Advertising legal services is no longer prohibited in Canada, but many lawyers are still learning how to use it effectively. Part of the reason is that many still believe that advertising is undignified. We look at our American counterparts and often shake our heads at the lengths lawyers there go to get their name out.
But what if we recognized the educational value of advertising in helping to make better-informed decisions? What if legal advertising was focused on explaining the options available to the client, and informing them of their rights? What if legal advertising was more about the client, and less about us?
Historically, legal advertising was prohibited because of concerns about it being detrimental to the image of the profession. Also of concern was that it would lead to a race to the bottom, with competitors slashing prices to attract clientele.
Since the rules have been relaxed, none of that has happened. If anything, legal services have become more unaffordable. Legal advertising hasn’t changed how we do business; but it is changing how firms approach business development.
Tonight’s federal political debate, hosted by The Globe & Mail, is anticipated to focus largely on economic issues. All three parties of the major have touted their credentials in their ability to strengthen the economy. In particular, their platforms all seek the support of the “middle class.”
Yet the discussions by all of these parties continue to ignore how life events impact every day Canadians, in particular with their encounters with the legal system. A death in the family, divorce or a significant work or business dispute, can all have an enormous impact on the well being and the finances of average Canadians.
The CBA’s “Reaching Equal Justice Report” estimated in 2013 that 45 per cent of all Canadians will have a problem in the next three years that requires a legal solution. Very few of these people will actually receive the help they need from professional legal services, with three-quarters of all people in Canadian family courts being self-represented.
When these legal issues are not dealt with early on, they often create bigger problems down the road. We know that 22 per cent of people have 85 per cent of the legal issues. Our inaction results in even greater inequality in Canadian society over time.
That’s not to say that lawyers shouldn’t care about the economy at all.
Something interesting happened earlier this year. Ryerson University in Toronto launched a “Legal Innovation Zone.” What’s strange is that Ryerson doesn’t even have a law school.
The zone is one of many Ryerson operates for everything from fashion to urban energy. The legal zone is run by a former attorney-general of Ontario, and has close ties with the legal industry.
Our legal system is deeply flawed and sorely lacking in innovation. We blame external causes for everything that goes wrong in our practice, from delays to rising legal costs.
The tougher task is identifying who is responsible for fixing these problems.
Lawyers are used to changes coming from the top down. Legislatures vote statutory amendments, and law societies
Omar Ha-Redeye practices out of Fleet Street Law in Toronto. He is a Professor at Ryerson University and Centennial College. He sits on the board of directors of the OBA and co-chairs its Young Lawyers Division.