queen’s Bench in the last five years had practiced criminal or family law.
Professor Gillian Hadfield of the University of Southern California contends the complex, expensive and government-and lawyer-dominated legal system that leaves billions of would-be legal consumers out in the cold must, and can, be transformed into a “more agile, market-based and globally oriented legal infrastructure.” Her ideas, honed over the past decade, are out in a new book, Rules for a Flat World: Why Humans Invented Law and How to Reinvent It for a Complex Global Economy.
Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP said on Wednesday it has launched a technology-based platform to support coverage of corporate deals and hired five people to help with the process, which will be based in Ottawa. Under the platform, the team will support mergers-and-acquisitions and corporate finance transactions, but it will branch into other areas as well. The team, which is called Osler Works — Transactional, is expected to grow. The five-member team includes four lawyers.
Brandon Hastings (www.bhastings.com) is an associate at MacLean Law in Vancouver, British Columbia, a civil roster mediator, a collaborative practitioner, and a director of the Immigrant Services Society of British Columbia (ISSofBC). Brandon holds a BBA in Entrepreneurial Leadership, has a background in technology, and sits on the CBABC’s court services committee.
Brandon Hastings is a lawyer, mediator, collaborative divorce practitioner based in Vancouver. Learn more about him at www.bhastings.com