Legal futures round-up: April 12, 2017
Inspired by the CBA Legal Futures report on Transforming the Delivery of Legal Services in Canada, here’s our regular round-up of noteworthy developments, opinions and news in the legal futures space as a means of furthering discussion about our changing legal marketplace.
First, a glance at what’s happening across the pond. Five years after obtaining its ABS licence, among the first in England, and a difficult start, Co-operative Legal Services is now making real profits.
Signalling a possible trend toward outsourcing in-house legal services, PwC has recently snapped up half of GE’s tax department – including 600 of its lawyers -- as part of a five-year deal to provide tax services to the conglomerate.
Also supporting the trend, international law firm Pinsent Masons has taken a 20 per cent stake in New Law start-up Yuzu.
Palo Alto-based Casetext closed on a US $12 million Series B funding round, one of the largest investments in a legal startup ever, bring its total financing to US $20.8 million.
Closer to home, Bennett Jones has announced it will be using start-up Loom Analytics’ platform. Gowlings WLG will also be partnering with the Toronto outfit, which participated in the CBA’s Pitch competition last year.
Speaking of which, the CCCA will be hosting a follow-up event to the Pitch next year at its Spring Conference.
If you’re looking for something to read, Jordan Furlong recently released his new book: Law Is A Buyer’s Market: Building a Client-First Law Firm. In an interview with CBA National, Furlong addresses the toughest challenge for law firm leaders: Changing the firm culture.
Somewhat related to that, Bruce McEwen writes that getting compensation right, and aligning it with strategy, is crucial for law firms that want to truly modernize and adapt their services to the client’s needs.
Darin Thompson, who has lectured in justice technology at Osgoode Hall and the UVic Faculty of law, and been an instrumental force in the Civil Resolution Tribunal and other technology-based justice transformations in British Columbia, has launched his new blog focused on automating justice processes with expert systems.
Moving to legal education, Anne Lévesque writes in CBA National that Ontario’s Law Practice Program (LPP) has resulted in a positive shift towards representation for Francophones.
University of Manitoba’s Robson Hall offers an access to justice course, which was recently visited by former Justice Cromwell. Madison Pearlman reports that a key takeaway from their conversation was the need for a “culture shift” and a “new way of thinking.”
Starting this fall Harvard Law School will allow applicants to submit their scores from either the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). Heather Douglas for Slaw calls this “a significant departure from the last 70 years, where LSATs have been considered a rite of passage.” Dean Sossin of Osgoode Hall says that Canadian law schools are unlikely to follow suit and Ian Holloway, a Canadian trustee of LSAC (the company that owns and administers the LSAT) writes an article defending the LSAT arguing that the test was originally introduced to increase access to law school and that the current problems with the LSAT are less in the test itself than how it’s used.
Harvard’s A2JLab discusses their recent flowchart of a guardianship process in the Boston area, describing such charts as “frustrating reminders of the yawning gap between the theory of access to justice and litigants’ lived experiences.”
On the access-to-justice front, a group of lawyers has launched the Alberta Limited Legal Services Project, an initiative to provide a crucial piece of the puzzle when it comes to access to justice — empirical research to test whether self-represented litigants actually benefit from unbundled services. It’s an odd thing, says Lethbridge lawyer Robert Harvie, because most lawyers have been offering limited scope services forever — such as contracts — and just don’t know. Because of that, they have never marketed it as a key part of their delivery process.
Martin Regg Cohn, at The Toronto Star, urges the use of paralegals in the family law context, saying “Lawyers lubricate our legal system, smoothing the way for litigants and judges alike. But they can also gum things up by charging so much that they price themselves out of the market.” and “If high-priced lawyers are part of the problem, part of the solution is paralegals.” Justice Marion Cohen counters that paralegals are not the answer -- increased funding for legal aid is what is needed to help family law litigants. David Baker says that lawyers are opposed to increasing paralegal’s use in court either “because they honestly believe clients require the services of a lawyer or out of naked self-interest,” while Paul Schabas advocates for paralegals with special training.
Justice Anne-Marie Bonkalo recently completed a ‘Family Legal Services Review’ in Ontario. According to the government, the review was done because a “key priority for the Government of Ontario and the Ministry of the Attorney General is to focus on initiatives that promote fairness and access to the justice system for all Ontarians.” However, Robert Shawyer says Bonkalo was set up to fail. Marshall Yarmus, a “licensed paralegal,” in reaction to the report, says that paralegals ought to be able to represent clients in court.
Brandon Hastings (www.bhastings.com) is an associate at MacLean Law in Vancouver, British Columbia, a civil roster mediator, a collaborative practitioner, and a director of the Immigrant Services Society of British Columbia (ISSofBC). Brandon holds a BBA in Entrepreneurial Leadership, has a background in technology, and sits on the CBABC’s court services committee.