The opening keynote speech at this year's annual of the Canadian Association of Law Libraries was given yesterday by Fred Headon of the Canadian Bar Association (CBA).
The conference is taking place in Moncton and continues until tomorrow.
Headon led the CBA Legal Futures Initiative
, a lengthy consultative exercise to analyze the challenges facing the legal profession and how to respond to them.
The challenges are many as we all know, including:
- a growing gap between citizens and the legal system, an uncoupling
- non-stop change in technology
- risk aversion in the profession
- the arrival, especially in the US legal services market, of new firms outside the legal industry that offer cheap, standardized services for online divorce, online deal closing, online document review for litigation, etc.. All these new players are eroding lawyer market shade. This includes large international accounting firms that have hired thousands of lawyers worldwide to offer legal-style services in loan negociations, contracting etc.
The Legal Futures Initiative conducted research into the expectations of the public and found that people expect more flexibility in services, billing, and delivery arrangements, as well as more speed and participation. People want more predictable pricing, and be able to know exactly how far any process has progressed. Headon explained that process management tools could allow firms to break down work product into separately identifiable chunks, assign a price to the different steps and deliver information to the client using technology in predictable ways. Yet many firms and practitioners look as if they were still stuck in the era before the Industrial Revolution, according to Headon.
Headon stressed again and again that there is a growing gap between how lawyers and clients identify the value-add of various legal services. The clients expect lawyers to use the cheaper, effective ways. This could include automating the parts of the workflow that lend themselves to that, in the same way that Turbotax for example automates the way many Canadians do their taxes. Behind the scenes, the knowledge of how the Income Tax Act handles deductions, exemptions, eligibility thresholds has been automated and coded into the software's features. Lawyers, on the other hand, continue, said Headon, to see the value of their services in their "knowledge" and expertise.
Headon explained some of the Initiative's recommendations. Many of them involved exploring opening up the legal industry structure to new kinds of business structure, unbundling of services, partnering with other professionals and non-lawyer consultants to provide a multidisciplinary array of services to clients, training lawyers on a broader range of knowledge such as KM and project management, and automating the segments of the work process that make sense.
Labels: conferences, law firms, law libraries