I grew up in the suburbs of Montreal’s West Island in the 1970s. I attended a solidly middle-class high school where the students were predominantly white Protestants and the closest we came to poverty was collecting canned food for the needy.
But outside our insular world, things were starting to change for those who didn’t share our privilege. In the 1970s, the Canadian Human Rights Act was passed to prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, age and gender and the federal government started funding legal aid so the poor could have equal access to legal representation. The steady drumbeat of progress continued through the next four decades as some historic injustices were redressed and the law reflected social change.
You’ve read the books, gone to the seminars and accepted the inevitable: If your firm wants to stay competitive and attract the best people, it has to develop a business strategy to deal with changing client demands, new technology and a shifting regulatory landscape.
So now what?
You’re already ahead of the game if you recognize that business as usual isn’t viable in the long-term, says Mike Ross, founder of Juniper, a Montreal-based strategy consulting boutique. Now you have to get your partners on board and start rethinking how to deliver client services.
That’s not going to be easy: in law firms where money is still rolling in, partners don’t have much incentive to change and there’s a succession crisis brewing; in
63 per cent of U.S. law firms, for example, partners age 60 or over control at least a quarter of total firm revenue but only 31 per cent of firms have a formal succession planning process, according to an Altman Weil study released last year.
Postmedia columnist Christie Blatchford wants you to know that she really doesn’t care what you think of her. Her acerbic speech last week to a roomful of lawyers and judges at the CBA-FLSC Ethics Forum was laced with profanity and self-deprecating jabs (when she gave a similar speech to another CBA audience, she said she “finished to a lumpen and hostile silence.”) She doesn’t just attack sacred cows; she beats them to a bloody pulp and mounts their heads on sticks as a warning to others.
But don’t dismiss her as another cranky contrarian. Strip away the snark and you’ll soon realize that Blatchford’s provocative positions are rooted in expertise developed over decades spent covering the criminal justice system. You might not agree with everything she says, but some of her insights are worth pondering.
Her topic at last week’s lunch was defending the presumption of innocence in sexual assault cases, a stand, she dryly observed, that she never realized would be controversial.
There are lots of good reasons to worry about the state of the world. Here’s one you probably never considered: the geopolitical consequences of a “land rush” in space.
That’s right. Forget the Middle East, the rise of the alt-right and climate change for a minute. A number of countries have been preparing for war in space, according to worried space academics. At stake: billions of dollars in commercial ventures ranging from space tourism to mining the moon. The world’s economy depends on an orbital communications network; imagine the political turmoil if state actors launched anti-satellite operations to secure a commercial advantage.
I came across a story recently about a session at one of the CBA’s annual meetings. Headlined: “Future belongs to young lawyers who can adapt to change”, it discussed the emerging importance of technology and the need for lawyers to think globally amid rising competition from new players.
“The legal profession must change with the times or face irrelevance,” warned Mr. Justice Michael Kirby, president of the Court of Appeal of New South Wales in Australia, adding “the snail of the law rumbles along faster than a lot of lawyers.”
That was 30 years ago. The young lawyers who heard Kirby’s speech are veteran practitioners now. But today, the drumbeat for reinvention is louder than ever.
As Leo Singer reports in this issue, the call for change is now being heard in the corridors of academia. Still steeped in tradition, law schools are under pressure from students and some faculty to take a more practical approach to legal education.
Beverley Spencer is editor-in-chief of National Magazine and executive editor of CCCA Magazine