In the next decade, says Richard Susskind, “we’ll see more change in the legal world than we’ve seen in the last century.” That’s because a number of factors are at play. Clients are insisting that legal services be delivered more efficiently, and at a lower cost; the liberalization of legal services already under way in England and Australia will be felt globally, bringing about greater competition from non-traditional legal service providers; and information technology will accelerate the transformation of legal services delivery. What’s more, demographic changes and the ever-growing challenge of access to justice will further pressure the law profession to question assumptions about the law firm business model that has run its course. Together these factors will underpin the next decade of changes in the legal services market.
In April, National Magazine and the CBA’s Legal Futures Initiative co-sponsored a panel discussion at the University of Montreal’s state-of-the art Cyberjustice laboratory. The topic: Future opportunities in the legal profession through innovation. The objective: Getting students to imagine the skills — not just the job title — they want, where the opportunities lie and how to get there. Here’s a sample of what our five panellists had to say.
Partner/Associé, Irving Mitchell Kalichman
Founder/Fondatrice, Aluvion Law
Author of/auteur de Avoiding Extinction: Reimagining Legal Services for the 21st Century
Faculty of law/Faculté de droit, Université de Montréal
Mitch Kowalski on the evolution of legal practice
The purpose of law is to protect the social fabric of society or to protect property rights or to protect human rights or contracts or what have you…
But the one thing that no one ever says is that the purpose of law is to give lawyers a job… It’s got nothing to do with giving you all jobs. It’s not about you. It’s not about me. It’s not about us...
Unfortunately, because lawyers have been traditionally more educated and obviously filled the role of explaining what law is we’ve got this sense of entitlement that we’re entitled to practise law. And there’s even a sense of outrage if anyone dare tread upon that turf...
Unfortunately, we’ve been delivering law in a very lawyer-centric way… Clients fit into how we do business. We don’t fit into the way the client wants those legal services delivered…
But we are no longer the most educated people in society. Our clients are exceptionally educated. They’re well-versed in a lot of skills. They’re more demanding than ever before. And we’re not the gatekeepers of law anymore. People can access law anytime, anywhere, on your phone, on your tablet, on your computer. And so when we fail to recognize the changes happening around us, we fail to evolve.
If lawyers really want to remain relevant to the delivery of legal services, and I suggest to you we are at a critical junction, we need to understand what our clients want and how to deliver it and to actually deliver it.
We are now entering the most disruptive period of time in the history of the legal profession. And that freaks out my students after they take my course. But what I always say to them is this is also the most exciting time to be part of the legal profession as long as you don’t want to be a traditional lawyer.
Marie-Claude Rigaud on alternative business structures
We have a system where law societies regulate lawyers, not law firms. We have law societies that regulate by adopting codes of conduct. They adopt rules. They wait for complaints to be launched and then they discipline…
Why do we fear alternative business structures? We fear ABS because we fear that somehow they will dilute the ethical fibre of the profession, that somehow, by allowing investment from non-lawyers we will no longer be the profession that we are today.
There is also a fear that this will be a further blow to our professional image. Already we’re hearing that this whole discussion [about ABS] is really about finding new ways for lawyers and investors to make more money. This is not about creating more opportunities for access to justice. So there’s some resistance…
But look at the flipside. Look at everything that ABS could bring: new capital, new ideas, innovation, efficiency, enhanced quality in the delivery of legal services, reduction in the number of complaints. It’s very interesting. Since Australia allowed alternative business structures or has permitted them, the number of complaints has dropped by two-thirds…
So in this model that we are considering of alternative business structures, there is nothing that would prevent the regulator by from also adopting a firm regulatory approach to impose fiduciary and ethical duties on alternative business structures, to demand that the alternative business structure comply with confidentiality rules, solicitor-client privilege — that privileged information, for example, not be made accessible unless informed consent is being given by the client.
So there are many solutions available to the regulator, many of which would be done through a firm or entity regulatory approach that would solve a lot of the concerns that we have about the dilution of the ethical values and of the professionalism that underlines our legal profession.
