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The Canadian Bar Association

Beverley Spencer

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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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Think systemically, act locally

By Beverley Spencer August 20, 2013 20 August 2013

Equal justice is achievable, but it's going to take a commitment from everybody to make it happen, Melina Buckley told the closing lunch of CLC 2013.

She asked everyone in the room to commit to thinking systemically and acting locally to bring about change one step at a time. "Change doesn't have to be overwhelming," she said, but it doesn't happen by simply writing reports.

"I've written many reports in my time and what I know for sure is that reports don't make change; people make change," she said.

Even people who don't practise "people law" usually associated with legal aid can help. "You are all officers of the court and custodians of the justice system. You have privilege because of that and with privilege comes responsibility."

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The hidden barriers to success

By Beverley Spencer August 20, 2013 20 August 2013

Major research studies have identified 10 hidden barriers that exist in every legal organization. Kathleen Nalty, president of Kathleen Nalty Consulting LLC in Denver, presented the following list Monday to a session presented by the CBA’s Equality Committee and the Women Lawyers Forum.

As a group, female and diverse lawyers (including lawyers of colour, LGBT, disabled) have more limited access to career-enhancing opportunities that can make all the difference, such as formal and informal networking:

  • The pool of intelligence that flows through an organization’s internal networks that insiders can use to their advantage is less accessible to these groups.

  • The amount, type and profile of work assignments generate lots of billable hours but is not the high-profile work associated with advancement potential

  • They may have mentors, but they do not get sponsored in the same way that people in the majority do:  We tend to invest at that level in people who are like us.

  • They have less access to training and development.

  • They don’t have substantive contact with clients, including pitches and client meetings.

  • They have less access to decision-makers: They don't have a seat at the table let along have a voice.

  • They are likely to be socially isolated in the organization.

  • They receive receive inadequate feedback and soft evaluation.

  • They are disproportionately denied promotions.

The bottom line, Nalty says: hard work and technical skill are not enough; to be fully successful, lawyers must be able to access these opportunities. At the same time, the individual has responsibility for driving his or her own career and must put him or herself in position to gain access.

As for the cause of these hidden biases, it’s not intentional or even conscious: it’s an “affinity bias,” which Nalty describes as the human tendancy to hang out with people who like us and make us feel comfortable.

 

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