Legal Profession as Low-Hanging Fruit

It seems funny to me that lawyers believe that we are complete masters of our own fate. We aren’t. Each province’s Law Society Act, which creates a monopoly for lawyers and allows us to be self-governing, was created and passed by the local legislature – and it can also be changed by the local legislature.

Now, if one looks at the current political environment across Canada we see a few interesting things.

British Columbia, Ontario and Nova Scotia will all likely go to the polls in 2013.

The Ontario Liberal party is in the midst of a leadership campaign that will create a Premier early in 2013 before any election is called.

In other words, we have politicians across Canada searching for new ideas and concepts that will gain votes.

Access to justice has been a long simmering issue that has the attention of Supreme Court justices and the Governor General. Yet, it has not yet seeped into the mindset of provincial politicians.

Read the rest here.

North America as an emerging legal market

I have been following an interesting blog and twitter feed (@LawSync) prepared by LawSync out of Sheffield Hallam University. LawSync has put the “wow” back into law school and is a project of that university’s Department of Law, Criminology, and Community Justice. According to its website:

The name of this project reflects our desire to see a better synchronisation between law as an academic discipline and professional practice, the expectations both of legal professionals and users of legal services, and regulatory influences. Law schools, law students, and legal professionals need to keep in sync with market needs and consumer expectations. The legal services market, and those who work within it, are undergoing great change thanks to a combination of forces- regulation, technology, and changing consumer expectations. As part of preparing students for employment, the LawSync project is looking at these forces and what they mean for law students and legal professionals, and how its teaching can prepare them for the demands of the new marketplace.

LawSync has not only demonstrated an impressive command of the changing legal landscape but also the thoughtfulness to see legal education as encompassing much more than case law.

Recently LawSync blogged about what it sees as “emerging markets” in legal services within economically “developed” jurisdictions.

Read the rest here.

The Legal Services Industry – More Than A Profession

General Counsel have a great opportunity to change how legal services are delivered – if they choose to do so. While some have made strides to change things up so that they may assume a more strategic and value-added role within their companies (which in my view is the best role for GCs and their teams), many choose to remain reactive fire-fighters, policing an increasing number of outside law firms. In fact many advertisements for in-house counsel now stipulate that experience managing outside law firms is a vital quality for employment. Surely companies should be hiring in-house counsel to bring much more value to the table than being cops. But I digress.

Read the rest here.

The end of law partnerships?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the “end of days” for the traditional legal services provider – partnership law firms.

And I can already hear you grumbling. “How can there be an “end of days” for the current model of law firms? And don’t give us any of that, ‘UK Legal Services Act will change the world,’ crap. Kowalski, you’re crazy.”

Perhaps, but hear me out.

The partnership model of law firms is doomed to fail because of what Mancur Olson calls the collective action dilemma. Collective action dilemma occurs when you have a group of people all acting in a perfectly rational way for their own interests in the short term.

Sounds like a law firm, doesn’t it?

In a law firm, lawyers go out and do their own thing in their own self-interest, year after year. Getting clients where they can, billing time, collecting fees and taking out profits at the end of the year. And, if they do that, lawyers all believe that the firm will be in good shape; that their individual actions when put together will keep the firm afloat in perpetuity.

However in terms of long-term strategy, this is a completely irrational way to act.

See the rest of the post here.

Time for Law Firms to Adopt Risk Management

Risk management has been a hot topic in the corporate community for about 10 years, springing mostly from scandals such as Enron, Worldcom and more recently the financial crisis of 2008. The devastation that these events wrought forced boards of directors to devote significant resources to managing risk and to keep abreast of what is happening in the world at large.

When one looks at law firms, we see that attention is paid to risk management only in the micro-sense; controls are put in place to prevent lawyers and staff from stealing trust funds, there are some controls over who has access to certain documents, and rules about taking documents outside the office. What is often lacking is risk management in a broader context and few, if any, firms have a dedicated person who (either part-time or full-time) continually looks at risk items that affect the firm and reports on these risks.

The rest of the article is here.