Monica Goyal on legal technology
Think about how technology has disrupted music.
When I was younger, you’d go to the record store and you’d buy an LP. And then we saw CD-ROMs, we saw these MP3s and then we saw MP3 players. Now we’re seeing digital services. So you don’t have to buy an album anymore. You just buy the song. And that has fundamentally disrupted the business of music.
The same thing with books. A couple of years ago, you could go to the U.S., you could go to a Borders. Borders is now bankrupt because the bookstore has been rendered obsolete by Amazon and the e-book.
Finance: So sometimes people think, “oh well, those things are things that can’t be disrupted.” Well, finance is being disrupted. We have Bitcoin — a new currency. Whoever thought that a new currency could be created and kick-started? How are companies funded?
What I hear sometimes is, “well, what lawyers do is special”. It can’t be automated. Human relationships are complex: These things can’t be modelled by computers.
But think about it: What other industries involving human relationships have been disrupted by technology?
There’s the example of OkCupid — dating. What is more like human than who you’re going to date? I don’t know if you know, [OKCupid] has quite a sophisticated algorithm. Artificial intelligence that happens at the backend is determining who is the best match for you. Who’s your best match? What is your attractiveness level?
… Now, Google has a car and supposedly makes fewer errors than a human [driver], and they’re trying this in California. This is artificial intelligence. This is sophisticated complex stuff.
So in the future, who do you think will be your biggest competitor: Other lawyers? Is that who you think you’re competing with? Or is it the people who are going out and doing it themselves, like the self‑represented person? Or is it Google?
Mathieu Bouchard on diversity and inclusion
There was a great CBA report that was produced in 2012 by the Equality Committee measuring diversity in law firms, a critical tool for achieving high performance and it’s a tool that’s been created for law firms to allow them to measure diversity. And it gave five reasons why.
The business case: When an organization’s clients are diverse, having a workforce that mirrors that diversity can help to build client relationships. And for global business relationships, it’s the same thing. When you have people from different backgrounds, different origins, you have those natural connections with people all around the world.
Productivity: When people feel valued for who they are, not just what they are or a number, a figure, they are more productive. There’s a sense of belonging. They want to do better because they feel that you care about them.
Attracting top talent: When people choose a work environment, they’re looking for diversity. So as a business, you want to offer that diversity to recruit the top talent.
And then the talent management: when you have five, six people from different backgrounds, you have better ideas flowing. Why? Because not everyone is looking at it the same way. I don’t know if you follow House of Cards, but there's something very striking. In the last episode of the last season when you have Mr. Tusk meeting with his team of lawyers — there are six or seven of them — and all of them are older white gentlemen. And things are not going so well for him at that point.
You’ve got to wonder: If you were being advised by six persons who all probably came from Harvard Law School and all working at big firms, what kind of diversity are you getting? Is that the best legal advice you can get?
Béatrice Bergeron on access to justice
Juripop was a project launched by three law students. They were 19 years old when they started it back in 2009. The first office was in Saint-Constant on the south shore of Montréal. And they realized pretty early on that even if you become a very successful lawyer and you make a very decent salary, there are some situations where you couldn’t even afford your own services. We can all agree that this is a problem. So Juripop was created to fill the gap because justice was accessible either to very rich people or very poor people through legal aid...
Since then, it has grown significantly by initiating new projects and offering more and more services. Juripop now employs more than 30 people in the Montreal area. And we have more than 200 volunteers, mostly law students…
Too many people don’t have access to a lawyer when they face a situation where they would need legal advice. For these people, justice is long, it’s expensive, it’s complex and it’s not efficient. It is a very serious problem here in Quebec, but also across Canada and unfortunately, I think this subject is too often ignored…
Access to justice is not just about settling a dispute in court. It’s also to inform and educate citizens in order to prevent a failing judicial system. It’s our role as lawyers and future lawyers, of course, to address this issue of access to justice by making our contribution, maybe changing how we see our profession. Of course, the government has some responsibility regarding this issue, but I think it’s also in our hands to change the justice system.