The Power of Perspectives

The Canadian Bar Association

Fred Headon


Futures past, present and … yes, future

By Fred Headon September 23, 2015 23 September 2015

The CBA Futures Initiative made a splash last year with its report on the future of legal services, and we’ve been really pleased to be at the centre of the conversation about what today’s changes will mean for the future of the profession in Canada. Since the report was released we’ve been talking the talk AND walking the walk, creating tools and information resources for members.

Some facts and figures:

  • Futures: Transforming the Delivery of Legal Services in Canada, is required reading on a growing number of law school syllabuses;
  • The Futures team has reached nearly 3,000 people with its in-person presentations on the future of legal services;
  • We’ve produced a number of resources for members since the report was published, and will be rolling out more this fall and into the new year, including a toolkit for young lawyers and new videos and podcasts on our Do Law Differently website;
  • Online, our monthly #CBAFutureschat reaches an international audience of people active in the Futures discourse, holding lively discussions on topics such as legal education, regulatory reform and business opportunities.

Speaking of Twitterchats, I’ll be hosting the next #cbafutureschat titled Legal Futures: Year One and Onward. I want to talk to you about the value you think the CBA Legal Futures Initiative has brought to the Canadian legal profession; which ideas you liked best (and why) and also which ideas you think need more work. What tools would you like to see to bring the report home to more members of the profession? What should we focus on in Year Two?

Join me on September 28 at noon ET, to join the conversation.


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The voice of the profession

By Fred Headon June 26, 2014 26 June 2014

I’ve always been a firm believer in the CBA’s work, but as I reflect on my year in office, one moment stands out as a time that mission came to life for me.

I was sitting on a bench outside the CBC studio in Montreal after a busy day of media interviews. The CBA was speaking out about suggestions by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the government that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada had acted inappropriately, despite evidence to the contrary.

My thoughts turned to how glad I am to be part of an organization that defends the role of the courts as impartial and independent decision-makers; glad to help reinforce public confidence in the courts and enhance understanding of the importance — and the fragility — of the rule of law. It was a powerful reminder about why the CBA matters.

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Opportunities through innovation

By Fred Headon May 5, 2014 5 May 2014

At a recent event held at the University of Montreal and co-sponsored by National Magazine and the CBA’s Legal Futures Initiative, I had the pleasure of introducing an impressive roster of panellists, assembled to converse with students about future opportunities in the legal profession through innovation.

Sitting on the panel were Monica Goyal (Aluvion Law), Mitch Kowalski (innovation consultant and author) Marie-Claude Rigaud (law professor, UdeM), Mathieu Bouchard (a partner at boutique firm IMK), Béatrice Bergeron (Juripop). Also brought in by videoconference were legal entrepreneur Natalie MacFarlane and legal futurist Richard Susskind. 

The purpose of the discussion was to get students to imagine the skills — not just the job title — that they want to consider where the opportunities lie in the future and how to get there.

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The lifeblood of the organization

By Fred Headon March 5, 2014 5 March 2014

When I began my term as president, I was really looking forward to meeting our volunteers from across the country. As a long-time member, I’ve always been impressed by the time and energy our volunteers dedicate to the CBA.

From St. John’s to Whitehorse, whether it means leading a PD session, helping to shape CBA policy or working on law reform initiatives, our volunteers bring their unique blend of enthusiasm and specialized skills to growing the CBA’s profile and impact at home and abroad.

Consider this: 1,007 volunteers participate in our sections and conferences at the national level alone; that includes officers, branch chairs, and committee and executive members. In 2012-13, 312 members were involved in preparing submissions to government and 17 served as pro bono counsel on interventions. That’s an astonishing level of dedication and commitment.

But as anyone who has volunteered will tell you — and I include myself — the rewards make it all worthwhile. Interacting with other volunteers builds peer relationships that can last a lifetime; being part of something larger than oneself — or one’s own practice — produces enormous satisfaction; and getting involved in new initiatives provides great opportunities to learn and grow as a professional.

What’s more, the important work CBA does won’t get done by itself. The CBA needs a strong volunteer base to help deliver on our mission, take on new projects and engage with the wider community.

If you’re already involved as a volunteer, please accept my thanks. If you’re not, please consider getting involved. And if you can’t, you still can support the CBA through your membership, by buying CBIA and CBAF products and by supporting the Law for the Future Fund.

You’ll get back more than you put in. I guarantee it.

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Lessons from Heenan

By Fred Headon February 11, 2014 11 February 2014

The legal profession was shaken and saddened this week to learn that Heenan Blaikie is winding up operations.

Founded in Montreal in the 1970s, it was one of the firms that paved the way for national law firms. At the time, that was a significant disruption in the legal landscape. Even bigger disruptions were yet to come.

Legal observers have said that Heenan was essentially between a rock and a hard place in a difficult legal market – not big enough to compete with the big firms, but too big to match the ability of smaller firms to deal creatively with clients seeking ways to lower their legal costs by insisting on flexible fee arrangements and farming out sections of work to the lowest bidder. According to Roy Heenan, the firm also fell victim to rivalries and inter-office conflicts.  “It’s so unnecessary. That’s the part that upsets me,” the founding partner told The Gazette.

When industry giants fall, it’s a wake-up call for the rest of the profession. There’s been a lot of talk about how the legal profession is changing, but few are taking steps to reposition themselves in the new marketplace. As legal futurist Richard Susskind has said, that’s partly because it’s hard to change the wheel on a moving car.  It’s also hard to know which direction to drive.

The conversation sparked by the CBA Futures Initiative has produced some interesting ideas that should help lawyers find their bearings.

During a recent CBA Futures Twitterchat on new forms of lawyer employment for the emerging legal market, participants identified a number of qualities that successful lawyers of the future will share. What’s interesting is the emphasis on rejecting the traditional business model in favour of one driven by individual entrepreneurs who have identified new markets.

It means providing “truly affordable/accessible value service in practices streamlined for optimum efficiencies, participants agreed, along with finding underserved markets and filling those markets’ need for legal services. This involves a shift away from the billable hour and firm hierarchies and a willingness to collaborate with lawyers who have different expertise.

Who’s going to take the lead? Lawyers who are entrepreneurial, agile, creative, technology-enabled and able to work in a multi-disciplinary setting, says chat host Jordan Furlong of Stem Legal. What does that mean for the future of legal education, regulation and innovation? That discussion is ongoing.

Clearly, lawyers who possess the qualities to adapt to changing circumstances will not be as vulnerable to the shifting fortunes of traditional law firms. Likewise, firms willing to have the difficult conversations necessary to innovate for the future may find a new lease on life. There is no reason to fear the future.

Out of great risk comes great reward. Watch for more from the CBA Legal Futures Initiative as we continue the conversation to find the path forward.

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Fred Headon is a past President of the Canadian Bar Association and chair of the CBA Legal Futures Initiative. / Fred Headon est le président sortant de l'Association du Barreau canadien et préside le Projet de l'ABC Avenirs en droit.

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