Maple Leaf Reflections

You can hear it in my accent when I talk, I’m a Canadian in London – apologies to Sting

In the opening pages of James Clavell’s, Noble House, visitors to Hong Kong are hit by a pungent smell as they disembark their plane at old Kai Tak airport. They’re told, “That’s the smell of money.” When I recently disembarked at Heathrow’s T3, I don’t recall any particular smell. But by the end of a whirlwind week of talks and presentations, I was drinking in the soothing velvet taste of innovation as it continues to roll through the UK’s legal services market.

Riverview Law generously sponsored me for a week-long list of engagements with law students, lawyers and general counsel to discuss what is being done now, and what can be done to change the legal services industry into a modern business operation based on value-for-money, client service and exceptional process. My book, Avoiding Extinction: Reimagining Legal Services for the 21st Century, was striking a chord among those in the UK who saw the full implementation of the Legal Services Act as the death knell for “business-as-usual” for all law firms except the Magic Circle firms – at least for now.

I have often called Canada “the land where legal innovation comes to die.” We’re a conservative bunch here, barely touched by the financial meltdown of 2008 and stubbornly clinging to the notion that what works in private business has absolutely no application to the running of a legal practice. So, I was pleasantly stunned to be surrounded by individuals who spoke of wild ideas like “management information”, “major investment in IT solutions”, “constantly improving our processes”, “culture of innovation,” “creating the right metrics”, “letting lawyers do what they do best”, “value-for-money” and “fun”. These were not terms thrown around to impress – they’re values deeply imbedded in a new wave of legal services providers who are discarding things lawyers dislike (time sheets for starters) and applying lessons learned from other successful businesses. And to think that the most innovative provisions of the Legal Services Act are only a year old….. Clearly there are direct correlations between well-funded legal businesses, happier lawyers and predictable, affordable pricing for clients.

The highlight of my trip was visiting Riverview’s operations in The Wirral – it was if I had walked into the offices of my fictionalized law firm, BFC – minus the rooftop deck. I was astounded by the fact that from the top down, a customer-centred culture permeated the team. It was palpable, refreshing and genuine – something I’ve not seen before in any law firm.

My short UK tour has reinforced my belief that the Canadian legal profession can be saved through similar innovations driven by an opening up of the legal marketplace. But for now I’ll have to be content to watch from the other side of the Atlantic – green with envy.

More Good Reviews About Avoiding Extinction!

MyCase Inc.’s blog has some very positive comments about Avoiding Extinction and is certainly a legal tech company to watch. The more I learn about it the more excited I get – totally cloud-based and extremely user-friendly!

Nikki Black, the author of Cloud Computing for Lawyers, has also commented favourably on Avoiding Extinction for the Daily Record!

Can you feel the change coming?


Avoiding Extinction has now launched in Canada!

I was very pleased to speak to a large crowd of supporters at the launch of Avoiding Extinction on Wednesday May 9. Thank you to all!  And a special thanks to Ben McNally for allowing us to celebrate at his store!

I managed to secure special Canada pricing for those who buy the book at Ben’s store – so please take advantage of this.

Also, the early Canadian reviews are positive which gives me hope that this crusty old profession may yet be saved. See the Law Times review here and the Legal Post review here. also I am grateful to legal bloggers Garry Wise and Michael Carabash for their very warm comments here and here.

On Saturday, May 12 I spoke at lawTechcamp 2012 to a receptive audience that didn’t want to leave – in fact security came to kick us out! Again there is a growing hunger among lawyers to reinvent the profession and I was happy to facilitate some discussion on this at lawTechcamp!

Blawger meet-up Toronto – May 2012

Just prior to Wednesday’s book launch, I was fortunate to take part in our local legal blogger (or blawger) meet-up. If you want to follow what is happening in the legal world these are just a few of the blogs and commentators to follow.

Roll Call

(on Left):

Jessica Gonzalez
Omar Ha-Redeye of Fleet Street Law and My Support Calculator
Joshua Slayen of Legal Linkup
Simon Fodden of Slaw
Michael Carabash of Dynamic Lawyers
Colin Lachance of CanLII

(on Right):

Mark Robins of Lawyer Locate
Chris Jaglowitz of Gardiner Miller Arnold
Pei Shing Wang of PSW Law
Damion Kraemer
Garry Wise of Wise Law
Andrew Feldstein

(Not in photo)

Bob Tarantino of Entertainment & Media Law Signal