The Power of Perspectives

The Canadian Bar Association

Beverley Spencer

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When giants fall

By Beverley Spencer March 6, 2014 6 March 2014

The commotion over the stunning break-up of Heenan Blaikie will have died down by the time you read this, but the reverberations will be felt for a long time. 

The firm’s demise in February was blamed on a number of factors, including dissension in the ranks, the fragile nature of professional partnerships and the leadership vacuum created with the departure of chairman Roy Heenan in 2012. But the reporters and commentators who parsed the situation after the collapse kept coming back to the same point: the legal business isn’t what it used to be.

When industry giants fall, it’s a wake-up call for the rest of the profession, as CBA president Fred Headon wrote in an opinion piece published in The Globe and Mail. The firm was profitable — it earned $75-million last year — but it was hard-pressed to compete with bigger firms operating in the global marketplace. And it was too big to match the ability of smaller players to find creative solutions for clients seeking lower costs.

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A Path Forward

By Beverley Spencer February 22, 2014 22 February 2014

CBA Council has endorsed the path forward to equal justice envisioned by the CBA Access to Justice Committee's report.

Now the next phase of work can begin on what committee chair John Sims describes as “the central issue in justice for our time.” The scope of the report’s recommendations is “ambitious but possible,” he told members of council, and targets all of the barriers to justice the committee have identified.

Council passed a resolution Saturday to endorse the vision of equal justice presented in the report, in which the justice system is equally accessible to all, regardless of means, capacity and social situation; and to allot sufficient financial and other resources to allow for the success of the Equal Justice Initiative.

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The twilight zone

By Beverley Spencer January 23, 2014 23 January 2014

Over the Christmas break, I read a fascinating new book called A Good Day’s Work. Written by John DeMont, a wonderful writer and a former colleague from my days as a reporter in Halifax, it is the story of people who work in “twilight” trades: railroad engineers, blacksmiths, milkmen and others who carve out a living in a disappearing Canada.

The book is not a lament for better days or an attack on modern life. Rather, it recognizes that the technological and cultural change that is transforming the workplace is also altering our connection to work and our community. As DeMont told one interviewer, “We want to be more connected to what we do and to know that what we do has meaning. We just seem to get further and further away from it.” Stable, meaningful work, as Richard Sennett has written, not only helps us build a coherent narrative of our lives; it also inculcates values of loyalty, trust and commitment in citizens.

The legal profession is no stranger to technological and cultural change, but are the same forces that are putting the boots to the blacksmith going to send lawyers the way of the milkman? Law 21 blogger Jordan Furlong believes the business model isn’t sustainable, but he doesn’t think lawyers will disappear. Something else, however, is at risk.

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The path to power

By Beverley Spencer November 18, 2013 18 November 2013

I recently had the opportunity to attend a women’s leadership conference presented by the CBA’s National Women Lawyers Forum.  The room was packed with bright, high-achieving women with very successful careers. Looking around, I had to wonder: “Why are we still talking about women and leadership? Haven’t we arrived?”

Actually, no we haven’t.

Ambitious women still struggle to get a foot on the path to power and to convey the executive presence that says they belong in the inner circle. Half of the problem in the legal profession, Deborah Epstein Henry told the conference, has to do with the rigidity of the traditional law firm structure.  But the other half, she said, is due to women’s reluctance to get out of their own way.

(Read more after the jump)

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Another big shift

By Beverley Spencer October 1, 2013 1 October 2013

When we talk about the forces disrupting traditional legal practice, there’s a tendency to point to technology and the rise of new rivals ranging from legal process outsourcers to alternative business structures.

We don’t really think about how new patterns of immigration are going to change how legal services are provided.  But according to the authors of a provocative new book on Canada’s changing demographic base, perhaps we should.

John Ibbitson and Darrell Bricker were at the CBA Legal Conference in Saskatoon this summer talking about their new book, The Big Shift, which examines how demographic changes are affecting business, policy-making and politics. When senior editor Yves Faguy caught up with them, they elaborated on the potential impact on the legal profession (see the video online.)

As Canada’s immigration mix shifts toward Asia and the Pacific, there are repercussions for everything from criminal justice policy to marketing milk, they argue. These new immigrants are culturally and economically more conservative in values; they worry more about crime, which is why the Conservatives’ tough-on-crime agenda resonates with immigrant voters in the suburbs that ring Toronto. It’s also why everyone should consider the business implications of those cultural differences.

Just as dairy farmers will have to adapt to a growing Asian market that sees milk as an ingredient, not a beverage, so too will the legal community need to understand who the new consumers of legal services will be in order to tap into this emerging client base.

It’s a daunting prospect to stay on top of new business models, new technology and how the demographic base might be shifting under your feet. We’re already busy enough.

But it illustrates why it’s so important to keep your eyes on the horizon: You’ll never be surprised by something you didn’t see coming.

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