Community – It’s Where You Grow

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They say it takes a community to raise a child – to watch out for it, to teach and shape him or her, and to give wise counsel.

Could it be that a community is also what it takes to put the legal profession in a position to flourish?

Slaw.ca founder Simon Fodden, in a background paper prepared for the CBA Legal Futures Initiative, suggests that the lack of a communal sensibility could be one of the reasons the profession is such a slow-turning ship.

That lack is both top-down and bottom-up. Inertia is found at the top in the country’s multiple jurisdictions.

“Broken into jurisdictions and corresponding regulatory societies, the Canadian profession lacks a strong national authority, and consequently the ability to move in bold directions as a whole in the way that England and Wales appear to have done, with the introduction of their Legal Services Act, for example,” Fodden says.

At the base, it comes from the fact that every lawyer, whether sole practitioner or associate – or partner – in a big firm, essentially works for him or herself. Fodden quotes author Mitch Kowalski, who has argued that the partnership model is doomed to fail, as saying, “In a law firm, lawyers go out and do their own thing in their own self-interest … the short-term goals of individual lawyers do not automatically lead to the long-term viability of the firm because individual lawyers do not care what happens to the firm after they leave.”

Finally, he points to a problem that has shown up in other research done for the Futures initiative – there’s very little reliable data about the Canadian legal market. “No national body (indeed no organization of any purview) provides data about the market, its size, its makeup, who is spending what on what services, and who is profiting.”

Conservatism in the profession – in which all of the above play a role – is one of four vectors of change Fodden identifies as affecting the legal industry (along with globalization, the economy and technology), and is the only one over which lawyers themselves have some degree of control. While it wasn’t the focus of Fodden’s paper, it’s worth taking a moment to lift the idea out and study it a bit.

There is no communal understanding or awareness of who/what/why we are as a profession, no good data on the market or the players in it. If at the individual and jurisdictional level everyone just goes madly off in all directions, it is difficult, as Fodden says, to make “bold” plans involving the profession.

It may sound counterintuitive given the impact globalization is having on trans-national borders, but perhaps it’s only by creating a community to nurture awareness that we can send a strong Canadian legal system into the world.

May 26, 2013 |
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