Musings on the future

15Nov09

I just attended the 2009 Isaac Pitblado Lectures jointly presented by the Law Society of Manitoba, the Manitoba Bar Association and the Faculty of Law at the University of Manitoba. This year’s topic was on practicing law in the 21st century. (Yes, I was the only law librarian there – these lectures are aimed at lawyers, but the lineup of speakers captivated me!) The closing keynote speaking, Professor Richard Susskind, is the author of The End of Lawyers?, and a major thought-leader on the evolution (or revolution) in the future of legal service delivery. The opening speaker, Jordan Furlong, is the former editor of National, the journal of the Canadian Bar Association, and currently is a partner at Edge International and a senior consultant at Stem Legal. I have been an avid fan of Jordan’s writing at Law21, and was thrilled to meet him in person.

The format of the lectures was a mixture of lectures and workshops. We heard about where legal services would potentially be going in the next ten years. We also heard from Dr. Krista Uggerslev, a professor at the Asper School of Business, who explained the differences in the generations currently working as lawyers. With four generations now practising, it’s no wonder there is friction in the expectations of everyone. As Bruce King, managing partner of Pitblado LLP said (I’m paraphrasing here), “I used to think when I was recuiting students to join our firm, that it was enough to say with hard work, all this can be yours too! After listening to Krista, I realize now that they don’t want to be me!”

From a local perspective, I really enjoyed hearing from Don Douglas, CEO at Thompson Dorfman Sweatman LLP. This firm has taken the role of managing partner and made it into a full time position to better serve the direction of their firm. We also heard from the challenges faced by rural lawyers regarding succession planning, and strategies the Law Society was undertaking to help deal with this, such as funding students from rural communities who are accepted at law school, with forgiveable loans if they return to their communities after graduation.

The role of technology in future legal service delivery was a huge part of this presentation. Dan Pinnington, practice advisor at Lawpro.com, spoke about all the different technology available to assist lawyers in meeting their regulatory requirements, as well as providing better client service. While he mentioned specific software and hardware, he was also careful to inform practitioners to make sure they spent their money on technology that would work for them. It’s not prudent to purchase all the bells and whistles, when all you need are the bells.

I loved Professor Susskind’s talk. He’s an engaging and entertaining lecturer. I especially appreciated his definition of bespoke (I will never forget the meaning, and my lawyers may hear me using it when I talk about my services at the firm!). He sees the legal services delivery being driven by clients telling their lawyers to do more with less, leading to the commoditization of particular functions, like contract writing. The traditional legal model has had clients pay for junior lawyers to learn how to do the “grunt” work, like document review, at a fairly high rate. Clients are now saying they’re not going to pay for the junior lawyers, and firms have to figure out a new model.

One area I felt was not addressed was the fact that the field of law practice is an apprenticeship model. If the apprentices are not going to be paid for by clients, who is supposed to provide the training? It was mentioned that private law firms spend a lot of money recruiting and training articling students, only to have them jump to corporate counsel at the end of three years, when they’re just starting to become productive. How many private corporations are taking in articling students, and paying for that apprenticeship?

This lecture series raised more questions than it answered. I was thrilled with the demographics of attendance – there was definitely attendance by all four of the generations that Krista Uggerslev mentioned, and there was representation from private firms, government, rural and solo practitioners. I will certainly be using the knowledge I gained to provide assistance to my firm in filling some of the niches that were uncovered. To paraphrase, we live in interesting times. And that’s a good thing.

~ Karen

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One Response to “Musings on the future”

  1. 1 Brenda

    I am glad they addressed the rural need for lawyers. Ontario, like other provinces, is probably underserved outside cities. But graduates face some huge student loans and rural life, with some big advantages, is not for everyone.



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